London mayor Sadiq Khan is pressing ahead with plans to cut bus route 53, which links Charlton with central London, despite widespread opposition from local councils and MPs.
The 53 will be cut back to run from Plumstead to County Hall from June 15, and will only run to Whitehall for night services, which will be renumbered N53. Day services will also be cut from every seven and a half minutes to every eight minutes.
The proposals have gone ahead despite opposition from Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark councils, and local MPs Matt Pennycook, Teresa Pearce and Clive Efford, and a 1,900-signature petition from local bus users.
Pennycook said: “I’m extremely disappointed that they have chosen to press ahead with cuts to the 53 bus service despite the significant local opposition that was expressed.”
He said he would press TfL for guarantees that passengers would not have to pay twice for their journeys to central London – many 53 journeys last over an hour, meaning Khan’s “hopper” fare would not apply for passengers changing near the end of the truncated route.
The cut to the 53 was first revealed on this website last year. It is part of a larger programme of cutbacks to bus services, particularly in central London, to address a fall in ridership and TfL’s financial problems. The mayor’s transport agency had its funding cut by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor, while coffers are also being drained by Khan’s partial fare freeze and delays to Crossrail.
But while south-east London – with few Tube services – gets hit by the cut to route 53 as well as a separate cutback to route 171, which serves New Cross and Brockley, proposals for four cuts in central London, including routes along the King’s Road in Chelsea, have been abandoned.
TfL and Greenwich Council had proposed routing the new service from Blackheath Royal Standard via Charlton Road, Charlton Church Lane and Anchor & Hope Lane to give residents in Blackheath and Kidbrooke easy access to the Charlton supermarkets. The service would have also taken pressure off the 486 through Charlton, and TfL had called it its preferred option at a council scrutiny meeting earlier this year.
The Charlton Champion understands some residents had voiced unhappiness at the prospect of losing car parking spaces to make way for the new service.
But this proposal has now been dropped, with a consultation released today for new route 335, which could run via Westcombe Hill, providing relief to passengers who currently struggle to get on route 108. A second proposal would see it run direct via the A102. The service would run every 12 minutes during the day, and every 15 minutes in evenings and Sundays.
TfL says: “Sending the route via Charlton was considered, either via Woolwich Road, Anchor and Hope Lane and Bugsby’s Way, or via Charlton Road, Charlton Church Lane and Bugsby’s Way.
“These routeings, while serving a wider area, would be circuitous.
“An end-to-end journey via Charlton from Kidbrooke during the morning peak would take an estimated 37 minutes. This would be a slower alternative to routes 108, 132 and 422 and therefore less attractive compared to Option 1 and Option 2.”
There have long been demands for a new service between the Kidbrooke Village development and North Greenwich. With commuting via Zone 2 North Greenwich offering cheaper fare caps than Zone 3 Kidbrooke, the new service could find itself overwhelmed very quickly – and will add to pressure at North Greenwich bus station.
Charlton Church Lane could gain a new bus route if TfL goes ahead with plans to create a service linking the Kidbrooke Village development with North Greenwich station.
A new route linking the development on the site of the former Ferrier Estate with the Jubilee Line has long been planned, and TfL’s preferred option is for it to run via the Charlton retail parks, according to a document released at a council scrutiny meeting last week.
A question-and-answer document from TfL claims that “councillors and many residents have lobbied” for the service to run to the Royal Standard at Blackheath, then along Charlton Road, then down Charlton Church Lane, Anchor & Hope Lane and onto North Greenwich station via the current 472 and 486 routes.
In an answer, TfL says “the route preferred by residents and councillors is also our preferred route”. It is not known what other options were on the table, which residents were consulted or how they were consulted.
TfL says the route would “link Blackheath to the new Sainsbury’s in Charlton, connect people in Kidbrooke to Blackheath, Charlton and North Greenwich [and alleviates pressure on the 132, as it is another route that goes to North Greenwich from Kidbrooke Park Road”.
While another route to North Greenwich will be welcomed, the narrow Charlton Church Lane often struggles with the existing two services – the 380 and 486 – that use it. It is not known whether any parking restrictions would be put in place to allow buses to pass on the road. It also not known if there are any plans to improve bus access outside the Sainsbury’s/M&S development, where the eastbound bus stop is some distance away from the stores.
“We will shortly have internal approval to allow consultation to happen,” TfL’s reply says. “The implementation is reliant on section 106 [developer] funding from sites at North Greenwich and Kidbrooke (and to a lesser extent, Charlton).
“We need confirmation from the borough on when Kidbrooke’s funding will be released, which will influence when consultation and implementation can occur. TfL are keen on doing this as soon as possible.”
