Yesterday TfL launched a far-reaching consultation on major changes to dozens of bus routes in Central London. Sixteen bus routes are to be withdrawn. Sixteen! Forty-three other routes are affected, many of them significantly. Forty-three! This is what happens when a pandemic disrupts your existing network and central government takes control of the purse strings.
Some of these changes TfL would have been making anyway to rationalise the service. Others are solely because the Transport Secretary insisted on a 4% cut in bus kilometres in return for funding. They're all in central London, generally zones 1 and 2, and most involve reducing capacity on existing roads deemed 'overbussed' rather than creating new bus-free zones.
Many passengers are going to find themselves needing to change buses to make existing journeys once these changes kick in, which'll be sometime before the end of next year. The Hopper fare gives carte blanche to TfL to break as many links as they like, and blimey they have, even if that introduces an additional time penalty waiting for a so called "high-frequency" bus.
The consultation is enormous, indeed almost unmanageable, and has been broken down into fourteen neighbourhoods across four zones. It took me about four hours to plough through 23 pdfs trying to work out precisely what's going on, and I consider myself an expert on London bus routes so heaven knows how the average punter will cope. With such a massive set of proposals and only six weeks to respond, I'll bet many tweaks will go unnoticed by the vast majority of affected passengers.
Some iconic route numbers are facing extermination... the 4!, the 11!!, the 12!!!, the 16!!!!, the 24!!!!! Several withdrawals have set off a chain of other changes like toppling a line of dominoes. Certain areas, for example the Isle of Dogs, are facing their second major reorganisation in less than a decade. It's going to entirely redraw the Central London bus map, not that there is a Central London bus map but blimey passengers are really going to need one after this.
It's sad to see the network being dismantled in this way, mainly at the behest of government, but it's also pointless to shuffle empty seats across the centre of town if money could be more usefully spent elsewhere. And whilst withdrawing 16 routes might sound apocalyptic, all it ultimately means for most of us is learning to make journeys on differently-numbered routes... and waiting around for longer inbetween.
Here are the routes scheduled for withdrawal, and my attempt at a summary of the tweaks and mitigations for each.
4 Archway - BlackfriarsWithdrawn
The northern end of the 4, including the uniquely-served route through Tufnell Park, will be replaced by extending the single decker 236 from Finsbury Park to Archway. The southern end will be covered by diverting route 56 from its current Smithfield terminus to Blackfriars. In random associated butchery the 476 is to be cut back from Euston to Newington Green and the 236 is to be cut back from Hackney Wick to Homerton Hospital.
11 Liverpool Street - FulhamWithdrawn
TfL's premier tourist route is to be replaced by two amended routes. The 26 already passes Liverpool Street but will no longer terminate at Waterloo, it'll divert at Aldwych and follow the 11's existing route to Victoria. This means the 26 (St Paul's, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, etc) becomes the new bus to recommend for sightseeing. Then, in a moment of electric madness, the 507 ex-Red Arrow commuter shuttle is to be extended to Fulham Broadway. Honest, that's genuinely the plan. But to cover the 11 it has to be diverted via Westminster Bridge rather than Lambeth Bridge, so the C10 is being shifted to cover that, and then the 3 is being sent to Victoria rather than Whitehall to plug the final gap. One withdrawal, four repercussions.
12 Oxford Circus - DulwichWithdrawn
Dulwich residents aghast at losing the 12 will need to learn a new number, the 148. This is being extended from Peckham to Dulwich so all they have to do is catch that instead (and change in Lambeth onto the 453 if they want to go any further).
14 Russell Square - Putney HeathWithdrawn
East of Hyde Park Corner TfL would like you to take the existing 19, and they're also tweaking it to run via South Kensington instead of Sloane Square. West of Hyde Park Corner you can already take the 414, an upstart route introduced twenty years ago to shadow the 14, which is being extended from Putney Bridge to Putney Heath to finish the job. It'd be nice to renumber the 414 as the 14 so that an iconic route number could be saved, but this consultation alas has no room for nostalgic niceties.
16 Cricklewood - VictoriaWithdrawn
Several routes shadow the 16 up the Watling Street, notably the 32 and 332, so they're being kept and the 16 is being sacrificed as unnecessary. To cover the 16's southern end the 98 is being switched to terminate at Victoria, and to cover that the 6 is being sent back down Oxford Street as far as Holborn. To complete the switcheroo the 23 will now follow the 6's curremt route via Piccadilly to Aldwych, and hurrah for that because the remodelled 23's U-shaped route was always bonkers.
24 Hampstead Heath - PimlicoWithdrawn
The 24 is the longest-running unchanged London bus route and will celebrate its 110th birthday this summer, but this counts for nothing in the hard light of post-pandemic reality. Removing it, however, triggers a convoluted chain of alterations that ultimately removes one of my local buses here in Bow. The 88 is to take on board the 24's route north of Trafalgar Square, maintaining all existing links. The 214 is then being drafted in to cover the 88, along what until fairly recently was route C2, and is also being extended to Pimlico to cover the remainder of route 24. But this removes the 214 from its run down the City Road so the 205 is being diverted at St Pancras to head north to Parliament Fields. The 205 is not being replaced along the Euston Road to Paddington, which abruptly breaks a well-used connection, plus the planners have also taken the opportunity to cut back the 205's eastern end from Bow Church to Mile End. It does feel like someone at TfL Towers drew all this in crayon during a cheese dream... or maybe I'm just bitter that the cuts have hit home.
