Sunday, 6 August 2017

Busageddon: Central London Bus Changes

Due to ever-worsening congestion in Central London, bus patronage is falling dramatically, with most passengers switching to the faster, more convenient tube network. Empty buses taking up valuable road space has become an important concern for TFL, who recently published a consultation about reducing the number of services in Central London. A detailed report and summary of the changes can be viewed here, although the consultation is now closed and you won't be able to respond! Unsurprisingly, all of the changes have been given the green light and most of them have already taken place, with the few remaining modifications expected to happen later this year, or in 2018.

The first set of changes took place on Saturday 17th June 2017, affecting routes 6, 73/N73, 172, 242 and 390.

Route 6:
Metroline VWH2100 prepares for departure at Marble Arch, the first stop along the new routeing of route 6.
In order to reduce the number of buses travelling down Oxford Street, route 6 has been diverted between Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. It now travels down Park Lane and Piccadilly, omitting Oxford Circus and Regent Street. As well as providing an (underused) round-the-corner link between the aforementioned streets, the removal of a high frequency route along Oxford Street will certainly improve travel times for the remaining buses. Even though the number 6 was pretty popular on its Central section, routes 23 and 98 provide a sufficient alternative for customers wishing to travel to Aldwych, Edgware Road, Maida Vale and Willesden. At the moment, the 6 isn't very busy on its new line of route, but I'm sure passengers will soon realise that this is a much faster alternative to the slow, overcrowded 23 between Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. Overall, this is a positive change that should be quite useful to lots of us, especially when the other remaining through route along this corridor is removed from zone 1 altogether (more on that later).

Routes 73/N73:

Arriva London LT531 terminates at Oxford Circus, the new destination for the 73.
The old 73/N73 closely mirrored the Victoria Line between King's Cross St Pancras and Victoria, which seems to have taken a large number of passengers away from this route, due to the significantly faster journey time. As a result, routes 73/N73 have been curtailed to Oxford Circus, no longer serving Marble Arch or Hyde Park Corner, which sneakily removes another high frequency bus route from the crowded end of Oxford Street. In order to maintain the somewhat popular link from Oxford Street to Victoria, route 390 has been re-routed as a replacement for the 73. This curtailment has led to the stand at Holles Street becoming rather overcrowded, especially as the 73 (which runs every 5 minutes at rush hour) is sharing with the high frequency route 25, meaning that sometimes buses have simply had to depart early, or queue in the middle of the road! It's hard to imagine that in 2011, the 73 still ran all the way from Seven Sisters-Victoria, whereas now it's merely a shuttle between Stoke Newington and Oxford Circus, being duplicated by the 476 for 80% of its journey. Personally, I think that this curtailment is part of a wider scheme that will see the 476 extended to Tottenham Court Road (a few minutes away from Euston, its current terminus, and Oxford Circus) and the withdrawal of route 73, with a re-numbering to keep certain people happy! Even though this has been one of the more controversial changes, residents of Stoke Newington can appreciate a more reliable service from now on, even if a few links have been broken. 
Route 390:

Metroline London LT117 pauses at Marble Arch en route to Victoria/
Due to excess capacity along the Bayswater Road corridor, TFL decided the 390 wasn't needed between Notting Hill Gate and Marble Arch (something they might regret during Notting Hill Carnival). As the 73 was struggling to maintain a reliable service, the 390 took over the Oxford Circus-Victoria section instead, with a frequency increase to every 6 minutes. Even though this should've been a fairly straightforward changeover, many passengers still aren't comfortable with the change of number, as I've spotted numerous empty 390 buses on the new section of route, even though the 73 was pretty busy along this corridor. Essentially, this change makes the 390 much more purposeful heading West from Oxford Circus and makes it a much more significant route in Central London. However, this change isn't exactly altruistic in nature, as reducing the number of buses along Oxford Street is clearly the top priority. The curtailment of the 73 has removed 12bph at rush hour, and even though the 390 has received a frequency increase, it's runs every 6 minutes at rush hour, which is slightly less regular than the previous 73 service. A few extra New Routemaster vehicles have been drafted in from other companies to help achieve the frequency increase on the 390, which will certainly benefit commuters travelling from Tufnell Park and Archway. Hopefully, the re-numbering doesn't put people off using the bus from Victoria-Oxford Circus and beyond, so that the 390 can be a suitable replacement for the 73.

