diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 24, 2022

Back in June TfL launched a major consultation into plans to withdraw sixteen bus routes and amend forty-three others. This was in response to government demands to reduce spending in return for continued central funding. The consultation received over 21000 responses, almost all of them negative.

Yesterday the results of the consultation were published with the level of changes considerably whittled down. Only three routes will be withdrawn and only eleven routes will be amended, many in a relatively inconsequential way. It's still a significant set of changes but the vast majority of the nasty things respondents pleaded shouldn't happen won't be happening.

Will be withdrawn: 521
Will be sneakily merged and renumbered: 16/332, 11/507
Won't be withdrawn: 4, 12, 14, 24, 31, 45, 72, 74, 78, 242, 349, C3, D7, N31, N72, N74, N242

Will be changed: 3, 6, 11, 23, 26, 59, 77, 133, 211, C10, N26
Won't be changed: 15, 19, 27, 43, 47, 49, 53, 56, 88, 98, 100, 113, 135, 148, 171, 189, 205, 214, 236, 254, 259, 277, 279, 283, 328, 343, 388, 414, 430, 476, D3, N15, N19, N27, N98, N133, N205

The official line is that the Mayor listened to the people and found £25m in additional funding, but the level of misleading spin around the announcement is breathtaking. The title of the press release is "New funding from the Mayor saves vast majority of London's buses", whereas in fact it saved 3% of the capital's 620 routes. The Mayor claimed that the routes were "under threat due to the conditions of the Govt's funding deal for TfL", whereas the decision to make these changes was his alone, he could have cut anything else instead. Indeed the Mayor is going all out to claim he's the saviour in this situation, whereas the proposals now look very much like sabre-rattling. With the deal done and Grant Shapps out of the way, the imaginary nuclear scenario is no longer required.

So rather than faffing around with all the might-have-beens, here are three genuine headline changes which are due to happen over the next twelve months.

114-year-old bus service to be withdrawn

Route 16 has been running between Cricklewood and Victoria, and often a bit further, since November 1908. Now route 16 is to be withdrawn and, here's the sneaky bit, route 332 will be renumbered 16 instead. The 332 is only 15 years old, having been introduced to replace another route spun out from route 16, and provided extra capacity along the Edgware Road. That extra capacity is no longer required so route 16 is being sacrificed, and TfL are hoping most people won't notice if they simultaneously reuse the number on a similar overlapping route. They have past form on this. In 2017 TfL were desperate to kill route 13 but everyone complained, so they renumbered route 82 as route 13 and the withdrawal sailed through with far less fuss.

The new 16 will run from Paddington to Neasden IKEA, exactly like the 332 currently does. That breaks a connection between Edgware Road and Victoria which will be closed by diverting the 6 to Victoria instead of Aldwych. That'll break a connection between Marble Arch and Aldwych which will be closed by diverting the 23 to Aldwych instead of Hammersmith. And that'll break a connection between Marble Arch and Kensington which TfL aren't proposing to fill (which is the final nail in the coffin for what used to be route 10). One trigger, several fallen dominoes.

TfL's best bus for tourists to be withdrawn

Route 11 has been running between Liverpool Street and Fulham Broadway for over a century. It passes world famous sites like St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and the King's Road, so could have been marketed by TfL as a cheaper alternative to expensive sightseeing buses. But it's also slow and unreliable and no longer provides useful capacity so route 11 is to be withdrawn. Again a conjuring trick is being used to keep the number because route 507 is being renumbered 11, and additionally extended from Victoria to Fulham Broadway. It's not anticipated that the 507's high capacity vehicles will be retained.

Again there are several repercussions. The 26 will be diverted from Waterloo to Victoria maintaining all the 11's tourist-friendly links. The 11 won't follow the 507's existing route via Horseferry Road so that'll be taken over by the 3 which'll be diverted from Whitehall to Victoria. The C10 needs to be slightly diverted to take care of the 507's existing connections between Waterloo to Lambeth Bridge. And the 211 will be diverted from Victoria to Battersea Power Station because it's no longer needed at Victoria now the 11 (aka the extended 507) is going there instead. Is there a map to show this? Of course there isn't a map to show this, TfL only do maps for consultations, not for the final network which emerges as a result of decisions made.

The last Red Arrow buses to be withdrawn

In the late 1960s London Transport introduced several single-decker routes branded Red Arrows which sped round central London to deliver rail commuters to their desks, often following routes the tube didn't link direct. The last two standing are the 507 (which as we've seen is about to be extinguished) and the 521 (a later amalgam of the 501 and 513). The 521 links Waterloo and London Bridge to Holborn and the City, and as recently as 2018 was London's most frequent bus. But post-pandemic the passenger numbers just aren't there, such is the seismic shift in working practices, so route 521 is to be withdrawn. That is a remarkably rapid collapse.

What will commuters from south of the river do now that their speedy red chariots are to be deleted? Well, for those who still need to head north from Waterloo the 59 is being diverted from Euston to Smithfield, because plenty of other buses go to Euston anyway. And for those who still need to head north from London Bridge the 133 is being diverted from Liverpool Street to Holborn, because plenty of other buses go to Liverpool Street. Expect a squish at busy times because the 59 and 133 aren't as frequent as the bus they're replacing. And because they're not single deckers, don't expect to ride a bus through the Strand Underpass ever again. The date of the Red Arrows' funeral will be announced at a later date.

As I've said before, this is the kind of detail you miss out on if your favoured news portal simply cuts and pastes a TfL press release. Anyone can pretend they won a battle if all they did was invent that battle in the first place. If you celebrated the survival of your local bus route yesterday then you fell for the politics, and even the 'survival' of iconic routes 11 and 16 is nothing more than sleight of hand.

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