Whitehall no more: TfL plans to cut bus route 53 back to County Hall

Bus route 53
Route 53 currently runs as far as Whitehall

Transport for London is planning to cut the 53 bus route back to County Hall as part of a huge swathe of cuts to services in the centre of the capital.

The 53, which runs from Plumstead, Woolwich, Charlton and Blackheath through Deptford, the Old Kent Road and Elephant & Castle to Whitehall would be cut back to County Hall from March 2019 under proposals to “reduce bus flows” across Westminster Bridge and along Whitehall.

The scheme affects routes from across London, and will also mean the 171 from Catford, Brockley and New Cross to Holborn being cut back to Elephant & Castle.

Transport for London’s proposals come as it battles financial worries after a complete cut in day-to-day government funding instituted by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor. It is also having to deal with a four-year fare freeze from mayor Sadiq Khan, and a fall in bus passenger numbers.

It has already planned to cut bus services between Greenwich and Woolwich by re-routing route 180 to North Greenwich station instead of Lewisham. There have also been a series of cuts to bus frequencies, especially on night services.

A consultation on these new proposals will come in mid-September.

The 53 proposal is likely to face stiff opposition. The service – which in its heyday ran as far north as Parliament Hill Fields and Camden Town – is the last remaining bus link to central London from Blackheath, Charlton, Woolwich and Plumstead, and terminating at County Hall will leave passengers needing to switch to another service.

It was last cut back in 2002, from Oxford Circus to Whitehall, with the 453 from Deptford Bridge picking up the slack.

But it has twice in recent years been temporarily cut back to Lambeth North because of roadworks.

A petition from The Charlton Society was launched at the time, followed by a Greenwich Council motion calling on TfL to restore the full route.

TfL is predicting falls in central London bus passengers once Crossrail opens in December – bus in the 53’s case, the Elizabeth Line will still be a bus ride away for many of its passengers.

Some industry insiders have speculated that TfL would like to cut the route even further, to the Elephant & Castle, but can’t do so because of a lack of space for buses to terminate.

(Updated 12.10pm Thursday) Transport for London told The Charlton Champion the proposals were still at an early stage and needed to be discussed with boroughs.

Director of public transport service planning Geoff Hobbs said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport.

“As set out in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, we’re currently looking at how we can adjust and reorganise the bus network to ensure it reflects a rapidly changing London, including planning for year-on-year increases in bus kilometres in outer London. We need to modernise and simplify the network and ensure that bus capacity is in the right places at the right times.

“We’re currently working closely with London’s boroughs on a potential set of proposals and they are helping shape our plans. These changes will also be subject to full public consultation before they’re put in place so we can hear from customers.”

For full details of the bus service cuts, see the story on 853.

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TfL to cut night bus service on route 53 – despite arrival of Night Overground at New Cross Gate

Route 53 bus in Whitehall
Route 53 will be a rarer sight at night from 20 January

Transport for London is to reduce night services on bus route 53, which runs from Whitehall to Plumstead via the Old Kent Road, New Cross, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich.

From 20 January, all-night services will run every 30 minutes from Sundays to Thursdays, and every 15 minutes at weekends. The night 53 service currently run every 20 minutes during the week and every 12 minutes at weekends. Daytime services are unaffected.

TfL says the change is “to match demand”. Passenger numbers on the night service have fallen from a peak of 447,000 in 2013/14 to 405,000 in 2016/17.

Night routes have also been hit by competition from minicab app Uber, which offers heavily subsidised fares while it builds up market share.

TfL’s finances are being squeezed by central government scrapping its grant funding as well as mayor Sadiq Khan freezing some fares until 2020.

The neighbouring N89 service was also trimmed back last month.

The change will badly hit those who depend on the all-night service to get to and from work as well as people coming back from nights out in central London.

It will also make it harder for those who live on the 53 route to take advantage of the Night Overground rail service, which began running between Dalston Junction and New Cross Gate earlier this month. Mayor Sadiq Khan said the weekend service would “help thousands more who are working through the night or out enjoying our capital’s nightlife”.

Many London routes, both and day and night, have been cut back as TfL grapples with its financial problems. Other cuts planned in south-east London in coming weeks affect the 484 service which runs through Brockley and the 269 between Bexleyheath and Bromley.

Local London Assembly member Len Duvall has asked Khan for details of which other routes in Greenwich and Lewisham will be cut. He is still waiting for a response.