Route 172:

Abellio London 2440 stands at Brockley Rise, showing the incorrect destination.
 In order to reduce the number of buses travelling along Fleet Street, route 172 has been diverted at Ludgate Circus to terminate at Clerkenwell Green, rather than St Paul's, which has freed up stand space for the 242. Additionally, the 172 now improves accessibility to Farringdon Crossrail Station, as it will stop directly outside the main entrance. However, the 243 already provides a sufficient link from Waterloo-Farringdon (travelling via Holborn, which is quicker) and the 172 will be caught in heavy traffic during rush hour at Ludgate Circus, so at the moment the extension is very lightly used, with buses carrying little more than 2 or 3 passengers at a time. I'm sceptical that this change will be very successful, as the 243 copes easily between Farringdon and Waterloo already, having room for a small increase in demand; I think TFL have overestimated the number of people travelling between these two areas. However, the 172 might've been re-routed simply because its stand at St Paul's was required for another route, and the terminus at Clerkenwell Green has been abandoned for many years now. Personally, I've never thought that the 172 had much of a purpose further than Aldwych, and it could easily be curtailed there and extended further South, perhaps to Lower Sydenham, to provide some more useful links into Central London.

Abellio London 9060 pauses at Lancaster Place, showing correct blinds this time!
Unfortunately, Abellio weren't fully prepared for the changeover on Saturday 17th June, with most of vehicles showing the incorrect destination, usually 'Ludgate Circus' or 'St Paul's'. Some home-made blinds were placed in the front window for a few vehicles, but others just ran around fully banditised. Thankfully, the majority of the allocation have been fitted with correct blinds now, although any odd workings probably won't be blinded, considering the route is transferring to Go-Ahead London next year. Hopefully, my predictions about light loadings are incorrect and this change will be worthwhile in the long term, and maybe the route might become slightly more reliable as it doesn't have to deal with some of Fleet Street now.

Route 242:

Arriva London HV237 approaches the end of the line at Bread Street, St Paul's.
As the 172 has been re-routed to terminate at Clerkenwell Green, a vacant stand at St Paul's permitted a curtailment of route 242, which has been running empty between Tottenham Court Road and Bank for a long time. Apart from a few trips during rush hour, the 242 was very quiet beyond Liverpool Street, with most passengers from Dalston/Homerton choosing to alight there. This superfluous section of route has now been withdrawn, with routes 8/25 maintaining the link to Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus respectively. Conveniently, this also provides a permanent stand for route 8, which has been standing near Goodge Street until recently. Even though I always loved the 'inner-city' section on the 242, the reasons for its withdrawal are understandable, and hopefully a more reliable service for Homerton can be achieved, where the route can get very busy from my observations.
The next set of changes took place on Saturday 15th July 2017, affecting routes 22/N22, 137 and C2.

Route 137:

Arriva London LT954 stands at Marble Arch, the permanent new terminus for route 137.
 The 137 has made intermittent appearances along Oxford Street over the past few years, being curtailed at Marble Arch frequently, either due to an event along the aforementioned road, or as a mitigation measure. With the Oxford Street Bus Reduction Plan in full swing, the 137 was naturally one of the first routes to be curtailed. Regarding the issue of stand space, the 159 has been 'temporarily' curtailed at Oxford Circus due to works along Whitehall, so the 137 has settled in on Cumberland Gate for the time being; whether the 159 actually returns is another matter, so the 137 might be safe in the future. Interestingly, the highest number of broken links as a result of the changes were on this route, suggesting that the link to South London along Oxford Street was appreciated after all. Having said that, Marble Arch is a short walk away and hopefully shoppers have been made aware of their new bus stop, so the route can still be a popular method of reaching Central London from Clapham and surrounding areas.