Many long-standing residents will remember when Charlton Church Lane had no buses at all – the 380 started running up and down the hill in 1993, while the 486 started using the road when it was introduced in 2001.
Either Sainsbury’s or Asda in Charlton could be placed at risk of closure this week when a competition report into the merger of the two supermarket giants is released. The Competition and Markets Authority is expected to recommend the closure of a number of stores if it allows the tie-up between the two chains to go ahead. Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday claimed the merger may not go ahead if the CMA recommends closing more than 170 stores. A provisional report is expected this week, with a full report due this April.
Transport for London has confirmed plans to reduce the frequency of bus route 486, which links Charlton with North Greenwich station.
From Saturday 23 February, the service – which is frequently full to standing and suffers from buses terminating early – will run every 10 minutes during weekday daytimes and every 12 minutes on Saturdays, instead of every eight minutes as now.
However, TfL has told The Charlton Champion that it will increase frequencies on busier weekday morning journeys.
TfL confirmed full details about the changes on Tuesday afternoon:
Introduction of two journeys during Monday to Friday morning peak hours from Bexleyheath to North Greenwich, increasing the frequency from 7.5 to 8 buses per hour during the busiest hour in the morning peak
Reduction of Monday to Friday daytime frequency from every 8 minutes to every 10 minutes (7.5 to 6 buses per hour)
Reduction of Saturday daytime frequency from every 8 minutes to every 12 minutes (7.5 to 5 buses per hour)
Reduction of Sunday and evening frequency from every 12 minutes to every 15 minutes (5 to 4 buses per hour)
There is no change to the weekend–only night service at this time
The news, first revealed in a bus enthusiasts’ newsletter published last week, comes just days before the east Greenwich Ikea opens on the route, with a planning agreement compelling to the furniture giant to advise customers to take public transport.
A proposal to scrap the weekend overnight service on the route – which meets Night Tube trains on the Jubilee Line – is on hold, the London Omnibus Traction Society reported.
Financial problems at TfL
There has been no consultation on the cut, which is part of a new contract for bus company Go-Ahead London to run the service. Currently, the route – between North Greenwich station and Bexleyheath shopping centre – is run with 16 vehicles at peak times. The new contract specifies just 14 buses.
In 2017/18 the route saw 4.5m passengers – the most since its inception in 2001. While North Greenwich station is the major destination for many passengers, it is also well used for the Charlton retail parks, Charlton station and Queen Elizabeth Hospital. It also serves the massive new St Mary Magdalene school on Greenwich Peninsula.
TfL’s director of public transport service planning, Geoff Hobbs, told The Charlton Champion on Monday: “We constantly review and reorganise the bus network to modernise bus travel in London. This makes sure that Londoners’ fares are efficiently used with buses serving areas they are needed most and reduces bus-on-bus congestion.
“The changes to the frequency of route 486 reflect its varied demand during different parts of the day and week. We are increasing frequencies to the busiest weekday morning journeys to respond to the higher demand and are reducing its frequency when there is less demand. This will ensure our network is efficiently run and that buses are running where they are needed most.”
“We are aware of new developments in the area and are always reviewing our services to adapt to changes and, if needed, we will make further changes accordingly.“
TfL is currently facing a financial crisis on three fronts. It is primarily caused by the loss of its grant, signed off by previous mayor Boris Johnson, but has also lost some income because of current mayor Sadiq Khan’s partial fare freeze and the ongoing delay in finishing Crossrail.
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.”
The cut means means only the 177 will run between Greenwich and Woolwich, halving the service from 12 to six buses per hour.
Instead of running from Lewisham, the 180 will run from North Greenwich via the Greenwich Millennium Village, the under-construction Ikea and Bugsby’s Way – a slight change to the original plan which saw it running via Peartree Way and a longer stretch of Woolwich Road.
TfL, which is chaired by London mayor Sadiq Khan, says: “The 177 has sufficient capacity for the level of demand on this corridor. We will continue to keep this under review.”
Route 129, which links Greenwich town centre with North Greenwich, will be extended to start back from Lewisham, but at a reduced peak-time frequency of five buses per hour, compared with the six provided by the 180.
Passengers who want to travel to and from Lewisham will be expected to use another service or change from the 180 to the 129 at Ikea.
The 472 to North Greenwich will also be less frequent – in peak hours it will be cut to eight buses per hour (currently 10), six on Saturdays (currently eight) and five on Sundays (currently six). It will also be rerouted in Thamesmead to run to Abbey Wood.
Crossrail is due to open at Abbey Wood and Woolwich on Sunday 9 December – this date has not been officially confirmed – so the changes should be in place around that time.
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.
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.
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.”