21 TfL bus announcements that would improve Londoners lives more than ‘Hold on, the bus is about to move’

A London bus, inadvertently annoying everyone on board, yesterday.

Poor old Transport for London: they just wanted to suggest to people that it is safer to hold on when the bus is about to move away from the stop, and now every Londoner with an internet connection is using it to yell at them.

Not only is the new safety announcement, currently to be heard on all London buses, slightly patronising for anyone who has, say, used any form of wheeled transportation before, but it suffers from a technical fault. Passengers are treated to a rendition of “Please hold on, the bus is about to move” repeatedly throughout their journey, regardless of whether the bus is actually about to move or not.

If TfL really think buses need yet another announcement to break up the monotony of a bus journey, here are few bits of advice we think some people could really do with an occasional reminder about:

1) “Passengers sat on the aisle next to an empty seat in an attempt to claim as much personal space as possible are invited to get off the bus and hail a taxi instead.”

2) “Passengers sat on the aisle next to an empty seat across from a friend who has done the same are invited to get off the bus and jump into the nearest canal.”

3) “Passengers are reminded that sitting next to the only person on an otherwise empty bus is weird and creepy.”

4) “Unless they’re sitting at the front, which is fair game, let’s be honest.”

5) “If you just heard a ‘ding’, someone has pressed the stop button. Pressing it again won’t somehow cause the bus to stop more.”

6) “Seriously, would it help if we told you the bus explodes if it goes ‘ding’ more than three times in a minute?”

7) “There are seats available on the upper deck of this bus. Go up there and sit down so the bus won’t sail past the poor gits standing at the next stop in the pissing rain, you utter bastards.”

8) “Sorry chaps, if your willy is so big you need to spread your legs across two seats, it has to have a valid Oyster card.”

9) “Stop trying to make eye contact with strangers. This is LONDON.”

10) “Oh my god seriously leave that person alone they don't want to talk to you they just want to get home and cook sausages.”

In heaven, everything is fine. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Matty.

11) “Tourists: getting on the bus solely to ask the driver to explain how to get to Big Ben while everyone else is late for work will often offend. Especially at a bus stop in Parliament Square.”

12) “Anyone eating anything more substantial than a Twix is required to offer all the other passengers a bit first.”

13) Anyone drinking alcohol is reminded that not only is it now illegal, but it will make anyone who isn't extremely jealous.

14) “If you were listening to your piss-awful music through headphones instead of that crappy phone speaker you probably wouldn’t even be able to hear this annoying announcement.”

15) “Don’t stand on the stairs getting in the way, or if you do at least have the decency to fall down them so we can all have a good laugh.”


16) “Passengers considering having a loud and lengthy phone conversation should first rectally insert their handsets.”

17) “You. Yes, you. Everyone knows it was you that held up the bus fumbling around in your bag for your Oyster card and now wants you to die.”

18) “Chin up everyone, there is always at least a very slight chance that everything will be okay.”

19) “We apologise for the delay. It’s mainly down to all these dicks who think driving a car through central London is a good idea.”

20) “Please, can you all just stop being dicks, all the time.”

21) “Could the red-faced weirdo please stop getting so uptight about what other people do on the bus, you’ll do yourself an injury mate.”

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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Here are eight thoughts on TfL’s proposed cuts to London’s bus network

A number 12 bus crosses Westminster Bridge. Image: Getty.

In 2016, the urbanism blog City Observatory had a modest proposal for how American cities could sort out their transport systems: “Londonize”.

Its theory, the name of which referenced another popular urbanism blog, Copenhagenize, was that the key plank of Transport for London’s success was something that even transport nerds did not consider very sexy: its buses.

Though the Tube might get more glamorous press, London’s bus service really is impressively massive: It carries roughly 2.3bn passengers per year—much more than the Tube (1.3bn), close to the New York City subway (2.8bn), and nearly half as much as every bus service in America combined (5.1bn), while serving a population roughly 1/35 as large.

How has TfL done this? By making its bus network high frequency, reliable, relatively easy to understand and comprehensive. We rarely talk about this, because the tube map is far more fun – but the reason it’s so difficult to fall off the transport network in Greater London is because you’re never that far from a bus.

Given all that, we should probably talk about TfL’s plans to rethink – and in most cases, cut – as many as 36 different central London bus services over the next few months.

I’m not going to rehash details of the changes on which TfL is consulting from next month: there are just too many of them, and anyway it’s someone else’s scoop. The story was originally broken by Darryl Chamberlain over on 853 London; there’s also some fascinating analysis on Diamond Geezer’s blog. You should read both of those stories, though preferably not before you’ve finished reading this one.

