diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Where is London's least busy bus stop?

I'd say that's about as diamondgeezer a question as it's possible to ask.
And we have an answer.
And I've been there.

It is however a very difficult question to answer, much harder than where's the busiest.

I tried to answer it last year when TfL released a Weekday Passenger Data spreadsheet providing the number of boarders at all 19,827 of their bus stops during the month of June 2022. Unfortunately the data suggested 117 bus stops picked up no passengers at all that month, suggesting a tie for last place. Unfortunately a lot of these were Hail & Ride locations which aren't really bus stops. Unfortunately the accompanying blurb admitted that the data collection had failed at a number of bus stops so couldn't entirely be trusted. Most unfortunately it wasn't actual passenger data, it had been sampled and scaled and averaged giving ridiculously accurate numbers to five decimal places, so you couldn't be absolutely sure which of the 117 notional zeroes was actually zero. I sighed and left the question unanswered.

You'd expect London's least used bus stop to be on a route served by just one bus route, ideally an infrequent route, meaning there aren't many opportunities to catch it. You'd also expect it to be somewhere quiet or rural rather than on a high street or a housing estate. And, if you think about it, you'd expect it to be very near the end of the route so there's no real point in getting on.

Last year's data dump included several such locations amongst the 'zero-rated' bus stops.

» Tatsfield Green, two stops before the end of route 464 in the Surrey village of Tatsfield.
» Downe Court Riding Centre, three stops before the end of route 146 outside the village of Downe.
» Beaverwood Road, two stops before the end of school route 638 in St Paul Cray, Orpington.
» Sevenoaks Road and The Hillside, the first two stops on route R5's enormous Knockholt loop.
» Franks Cottages, served by route 347 just four times a day in the wilds beyond Upminster.
» Mortlake Station, a stop served by mobility route 969 just twice a week.

These are all terribly convincing "I really can't see why anyone would get on a bus here" bus stops, even if very occasionally people do. But none of them are the official least busy bus stop, because we do have a winner and it's all thanks to another FoI request.
Dear TFL, I would like to make a FOI request on the following information. What is your busiest and least used Bus stop in London? Thanks for providing me this information if possible and I’m looking forward to your response.
The petitioner also asked about other modes of transport, and TfL provided this impressively comprehensive response.

These are reassuring answers because they match previously known facts about most and least used stations and tram stops, as previously documented on this blog as part of Anorak Corner. Also Brixton Station was by far the busiest bus stop in last year's datadump, so that stacks up too.

But where in London is Dysart Avenue? I had to look it up.

Ambiguously there are three bus stops called Dysart Avenue, two in Richmond and one in Kingston. Thankfully there's only one road called Dysart Avenue, a residential street in the village of Ham, and all three stops are clustered around that. But which of the three is the least used?

All the clues are there.

Here's the pair of stops on Dukes Avenue.

Both are served by route 371, a bus which weaves between Richmond and Kingston every 10 minutes. It's quite a busy route with 2½m passengers a year, so it would seem quite unlikely that route 371 is involved. Bus Stop P is also the first stop on route K5, so that would doubly rule it out as London's least used bus stop.

My suspicions therefore turned to bus stop YA, the stop on Dysart Avenue itself, which is served only by route K5. This bus runs every 30 minutes on a weaving route between Ham and Morden and is a 1-door operation used by more like 0.4m passengers a year. The route's also 12 miles long so those passengers are spread out mostly elsewhere, not here at the western terminus. This must be the stop we're looking for.

Here's what's going on around here, busroutewise.

The three Dysart Avenue bus stops are all roughly where the asterisk is. The 371 sweeps through along Broughton Avenue picking up all and sundry. The K5, however, starts and finishes here and does so via a loop.

The blue dot is Bus Stop YA, London's least used bus stop, which is the first stop on the loop. The yellow dot is the K5's final stop on Beaufort Road before it runs back empty to the asterisk. There's only one other stop round the loop, at Lammas Road, which for some inexplicable reason must have more passengers for its one-stop journey than Dysart Avenue does for two.

I had to give it a try.

I sidled up to London's least used bus stop just before a half-hourly K5 was due. If I needed confirmation that very few people do this, it came when the man in the house opposite emerged to put something in his bin. He eyed me suspiciously, walked back to his front door and eyed me again, then eventually went inside. After a few seconds I saw the net curtain in his doorway lift and a frosted face stared through for what felt like ages before disappearing. Passengers at Dysart Avenue must be a proper rarity.

When the K5 arrived two passengers got off, which didn't seem very "London's least busy bus stop" until I remembered TfL can only count boarders, nor alighters. We set off round the loop, which was a lot more mundane and residential than you'd expect from riverside Richmond, the Thames never quite being visible. It took 1 minute 50 seconds and would have been even quicker if only an Ocado delivery van hadn't been badly parked. I could instead have walked to the terminus in less than five minutes, so although the journey wasn't entirely trivial I'm not sure why anyone would catch the bus. Presumably they don't.

Now that TfL have identified London's least used bus stop I look forward to hordes of people turning up to visit, just like they do with least used stations, maybe even a Geoff Marshall video. But having been to Dysart Avenue I have my doubts that it genuinely is London's least used bus stop. Hardly any passengers yes, but Ham seems too much of a built-up area for this to be the lowest of the low, plus why would the ante-penultimate stop underperform the penultimate?

What about The Rabbits, the penultimate stop on the ridiculously infrequent 375 approaching the rural terminus at Passingford Bridge? What about Tyssen Place, the penultimate stop on four-times-a-day route 347, a mere 300m walk from Ockendon station. What about Shaftesbury Lane, the penultimate stop for route 404 in Coulsdon, which is just a dozen houses from the terminus up Cane Hill? Why instead is it Dysart Avenue, a five minute walk from the end of half-hourly route K5 in Ham?

It strikes me that we have no idea how TfL worked out their least used FoI, only the outcomes they came up with. Who knows what dataset they used, how they ordered it, how much estimating was involved or whether the correct row of the spreadsheet was selected. I guess I could put in an FoI to ask what the methodology was, but even then I expect I'd get a vague defensive incomplete response because that's how the FoI game works.

In the meantime London has an official least used bus stop and it's Dysart Avenue in Ham.
Unless it isn't.

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