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”.
It’s always good to see an issue raised on this website taken up by politicians – so here’s a warm 853 welcome for a petition calling for a boost to the 108 bus service between North Greenwich and Lewisham, which suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hours.
The petition comes from Greenwich Conservatives – in particular, their energetic candidate for Blackheath Westcombe ward, Thomas Turrell. Blackheath Westcombe’s the borough’s most marginal ward, represented by two Tories and one Labour repesentative, so what goes on here is worth watching.
The Tories’ petition wants a rush-hour only bus, numbered 108A, to supplement the packed-out 108 south of the river, giving passengers a service that is less affected by Blackwall Tunnel delays. Ignoring the fact that Transport for London no longer runs rush-hour only buses (nor ones with letters as suffixes – although with next year’s train woes in mind, a revival of the original 108A to London Bridge could be useful), at least the issue of the 108’s woes is being taken seriously.
Except… the Tories are addressing their petition to Greenwich Council. Not TfL, which runs the buses, but Greenwich Council. “We call on Royal Greenwich Borough Council [sic] to use the means at its disposal to work with Transport for London to introduce a new 108a bus route…”
So, effectively, Greenwich Tories are asking the Labour-run council to ask Tory-run TfL to fix our buses. Could they not, well, go straight to Boris Johnson instead? Perhaps not, with TfL bracing itself for deep cuts to bus services under its current administration. Awkward.
Anyone that’s ever been to a Greenwich Council meeting will know how it’ll treat the petition, anyway. Transport cabinet member Denise Hyland will act like the Tories have suggested selling a close family member, before Chris Roberts declares once again that the council should run bus services because
Berkeley Homes the council knows better than anyone else on the entire planet. Nobody will go home happy, not least those going home by bus.
Which is a shame, because the state of the 108 is worth addressing, and it’s a pity that local politicians have ignored the issue for so long. Unlike the 132, overcrowding on which has been raised three times in 14 months at City Hall.
But then the 132’s fate proves a point. Run a bus to North Greenwich from just about anywhere, and it’ll fill up.
So maybe the Greenwich Tories’ 108 petition will light a flame. Perhaps some bright spark will team up with politicians across the boundary, and suggest an entirely new route to somewhere new like Brockley or Bromley, or maybe just the Kidbrooke Village development, to help ease the 108 through Blackheath. Maybe they’ll even set up a petition, and maybe they’ll get somewhere.
But hopefully, they’ll remember to address it to the right people first.
A lovely day to be out and about if you didn’t have anything too pressing to do – unfortunately for many, the last Saturday before Christmas doesn’t fall into that category. I enjoyed my birds-eye view by bus of Blackheath in the snow, though, and walking through Greenwich Park was great fun.
But… oh-oh, it’s Boris! On Twitter!
Ignoring the fact that none of this goes down well in areas of London not served by the Tube, it was blatantly nonsense anyway…
…with Brent Cross shopping centre also forced to close. Not “open for Christmas shopping”, then.
Of course, he – or whichever PR person operates his Twitter feed – has form for talking crap like this – remember last year’s south London snowfall, which went almost completely unacknowledged by Boris or TfL?
As for the buses – some are working, some aren’t. It’s a bit hit and miss, but the fewer hills and the fewer back roads you’re on, the better chance you have of getting anywhere. But don’t go expecting to find info on those that aren’t working. For example, route 386…
…which is actually very much disrupted, not serving the leg between Blackheath Standard, Greenwich town centre and Blackheath Village because of the slippery conditions. In fact, here’s a 386 looking sorry for itself at Blackheath Standard about 45 minutes ago.
So why isn’t TfL distributing this kind of information about buses? Its controllers know where buses are turning around, so why can’t this information be shared with the public?
Indeed, one London bus operator does it on its own initiative – Metrobus, which runs a collection of south London routes, particularly around Bromley, Croydon and Orpington, was regularly updating its Facebook page with lists of what was running and what wasn’t.
So if it’s easy for one firm to do this, why can’t TfL do it centrally? Maybe if it did that, the chairman of Transport for London, a Mr Boris Johnson, might be able to look at it and then think again before crowing about how well he thinks TfL is doing in the snow.
Public transport that talks to you is hardly new – the Central Line has talked for years, and other Tubes and trains have also begun to call out each stop. Diamond Geezer first noticed this aural pollution hit the buses last summer, and it’s taken a peculiarly long time to reach most of the buses in this part of south-east London. But I got back from New York a month back to see the venerable old 53 had fallen, and today, on a quick rain-avoiding run to the shops, the 380 seemed to be announcing: “Brahm-shot Avenue”. You what?
Actually, mis-pronouncing Bramshot Avenue is the first clear mistake I’ve heard so far. I might even have mis-heard it. Most of the others have been eccentricities, like calling Blackheath’s Royal Standard junction a chirpy “Charlton Road – Batley Park!” after the little patch of green in the middle, or calling out “Sainsburys at Greenwich Peninsula”, but not the nearby Asda (which wouldn’t be fair on the other shops nearby, or to customers lured into that gloomy supermarket). It really should be “Grinn-ige”, not “Gren-itch”, but that’s another battle. Oh, and how “Bexleyheath Shopping Centre!” is announced with joyous tones, yet “Bexleyheath Bus Garage” is said almost apologetically.
I don’t feel particularly irritated by the thought of Emma Hignett‘s voice booming out at me on my travels – it fades into the background on familiar journeys, although it was a strange experience having her join me for a three-bus overnight trek from a party in distant Willesden recently (“N98…to..Holborn!” “453! to…Deptford Bridge” etc) – I’ll concede the iPod came in handy after the first bus.
Giving each bus stop a name, though, is giving a different perspective to rides I’ve done many times in the past – like “The Squirrels”, instead of “half-way up the hill as you come out of Lewisham towards Blackheath Village”, which presumably would be a bit of a mouthful. And I’m still quite impressed by the technology behind it – reading into it, it gets updated weekly to allow for changes and corrections, and it is supposed to have all kinds of benefits for making sure the buses are actually on time.
But it does make the bus feel a little less human. It’s a big change for the drivers, who’ve been chronicling its ups and downs on a forum, On quiet nights, it’d just be you, the driver, and his radio announcing a delay in some distant part of town. A few weeks back I was having a laugh with a 380 driver about a woman clearly trying to use her feminine charms to get a free ride. Now Emma’s keeping an eye on us, it won’t feel the same.
And from next spring, there’ll be no quiet spots on the network. Town or country, Westerham to West End, Emma’s going to be with us.
But hey, if all this means I can do now what I can do with the trains; call up the TfL website, find out a 380’s just pulled into Charlton Village, pull on a pair of shoes on and run down to the bus stop, it might just be worth it. Because we will be able to do that soon, won’t we? Boris?