I used London’s hopper fare to take 28 buses in under an hour for £1.50. Here’s what I learned

Look! A bus! Image: Getty.

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.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.