Levelling down: Route 53 to be cut back to Elephant under TfL bus cuts

Route 53 passing along Charlton Road
The 53 service is due to be cut back to Elephant & Castle

Government cuts mean bus route 53 is set to be cut back again so it no longer runs beyond Elephant & Castle, Transport for London has announced today.

The one-time trunk route from Plumstead, Woolwich, Charlton, Blackheath, west Greenwich and Deptford is one of a number of victims of a swathe of cuts which are planned to help solve TfL’s cash crisis, which has been caused by the scrapping of government funding and the effects of the pandemic.

Some of the capital’s best-known routes – including the 11 through the City and West End, the 12 serving Peckham and the 24, London’s oldest unchanged service from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath – are due to be scrapped altogether while others are set to be shorted or changed.

The 53 ran to Whitehall until June 2019, when the first signs of TfL’s funding crisis led to an initial swathe of cuts to buses – first revealed on this website – and the service was trimmed back to Lambeth North tube station.

Now TfL plans to swing the axe again so the service would only run from Plumstead bus garage to Elephant & Castle, meaning passengers would have to switch to route 453 to reach central London. TfL, which is chaired by the Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, says there is less demand for buses in the area north of Elephant & Castle and that only 3 per cent of passengers would be affected.

The service would run at least every 12 minutes, TfL says. The N53 night service to Whitehall is not included in the package of cuts.

Route 53 bus with passenger displaying Whitehall Horse Guards
The 53 ran as far as Whitehall until two years ago

TfL’s financial problems began under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson, when he allowed George Osborne – then the Conservative chancellor and more recently the editor of the Evening Standard – to scrap its annual government grant of about £600 million.

This meant that TfL – unlike transport operators in other major cities – was left reliant on passenger fares for about half of its income.

But Johnson’s financial model began to unravel at the end of the 2010s when passenger numbers went into decline, and collapsed altogether when the pandemic forced people off the network.

Since then TfL’s future has been in question, with the organisation reliant on a number of short-term bailouts and the government – which has a policy of “levelling up” regions outside London – insisting on deep cuts. If a new deal is not agreed by June 24 then TfL will run out of money altogether.

Another service serving Greenwich borough, the 47 between Bellingham and Shoreditch, which runs along Creek Road in Deptford, would no longer run north of London Bridge under the proposals unveiled today.

Other cuts affecting SE London complete withdrawal of the 12 between Oxford Circus and Dulwich, serving a heavily bus-dependent corridor through Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham. Another route in Peckham, the 78 between Nunhead and Shoreditch, would also be axed. Other services would be altered to plug the gaps.

Sixteen day routes and five night buses would be axed under the proposals – routes 4, 11, 12, 14, 16, 24, 31, 45, 72, 74, 78, 242, 259, 521, C3, D7, N11, N16, N31, N72, and N74.

Earlier this year it was announced that three major SE London routes – the 1, 21 and 188 – would be altered to fill in for bus cuts elsewhere, with the 1 due to run from Canada Water to Hampstead Heath and the 21 from Lewisham to Holloway.

A six-week consultation into today’s proposals is now open at haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/busreview.


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