Whitehall cut – TfL takes temporary axe to route 53

53 at New Cross Gate, 15 January 2015

The 53. Everybody loves the 53. It finds the parts of south-east London other links with the centre of town can’t reach – even if it isn’t allowed too near any fun spots any more (Routemasters ran to Camden until 1988, it last reached Oxford Circus in 2003).

The Plumstead to Whitehall service is also a vital connection for those who can’t or won’t pay expensive rail fares – from London’s army of service workers to those who simply appreciate a door-to-door connection with a view from the window.

It’s these people who’ve borne the brunt of fare rises under the current mayor – up from 90p in 2008 to £1.50 today. And for them, it’s about to get worse still. Travelling on the 53 yesterday, I noticed this message…

“From 17th Jan, route 53 will terminate at Lambeth North.”

Being cut to Lambeth North? From Saturday? No consultation, no notice, no explanation? I fired off a few tweets to see if anyone could work out what was going on.

It turns out things aren’t as bad as the scrolling message would indicate – the cut is a temporary one to facilitate roadworks at Parliament Square. I’m indebted to transport expert Paul Corfield, who passed on this from TfL this morning:

BRIDGE STREET/PARLIAMENT STREET, SW1 ROUTE 53: from 0415 Saturday 17th of January until Sunday 29th March, buses terminate and start at Lambeth Palace due to closure of Bridge Street SW1 for utilities work and carriageway resurfacing.

It’d nice if TfL had given us a bit more warning, of course, and maybe even talked it over with local representatives. At least it’s a temporary cut, but it’s going to be a painful one for many – especially with other connections with central London in turmoil.

But it’s worth watching this like a hawk. London Transport tried to cut the 53 back to the Elephant & Castle in the late 1990s, arguing that the new Jubilee Line extension meant it was no longer needed. I’m sure TfL would love to try that again if it knew it could get away with it. It helped that back then, local MP Nick Raynsford was a regular on the 53, as it provided a near-door to door link from his home to Parliament. In the end, express buses were axed – heaven knows they’d be useful now.

Indeed, the often-packed 53 really needs a modern-day champion. Frequencies were cut when the 453 was introduced in 2003 and haven’t been improved since, with successive mayors concentrating on the other service. The big groups of passengers changing from the 453 to the 53 at Deptford Bridge tell their own story.

So the news isn’t as bad as it first appears. But if you value a bus to central London, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

5.25pm update: Thanks to Neil for sharing the email he had from TfL in the comments below – the curtailment won’t apply overnight, so from midnight to 6am buses will still depart from Whitehall. The arrangements, worryingly, are “until further notice”.

21 comments

  1. Neil C

    Just had an email about this from TfL this afternoon:

    “I am writing to let you know that from Saturday 17 January until further notice, route 53 in the central London area, will stop short of its normal destination. This is due to major road works being undertaken on behalf of a number of utility companies, who are carrying out upgrades and essential repair works.

    During this time, there will be the following changes:

    • Route 53 will not run between Westminster Bridge Road/Lower Marsh and Whitehall Horse Guards
    • Buses towards Plumstead will start from Westminster Bridge Road at Lower Marsh

    Buses departing from Plumstead between approximately 23:00 and 04:00 and buses departing from Whitehall Horse Guards between approximately 24:00 and 06:00 will run as normal in both directions”

    That ‘until further notice’ is interesting…

  2. Chris

    Thanks for this. I have to go to St Thomas’ every so often for checks and the 53 is well handy. I’m hoping the ‘until further notice’ is to cover their behinds if the work goes on for longer than planned. Surely they can’t just permanently truncate a route with no consultation?

  3. Deborah

    I know from family experience, and that of colleagues, that the 53 is used by those in SE London who have to attend St Thomas’s for regular treatment. It is a long and boring journey but, as you mention, a good deal cheaper than train or tube (despite the steep rise since 2008) and the guarantee of a seat from outside St Thomas’s for the elderly and infirm attending the hospital. My mother had to visit St Thomas’s and Guy’s whilst suffering two types of cancer – I shudder to think how she would manage the journey now. It is definitely something that needs to be watched carefully. I also think that the speedy (and scary) X53 was a boon to long-distance bus commuting and should be reinstated, considering the severe shortfall in public transport options in this area.

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  5. Georgina.tacagni@ntlworld.com

    I get off this stop daily at St Thomas’s Hospital, when I get off a number of people get off this stop to visit the hospital, sometimes on crutches, sometimes infirm, sometimes with a number of young children in buggies etc. I’m sure this will affect the most vulnerable.

  6. Janine Wilson

    I hope people are keeping an eye on what’s happening to the 53. (The return of the X53 would be great!)

  7. steve

    After the 53 terminates at Lower Marsh it will run empty along Lambeth Palace Rd to a temporary stand outside St. Thomas’s Hospital. If you are unable to manage the walk around the corner, have a word with the bus driver & smile sweetly at him/her. They’re not a bad lot them Plumstead drivers, I’m sure they’ll let you stay on the bus & drop you off nearer to the entrance.

  8. Cathy

    People need to write to their local councillors about this. They will be looking for votes in May. If you are not sure go online Write to your mp Is the site. Please do this and get it auctioned, let them work for your vote.

  9. David Kennedy

    I think that stopping this one vital bus route into central London because of road works is a feeble excuse – does this really make so much difference. It’s also a cynical way of making extra money, £3.00 to get to Whitehall as opposed to a single journey! Time for our councillors to take heed and support the routes reinstatement after April

  10. Peeved

    Oh I wondered why all the 53 were only going to Lambeth North. Obviously the works need to be done, but this is a pain in the backside as this is the only bus from Blackheath that goes into London. Having moved from zone 2 to zone 3, the 53 is the only route that allows me to complete my journey using only two buses.

  11. rpillai

    Today is 9th April, more than a week beyond the published timeframe for the works, 53 still terminates at Lambeth North.
    Doesn’t look very promising unfortunately.

  12. David

    When will the 53 get back to normal, having to walk further to get the 188 but this route is ridiculous, changing drivers during the journey, quite often terminating early. Now my journey can take up to 2 hours to get home.

  13. milly

    Although the works in Westminster Bridge St seem to have been finished, there are still works around Elephant & Castle, and St George’s Circus. I have seen November 2015 suggested as a completion date, which would fit with the No.53 driver telling me yesterday that the stopping-short at Lambeth North was likely to continue for another 6 or 7 months.

  14. Ben smith

    absolute disgrace i will put money on it that it never runs as normal to whitehall again was supposed to be mid march and still ongoing scumbags

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