31 White City - Camden TownWithdrawn
West of Belsize Road the 31 is replaced by the 113 which is perversely diverted to White City. East of Belsize Road the 31 is replaced by the 189 which is unceremoniously diverted to Camden Town. Changing between the two halves can be done on Belsize Road itself. An unpalatable but deliberate consequence is that South Hampstead loses two bus routes into the West End.
45 Clapham Park - Elephant & CastleWithdrawn
This is very low-hanging fruit. The 45's southern tip will be covered by starting the 59 from Clapham Park rather than Streatham Hill, and plenty of other buses cover the rest of the route.
72 East Acton - Hammersmith BridgeWithdrawn
The 72 has already been neutered by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge and now it's going entirely. The northern end will be covered by extending the 49 to East Acton, south of White City it'll be covered by extending the 272 to Hammersmith and the last few hundred metres to the bridge are to be covered by the 283. Again one loss but multiple fallout.
74 Putney - Baker StreetWithdrawn
West of South Kensington the 74's clientele will be left to take the 430 instead, whose route will be nudged north to follow Cromwell Road. East of South Kensington they can already take the 414 to Marble Arch (and the final leg to Baker Street is overbussed so is not being replaced).
78 Shoreditch - NunheadWithdrawn
North of Tower Bridge TfL don't think the 78 needs replacing. South of Tower Bridge they're extending the 388 to cover it, but only as far as Peckham leaving the last leg to be covered by the existing P12. Nunhead residents have good reason to be pissed off. The 388 is probably the bus route TfL have tweaked the most over the last decade, and operating it between Stratford and Peckham makes as little sense as most previous incarnations.
242 Aldgate - Homerton HospitalWithdrawn
Similarly the 242 has been on sequential retreat for many years, so killing it off entirely seems a natural consequence. It serves several estates in Clapton whose residents would be bereft without a bus so the 135 is being extended from Old Street to cover that, almost like someone picked a route number out of a tombola.
349 Ponders End - Stamford HillWithdrawn
The 349 was introduced in 2004 to bolster services up the Tottenham High Road, but is now being whipped away leaving the 149, 259 and 279 to take the strain. In mitigation the 259 will be extended north to Ponders End at an increased frequency, and the 279 will be diverted at Seven Sisters to serve Stamford Hill rather than Manor House.
521 Waterloo - London BridgeWithdrawn
The 521 has long existed to speed commuters from south London rail termini into the heart of the City, thereby requiring a very high frequency during the rush hour. But as working patterns change its existence can no longer be justified, plus off-peak it was hardly transporting anyone anyway, so this former Red Arrow is to be withdrawn. For those who still need to head north the 59 is being diverted from Euston to St Paul's and the 133 is being diverted from Liverpool Street to Smithfield, but expect a squish at busy times.
C3 Earl's Court - Clapham JunctionWithdrawn
Chelsea has too many buses, apparently, so the C3 has to die. It's being replaced (in its entirety) by the 27 which, somewhat unexpectedly, will deviate at Kensington and head south via Worlds End and across the river. The 27's absence will be filled by the 328, another route that'll no longer serve Chelsea but will instead continue to Hammersmith, and meanwhile the 49 is being pulled back from Clapham Junction to South Kensington. Why change one route when you can change four?
D7 Mile End - PoplarWithdrawn
The D7's job has always been to sweep round the edge of the Isle of Docks delivering residents to points north. But it's been deemed surplus to requirements so the 277 will instead be extended around the island as far as Poplar covering pretty much the whole route. Also being tweaked is the D3 which becomes a stumpy island-only service as far as Asda, leaving residents of Wapping to rely only on the 100. This is being extended north to Bethnal Green along the D3's former route, but nine bus stops between Wapping and Limehouse will be abandoned so bad luck if you live there.
And it's not just withdrawals, a number of other changes have been thrown into the mix. The 43 will no longer cross the Thames but will be curtailed at Liverpool Street. The 53 is being cut back (again) from Lambeth North back to Elephant & Castle. The 343 is being shortened from Aldgate to Tower Gateway. The 211 will be diverted to Battersea Power Station rather than Waterloo. And in my neck of the woods the D8 is being taken off its loop round Bromley High Street (which'll never see another bus) and southbound passengers will have to use four pedestrian crossings to negotiate the Bow roundabout instead. In normal times this single change would have been worthy of a consultation all of its own. Instead it's going to get swept along with the tide and happen anyway.
Also I haven't even started on the nightbuses. The Central London Bus Review also proposes withdrawal of the N11, N16, N31, N72, N74 and N242, changes to the N15, N26, N27, N98, N133, N148 and N205, plus new routes N32, N135, N414, N430 and N507. How any customer is supposed to provide an informed response to this onslaught of change in six weeks flat is beyond me.
And if you think this is brutal, yesterday the Mayor sent a letter to the Prime Minister warning of worse to come if no agreement can be reached on future funding. He says a policy of 'managed decline' would mean an additional eighty bus routes cut, the equivalent of an 18% overall reduction, plus a 9% reduction in tube services. That's likely sabre-rattling but one thing's for sure, under current governance Londoners are likely to end up paying a lot more for a lot less in future. Having to catch a differently-numbered bus to Hampstead Heath is going to be least of our problems.