Since the beginning of this year, thanks to the “hopper fare”, Londoners have been able to take as many buses as they want within an hour, for £1.50. When introduced, the fare originally allowed you to travel on two in an hour; now, though, it’s unlimited. Most of you probably haven’t even noticed, but Transport for London (TfL) says that 13,000 people a day now benefit from the ability to take as many buses as they want.
Earlier this month, I was browsing the TfL website when I came across a vaguely interesting statistic. The record for most buses taken on a single hopper fare was 27. Twenty seven!
And so, I took it upon myself to attempt to break that record. It was the only logical thing to do.
One of the internet’s favourite transport YouTubers, Geoff Marshall, set a benchmark in this video back in January, managing 25 buses in an hour. One of his companions that day, Hugo, thinks he set the 27 record, by slipping in an extra bus on his hopper fare, and by jumping on and tapping in on a bus that he then didn’t travel on.
My challenge, then, was to ride 28 buses in one hour, on a single hopper fare, to beat the record. The planning was quite simple: to find a road, or an area of London, with a plethora of buses.
There could only be one place, really: Elephant & Castle. Ten separate buses run along Walworth Road/Camberwell Road, making it almost impossible to not get a bus.
When I decided that my attempt would be on Wednesday 24 July, I didn’t realise that it would be one of the hottest days of the year. As I found out later, 28 degree heat is not the ideal weather for running around Walworth getting on buses. London buses aren’t known for their coolness.
I planned my adventure for late-morning on a weekday, in order to avoid rush-hour traffic, but to take advantage of as busy a bus schedule as possible. Arriving at Elephant and Castle just before 11, the conditions looked near perfect for an attempt at the hopper record (apart, of course, from the heat): blue skies, reasonably clear roads, England vs Ireland in my headphones… Everything was going well until I boarded my first bus, the number 12, outside Elephant and Castle shopping centre, only to realise that I didn’t have enough money on my Oyster. Plan foiled at the first attempt.
So, after a brief interlude, wandering through a mercifully cool shopping centre to top up my Oyster, I returned to bus stop R. My first bus was a 468 to South Croydon. This I stayed on for two stops, as I immediately got caught up in road works at the top of Walworth Road.
Bus two was a 68 to West Norwood from Larcom Street, quickly followed by a 176 to Penge from East Street. Three buses inside six minutes – things were looking very hopeful for the record. Even with my limited maths skills, I could tell that a bus every two minutes would mean thirty in the hour.
At Westmoreland Road (K) I ran back to Westmoreland Road (J) – a very confusing system of two different bus stops for different routes along this bit of Walworth Road – and boarded a very sweaty, packed 171 to Bellingham. At least I didn’t have to travel all the way to Bellingham, a place that surely doesn’t actually exist, because I got off at the next stop, Camberwell Road/Albany Road.
An extract from the Camberwell Green bus map. Just in case it helps. Image: TfL.
Now things were really motoring, for along this short stretch of Camberwell Road, all the different bus routes stop together. And so I did quite a bit of jumping on and off buses for the next few buses, doing a mini loop around Camberwell Road/Albany Road (N), down to Bowyer Place (N), across the road to Bowyer Place (Z), and back up to Bowyer Place (X). Bus nine was a 45 to Clapham Park from the southbound Bowyer Place.
After 37 minutes, my £1.50 had bought me passage on 18 buses, and I was sweating more than I ever had. However, no one gave me a second glance. London is great. I must give a special thanks have to go to all the bus drivers who waited to let on a very strange looking man who ran for their bus, only to get off a stop later.
But then, disaster struck. In my hubris I stayed on a 12 from Medlar Street (A), which, to my horror, turned off at Camberwell Green onto Peckham Road. I had forgotten that this was where the magic ten bus routes diverged – with some going towards Peckham, and others up towards Denmark Hill – and so I found myself the furthest I had from Walworth or Camberwell Road for 40 minutes.
Running back to Camberwell Green, I boarded a 35, only to find that the driver was changing over. The same happened with a 42 and a 45 in quick succession. Thanks to the hopper fare, though, I’d still spent only £1.50, and was able to scratch these off my journey without feeling guilty about spending the extra money.
The hopper fare means you can jump off a bus when the drivers are taking an interminably long time, or when the dreaded “this bus will wait here for a short time, to help even out the schedule” announcement is made. It’s great.
I had been sucked into the Camberwell nexus, and my attempt at the record was severely in danger. Fortunately, I stepped onto a 468, and was whisked back up to safety – Medlar Street as some call it – where I boarded a 42 to Liverpool Street, then a 171 at Wyndham Road.
At this stage, I was back in the zone, running across roads, pelting it to adjacent bus stops, jumping on and off buses. My mind was a blur of red, and the only noise registering was the beeping of Oyster against yellow touch pad.
I leapt off bus 27 (a 148) at Medlar Street, and sprinted across Camberwell Road to make bus 28 just before the hour: a 40 to Clerkenwell Green. Strangely, none of the passengers on the bus shared my elation. I decided not to high five any of them. Still, it felt like a little bit of an achievement.
So: 28 buses in one hour, for £1.50. I haven’t held a record like this since I became the first to complete Hampshire Library Service’s summer reading challenge when I was about ten, and I’ve barely got over that.
I learnt three main things: the hopper fare is great, even if you’re not stupidly trying to beat a record; the bus service through Walworth and Camberwell is strong, and almost makes up for the lack of rail infrastructure in this stretch of Southwark; and the hopper fare actually lasts longer than the hour advertised. Whisper it quietly, you actually get an extra ten minutes leeway, so you have 70 minutes to jump from bus to bus (although I managed 28 in an hour). I saw my fare end when boarding a 12 at Bowyer Place.
Since completing the challenge, it has been pointed out by many people on Twitter that it would be hard to travel anywhere outside of London by bus for £1.50, let alone to take 28 separate journeys. Who would've thought that bus regulation was a good thing? (Everyone. –ed.) I certainly came away from the challenge more grateful than ever for London’s bus network.
All in all, to attempt to beat the record, you have to be really lucky with bus timings, service patterns, and the friendly drivers willing to stop for you. Should you want to beat my record, try and find a stretch of road where lots of buses use the same stops, so you can hop on and off buses. But make sure you don’t do it on one of the hottest days of the year; and, whatever you do, don’t get trapped in the Camberwell nexus.