New Whitehall cut – 53 bus to stop short at Lambeth North again

Route 53 bus in Whitehall

More bad news for users of the number 53 bus – the service, which usually runs to Whitehall, is being cut back to Lambeth North again from Monday, as a result of roadworks at Parliament Square.

The cut to the service, which is the only bus from Plumstead, Woolwich, Charlton and Blackheath to central London, is due to last four months.

However, it’s worth being vigilant about this – in January 2015, a similar temporary cut lasted 18 months.

While the new “hopper” fare – which enables people to take two buses within an hour for the price of one fare – reduces the impact of the latest truncation of the route, it will still inconvenience many passengers. Indeed, recent figures obtained by London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon show the 53 is the 10th most popular route for hopper fare users – these passengers won’t be able to take a third bus to finish their journey. (It’s worth asking the bus driver for a transfer ticket if this affects you.)

Two years ago, Greenwich councillors bound a motion calling for the restoration of the 53 service up with criticism of Boris Johnson’s stewardship of the bus network. Hopefully there won’t need to be a new motion this time…

53 to be fixed: Whitehall bus link restored from 23 July

A 53 to Lambeth North

Good news for bus passengers in Charlton, as well as Plumstead, Woolwich, Blackheath and Greenwich – route 53 will finally run to Whitehall again from 23 July.

The daytime service was suddenly cut back to Lambeth North in January 2015 because of major roadworks on Westminster Bridge and, later, at Elephant & Castle.

Now Transport for London has confirmed the full service will be finally restored, 18 months after the original change was made.

The cutback was the subject of a petition from the Charlton Society in May 2015.

A motion was later passed by Greenwich Council on the subject, although it removed credit to the amenity group and inserted criticism of former mayor Boris Johnson.

Fix the 53: Greenwich councillors turn bus motion into political squabble

A 53 to Lambeth North

Greenwich councillors passed a motion last night calling on Transport for London to restore the 53 bus service to Whitehall – but added digs at Tory mayor Boris Johnson at the same time.

The bus has been running short from Plumstead to Lambeth North since a short-notice “temporary” closure in January to allow for roadworks at Westminster Bridge.

Even though the Westminster works have long been completed, TfL is continuing to curtail services at Lambeth North, insisting the cut is needed because of roadworks at Elephant & Castle and Lewisham.

Following a petition from the Charlton Society, which you can still sign, Conservative leader Matt Hartley proposed a motion calling on the council to demand the route is fully reinstated.

He noted efforts from both parties on the council, plus the Liberal Democrats at City Hall, to get the service restored. “It’s clear to me that Transport for London has got this operational decision wrong,” he said.

But Greenwich’s regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe proposed a rival motion, stripping out the credit to the Charlton Society and inserting a dig at the rise in bus fares since Johnson became mayor in 2008.

“A single trip on that bus costs 67 percent more than it did when the mayor of London took office, and now passengers are suffering delays, diversions and curtailments,” he said.

“Residents deserve a mayor who will spend less time insulting black cab drivers and more time delivering benefits for Londoners,” he added, before criticising the Conservatives for reawarding the local rail franchise to Southeastern last year (worth nothing here that Labour awarded Southeastern its first franchise when it was reprivatised in 2006).

Then Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow criticised the Conservatives for bringing the motion, asking why they couldn’t deal with a Tory mayor. “I ask members to have some sympathy for the Conservatives, who find themselves impotent on this issue,” he said.

Woolwich Common councillor David Gardner and Charlton representative Allan MacCarthy stuck to the issue. “This is nothing more than an attack on the working poor who depend on this bus, and on south-east London,” Gardner said, branding the cut “a cheap cost-cutting measure” by TfL.

Responding for the Tories, Eltham South councillor Matt Clare said to laughter, “I can assure Cllr Morrow that we’re not impotent over here”, before criticising the Labour amendment, adding: “This is about getting the bus back to Whitehall. Not about whether you like the current mayor.”

Wrapping up for Labour, Danny Thorpe said there was “no point getting angry about partisan politics”, adding that Hartley could have approached Labour privately to propose a joint motion.

In the end, the Labour motion was passed, calling on TfL to restore the route to Whitehall, but adding: “A single trip on the 53 bus will now cost £1.50, a 67 percent increase than when the Mayor took office in 2008. The curtailment of this route does not represent a fair deal for residents of Greenwich.”

The Charlton Society’s petition can still be signed at Change.org.