Two vintage London Transport buses will run on route 53 through Charlton on Saturday as part of celebrations to mark Plumstead bus garage’s 40th anniversary.
An open day is being held at the garage from 11am to 4pm, and to mark the day two buses that used to run on the 53 will run from Elephant & Castle to Plumstead, passing through Charlton at just after 10am.
The first bus will be an AEC Regent – the predecessor of the more famous Routemaster, and the type used in the Cliff Richard film Summer Holiday. This particular bus, the RT4779, last saw service in 1978, after which it was left to rot in a farmer’s field before being set on fire for the 2002 film Heart of Me. Enthusiasts restored the bus to its former glory and it will be seen plying its old route in Saturday.
Alongside it will be MD60 – not as iconic, but a bus which saw service on the 53 in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is only one of two surviving roadworthy Scania Metropolitans and has also been restored by an enthusiast.
The buses will depart Elephant & Castle at 9.30am, reach Blackheath Royal Standard at 10.01am and Charlton Park at 10.06am, although these times may slip somewhat. Later in the day, the RT will run a return trip on the 122 to Crystal Palace, leaving Plumstead at 4.10pm.
The open day will include old buses and other memorabilia, and will raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Tickets will be available on the day for £5 (£2.50 for children) and there will also be a shuttle bus linking the garage with Woolwich Arsenal station.
Transport for London has confirmed its plans to cut the 53 bus back to County Hall – and will make it less frequent too under new plans out for consultation today.
Plans to withdraw the 53, a lifeline for thousands of local workers, between County Hall and Whitehall were leaked last month. Now TfL is asking passengers what they think of the plans.
One aspect not previously highlighted in the leaked plans is that TfL plans to cut the 53 back to every eight minutes. TfL says it currently runs every seven-and-a-half minutes, but the full timetable shows it runs as frequently as every five minutes around 6am, when the service is heavily used.
The cut to the 53 – which runs from Plumstead via Woolwich, Charlton, Blackheath, Deptford, New Cross and the Old Kent Road to Whitehall – is part of 33 changes to routes in central London.
TfL, which is chaired by mayor Sadiq Khan, says: “The last time there was such a comprehensive review of the central London bus network was before the Congestion Charge was introduced. As a result there are some extremely complicated and inefficient sections of the road network. Some roads in central London, such as Kingsway in Holborn, are now served by more than 100 buses an hour, many of which are significantly underused. This oversupply of buses can cause congestion, slowing down journey times and worsening reliability, air quality and road safety.
“If no action is taken, GLA figures show that by 2041, three days would be lost per person every year due to congestion on London’s roads, and 50,000 hours would be lost to slower bus speeds in the morning peak every day.
“Passengers can now use the Mayor’s Hopper Fare to change buses unlimited times within an hour for just £1.50.”
A 7am journey on the 53 from Charlton Park School is timetabled to take one hour to reach Elephant & Castle, at 8am the journey takes 66 minutes.
Geoff Hobbs, Director of Public Transport Service Planning at TfL, said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people using public transport, but they can’t do this without reflecting how London has changed. It is only right that we reassess the network after the significant changes in both London’s infrastructure and how Londoners choose to travel. Londoners expect their buses to be where they are needed and run in an efficient and cost-effective manner and that’s what this review is about.
“Our proposals to reorganise the bus network would modernise bus travel in London by matching capacity with demand, reducing bus-on-bus congestion while enabling year-on-year increases in bus services in outer London. In adapting underused and inefficient services in central London, our plans will help reduce pollution that has such a damaging effect on the health on Londoners.
“Ultimately these changes, which are predominately minor route restructures or timetable adjustments, would create an efficient modern network with buses in the right places at the right times.”
He said: “As things stand in rush hour most 53 buses are frequently overcrowded by the time they get up the hill to Charlton.
“We need more frequent services on this route, not cuts to services.
“But my main concern is the impact on the large numbers of my constituents who get up at the crack of dawn to make the long journey into central London on the 53 to work low-paid jobs (if you think I’m exaggerating just catch one before 6.30am one morning and see for yourself).
“For them, the long journey on the 53 all the way to Whitehall is the only means of transport that is affordable into central London and it is therefore indispensable.
“As such, difficult to escape the conclusion that cuts to this service will punish my working-class constituents and at the very moment that a new Crossrail station is opened in Woolwich that will inevitably pile pressure onto our already over-stretched local transport network.
“So let me be as clear as I can possibly be: I will do absolutely everything in my power to fight cuts to the 53 bus service.”
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.)