London’s deputy mayor for transport has defended proposed changes to the capital’s bus service, following criticism from passenger groups, operating companies and the London Assembly transport committee.
Appearing on Sunday Politics London yesterday, Heidi Alexander said the plans, which were put out for consultation by Transport for London in September, represent “relatively minor adjustments” to just 33 of the roughly 675 bus routes across London and will “actually affect quite a small number of people”.
Alexander said TfL’s review of services, which focused on Central London, was primarily about adjusting “things such as frequency [of services] and the points at which routes end in Central London” and will enable “increases in bus services in Outer London”.
Arguing that some parts of the service in Central London are not efficient, she added: “I think it’s right that Transport for London looks at where the buses are running, and makes sure that we’ve got the right number in the right place and at the right time.”
TfL’s proposals have generated borough level and more localised campaigns, notably in Hackney, much of which is served by the Number 48 route connecting Walthamstow and London Bridge and which would be scrapped with completely. In Barnet, there is opposition to a possible cut to Route 384, including from Labour councillor Laurie Williams.
London TravelWatch, the capital’s official transport-users’ watchdog, has expressed alarm at the plans, claiming that 36,000 passengers would need to start changing buses in order to reach their destinations. Last month, John Trayner, managing director of the capital’s biggest bus service operator, Go-Ahead London, told On London that TfL’s proposals, which would result in an overall seven per cent cut in bus network capacity, would cause further damage to a service that is already suffering a decline in passenger numbers.
The London Assembly transport committee’s submission to the now-finished consultation, which it published last week, complains that the review “falls far short” of a more comprehensive one that is really needed and does not allow sufficient scope for Londoners to make known their views on “how the network functions as a whole”.
The submission also says that, although removing capacity from Central London “may well be justified for various reasons”, the review proposals fail to describe how Outer London capacity would be increased as a result, creating doubt about how commitments to do this in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy will be honoured. The Labour members of the committee did not share this view in the submission (see Appendix).
The committee’s chair, Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon, told Sunday Politics she thinks the proposals are in part about TfL’s need to close a gap in its budget and expressed concern that any greater need to change buses more often would be particularly difficult for disabled passengers. Pidgeon questioning when and where growth in Outer London services would take place.
Responding, Alexander said that the arrival of London Overground services in Hackney and Lewisham and elsewhere meant that people now have additional public transport options. “The proposals we have consulted on apply to routes where there are multiple services overlapping with one another,” she said. “We’re trying to reduce some of that overlapping in order to deal with delays to journey times, which bus-on-bus congestion can cause, and also to improve air quality”.
She disagreed that there is no plan for Outer London route expansion, naming Ealing, Croydon and Havering as boroughs where this is happening or will be in the future. Alexander also emphasised that the introduction of the Hopper fare early in Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty in 2016 means that passengers who might end up having to change buses more often won’t have to pay again if they do so within a one hour period.
Pidgeon argued for orbital and “express” bus routes connecting different suburban areas and stations, especially if car use is to be reduced. “Is there a real vision for bus passengers in London?” she asked, and claimed that ultimately the only real solution to road traffic congestion is more road-pricing.