A year ago today I walked across Richmond Park (deer✓, sunshine✓, bees✓, camellias in bloom✓) like it was the most normal thing in the world. I've not been back since.
I carried on walking north as far as Mortlake, and that's when I spotted London's least served bus stop. I should write about that one day, I thought. Today I'm doing just that.
This is Bus Stop E in Sheen Lane, SW14. It's exactly the kind of road that ought to have a decent bus service, being Mortlake's main shopping street and also where the railway station is located. Instead it's served by just one route and that route runs only once a day, twice a week. Miss the bus at half past ten on Friday morning and you have to wait four days for the next one.
The route in question is numbered 969 and is TfL's last surviving Mobility Bus. There used to be dozensof these across London, first introduced in 1985 to give the infirm and the disabled the opportunity to get to the shops. But they started to be withdrawn when Dial-a-Ride started, and the introduction of low-floor buses with wheelchair spaces culled numbers even further.
Ten years ago only eight mobility bus routes survived...
917 - Park Hill Rise to Croydon (Wed) 931 - Crystal Palace to Lewisham (Fri)* 941 - Bedfont Green to Hampton Hill (Wed) 953 - Scrattons Farm to Chase Cross (Wed) 958 - Woodford to Ilford (Tue) 965 - Riverhill to Kingston (Mon/Fri)* 969 - Whitton to Roehampton Vale (Tue/Fri)* 972 - Neasden to Colindale (Thu)
...and by 2013 only the three with the asterisks were left. Two succumbed in 2017 and 2018 respectively, leaving the 969 as the sole remaining example. It lingers because it's still financially supported, and used, and because it serves a number of residential streets in Whitton and East Sheen that no daily bus route touches. Depending on your definition of a London bus route, it's the only London bus route I've never ridden. But Roger has, so you should read his description of a journey instead.
The biweekly 969 begins its single journey in Whitton just off the Chertsey Road, close to Twickenham Stoop stadium. It starts by deviating round a separate estate alongside Crane Park, then doubles back towards St Margarets. Next it crosses the Thames to reach Richmond and then zigzags east through Mortlake past the aforementioned bus stop. After a brief riverside sojourn it bears south in Barnes and skirts Putney Heath to terminate on the A3 at Roehampton's Asda. Passengers have just over two hours to do their grocery shopping, and maybe partake of something in the cafe, before the day's other journey takes them home again.
London has several other little-used bus stops, including those on routes that only operate a few times a day, those used solely by schoolbuses and those served only when buses are on diversion. It's also true that several other bus stops along route 969 are served equally as infrequently as Bus Stop E at Mortlake Station. Bus Stop F on the other side of the road is an obvious example. But what I think makes Bus Stop E unique is that it's the only stop served twice a week to have the luxury of a proper bus shelter.
Sheen Lane deserves a better service, not least because it's a key connection between the Upper and Lower Richmond Roads. Plenty of other routes serve these corridors but all remain on one side or the other and only the 969 cuts across. The chief reason for this is the level crossing at Mortlake station which holds up the traffic on a very regular basis, hence it's a good idea if the only route affected runs hardly ever.
Covid hasn't killed the 969 off so it still provides a lifeline to not very many people not very often. It should still be there when all this is over, should you fancy a unique non-essential journey followed by a couple of hours at Asda. And should it be raining on the day you choose, remember to head for Mortlake so that you can have a sit down in the dry while you wait.