Before offering my own analysis of the proposed changes, though, I should offer a few examples. More than a dozen routes are facing a trim: the 59 from King’s Cross back to Euston, the 113 from Oxford Circle to Marble Arch, the 171 from Holborn all the way down to Elephant & Castle and so on. A couple – the 10, the 48, the C2, and at most times the special routemaster version of the 15 – are being withdrawn altogether.

On, and one new route is planned – the 311, from Fulham Broadway to Oxford Circus. This will help plug some of the cuts to the 11, 19 and 22.

So, what does all this mean? Some thoughts:

1) This might not quite be as awful as it initially sounds

TfL says that demand for buses has fallen by around 10 per cent in London in recent years. It predicts it’ll fall further when Crossrail opens, as passengers switch to the new line, or to the tube routes relieved by the new line. So: the idea of taking some unwanted capacity out of the system is not, in itself, terrible.

Striping out unnecessary buses should also improve air quality in some of London’s worst pollution hot spots, and improve traffic flow, hopefully speeding up journeys on those buses that remain. 

A map from the presentation in which TfL explained its plans, showing the reduction in bus numbers on key arteries. Hilariously, notes Darryl Chamberlain, “It no longer produces its own maps, so has had to use one prepared by a bus enthusiast”.

The plans might even free up buses and staff to increase frequencies in outer London where demand hasn’t fallen – though these plans won’t be unveiled until next year and, for reasons I’ll come to below, I’ll believe it when we see it.

2) For many bus users, a lot of these changes will pass almost unnoticed

By my count, I use nine of the affected routes with any regularity – but only three of the changes are things that I’m likely to be at all inconvenienced by. Most of the changes either affect a part of the route I don’t take, or one where there are easy, and pain free alternatives.

This is anecdotal, obviously – perhaps I’m just lucky. But my suspicion is that a lot of these changes will go unnoticed by most passengers. It’s only the sheer number of them happening at once that makes this look like a big deal.

3) The Hopper fare makes this easier...

Once upon a time, if you had to switch buses, you had to pay a second fare. This isn’t true of journeys on the tube or railways – and since bus passengers have, on average, less money than tube passengers, it amounted to a pretty unfair tax on poorer Londoners.

But in January, in what is probably his most notable policy achievement of his two years in office so far, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan changed the rules. Now you can take as many buses as you want within an hour, for a single fare: that means you can switch buses without paying a penalty.

That will have made it easier for TfL to cut routes back: replacing a direct bus journey with one that requires a change no longer means imposing a financial penalty on passengers.


4) ...but not that easy

That’s about where the good news stops, though – because there are reasons other than cost why people prefer direct bus routes. Needing to change buses will be difficult for anyone with any form of mobility impairment, for example. Even for those of us lucky enough not to fall into that category, it’ll be annoying: it’s just easier to stay in one seat for 40 minutes than to get turfed off and have to fight for a new one halfway through.

More than that, from the passengers’ point of view, excess capacity feels quite good a lot of the time: it means your bus may well be nice and empty. Reducing the number of buses along those key corridors will also make those that remain more crowded.

5) The motive is almost certainly financial

Another of Sadiq Khan’s big policy promises was to freeze fares. He made this promise at a time when central government is massively reducing the financial support it gives TfL (the work, Chamberlain notes, of Evening Standard editor George Osborne, back when he was chancellor). And the Hopper fare, while a great idea in many ways, means a further reduction in income.

So: TfL is scrambling for cash: this is why I remain cynical about those new outer London bus routes. I would be amazed if money wasn’t a motivation here, not least because...

6) TfL thinks no one will notice

Any attempt to reduce tube frequencies, let alone close a station, would result in uproar. Hashtag campaigners! Angry people pointing at things in local newspapers! Damning reports on the front of the Evening Standard from the bloke who made it happen!

Buses, though? Their routes change, slightly, all the time. And do you really notice whether your local route comes every 10 minutes or every 12? That’s not to mention the fact that bus passengers, as previously noted, tend to be poorer – and so, less vocal – than tube passengers.

So cuts, and the savings they bring, are much easier to sneak through. TfL probably would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling bloggers.

Although...

7) Scrapping the C2 might be a mistake

The C2 runs from Parliament Hill, through Kentish Town and Camden to Oxford Circus. In other words, it links north London, where a lot of journalists live, to the offices of the BBC and Buzzfeed.

As occasional New Statesman writer James Ball notes, this is probably not the easiest route to quietly shelve.

8) None of this is set in stone

The consultation doesn’t even begin until next month and then will run for six weeks – so all these plans may yet be forgotten. We shall see.

Anyway – here’s Darryl Chamberlain’s original scoop, and here’s some detailed analysis on Diamond Geezer. Please support your local bloggers by reading them.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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