Route C2:

Abellio London 9531 stands at Conduit Street, at the end of a C2 journey.
One of the more controversial changes involves the curtailment of route C2 to Oxford Circus (in reality, this means the junction of Regent Street and Conduit Street), in an attempt to improve reliability on this route, with the diversion of the 22 partially compensating for the loss of route C2 in Mayfair. The Green Park-Oxford Circus corridor has frequently changed route over the past decade, with the 8, C2 and 22 all having a go. The popular Victoria-Oxford Circus/Camden Town link has been broken, much to the annoyance of many commuters, who were pretty miffed when their bus was turned at Oxford Circus. In my opinion, this change was unnecessary, as the C2 didn't have previous reliability problems and has been converted to a ridiculously short route that merely shuttles people between Kentish Town and Oxford Circus, conveniently travelling through Camden Town in the process. Operation of the route from Battersea (QB) garage is rather inappropriate now, considering the route now terminates nowhere near there, so a loss of the contract is to be expected. Once again, I suspect this change is more to do with finding stand space, with extra room at Victoria being especially important with all these changes. As a result of the curtailment of route C2, the 3 has temporarily been stopped at Trafalgar Square, although an extension to Russell Square is expected to take place in 2018. Overall, I'm unhappy with the C2 change, as it's now nowhere near as useful as before, and the best section of the route has been cut!

Routes 22/N22:

Go-Ahead London WHV33 approaches the end of the journey in Mayfair.
As a result of the curtailment of route C2 to Regent Street, the 22 has been diverted at Green Park to serve Mayfair and terminate at Oxford Circus rather than Piccadilly Circus. This partially fills in the void left by the absence of the C2, maintaining a few crucial round-the-corner links and creating some new ones to Sloane Square and Chelsea, although the removal of the fast Oxford Circus-Victoria link has angered lots of commuters. The 22 is already fairly popular on this section, with many 137 users changing for this route at Sloane Square, which takes them to Oxford Circus fairly quickly. Instead of merely providing additional support for the 14, the 22 now provides a unique link from South-West London and is much more useful than before; it's also now gained a very interesting section of route and I look forward to riding the revised 22 from start to finish soon. As the C2 was a 24 hour route, the N22 has also been diverted to Oxford Circus, which is slightly more convenient for some parts of Soho. Embarrassingly, Go-Ahead London completely forgot to run the N22 to the new terminus on the night of Friday 14th July 2017, but the C2 did curtail at Regent Street, leaving Mayfair without a bus service for one night! Thankfully, patronage on that section is fairly low, and Oxford Street is a short walk away, which is home to several 24-hour services and night buses. Rather conveniently, this now frees up stand space at Piccadilly Circus, which is going to be very important for the next few years, due to its close proximity to Oxford Street. Overall, this aspect of the change has been pretty successful, but I'm still debating over whether the loss of the C2 was worth it...

Future changes:

As well as the changes reviewed above, some other routes will be diverted at some point in the future. Once they take place, another blog post will come out and my thoughts will be expressed then, but for now, I'm simply going to list them here and allow you to digest this information as it's quite heavy-going! Click here for the consultation page, which shows some detailed reports and maps on the changes.
  • Route 3 will be extended from Trafalgar Square to terminate at Russell Square, via Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road in 2018.
  • Route 425 will be extended from Stratford Bus Station to Ilford, with a frequency increase to every 10 minutes Mon-Sat, and to every 12 minutes on Sundays. These will replace the current short trips on route 25 that run between Ilford and Mile End only. September 2017.
  • Route 46 will be curtailed at Paddington, no longer serving Lancaster Gate.
  • Route 332 will be re-routed between Kilburn High Road and Paddington, serving Maida Vale, Shirland Road and Warwick Avenue instead of Edgware Road. It will terminate at Lancaster Gate rather than on Bishop's Bridge.
  • Route 23 will be completely restructured to no longer run East of Paddington. Instead, it will terminate at Lancaster Gate and run up to Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's as usual, then continue to Kensal Green, Harlesden, Brent Park and Wembley.
  • Route 452 will be withdrawn between Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's and Kensal Rise, and re-routed to serve Westbourne Park as a replacement for the loss of route 23, before terminating at Harrow Road. The last four changes will take place in 2018.
It seems that the Central London Bus Consultation has been somewhat successful. The number of buses in zone 1 has been reduced, although some links have been broken and inconvenienced lots of commuters. As many of the changes have been triggered by making more efficient use of stand space, we can infer that another 'Central London Bus Consultation' will be on the way soon, so make the most of your useful zone 1 bus routes, they might disappear!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!