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Should We Londonise All Buses?

I know I’m a Londoner and live in the finest city in Europe, let alone the UK or England, but in my travels around the country, I have come to the conclusion, that most bus services outside the capital are very second-rate.

To start with, I should say that in most places it isn’t mainly the buses themselves, as towns and cities like Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and several others have buses that on a quick look to be on average to be the same condition and age, as those in London.

But there are three major differences.

  1. Most London buses are front entrance and centre exit, which effectively means that they pick up and set down passengers a lot quicker.  It also means in London’s case, that a wheelchair passenger has an easier route to get on and off, as he or she uses the middle door. Because of the smaller dwell time at stops, two door buses actually travel faster and carry more people more efficiently. Whether this means the capital cost per passenger journey is lower, I don’t know.  But it may well be so!
  2. London buses also announce the next stop both visually and audibly.  Many visitors to my house are very surprised, when I say something like take the 141 to Balls Pond Road and get off there.  The system also announces route changes and can be used by the driver to send a selection of common messages to the passengers.
  3. But the biggest difference is that all London buses are touch on, either with an Oyster card or a concession like my Freedom Pass.  If you have a paper ticket, you show it to the driver and they tell you to get on.  There is no timewasting mucking about with paper tickets, that London obviously deems to be just litter. 
  4. From next summer, you will be able to touch in on your bus journey with any credit card, as Oyster is being augmented for the Olympics.

But it is the field of information that London buses are streets ahead of every other bus system in the UK.

  1. As a child, you were always told, that every tube station had a street map of the local area. So if you got lost, just go to the Underground station. So now, like many Londoners, when you are going somewhere foreign like Croydon for a North Londoner or Wembley for a South Londoner, you never carry a map and rely on the map at the destination station. It usually works. Now this street map system has been extended to the buses and most bus stops have a local street map. Only last night, whilst walking back from the pub, I used a map on a stop to show a tourist from Germany, how to walk to the pub where he was meeting a friend.
  2. These street maps are paired with spider maps, which show all the routes in the area, where they go and at which stop you catch the bus.  Frank Pick and Harry Beck  would be proud of this idea from their successors. Spider maps work well and if I’m lost after a walk, I just find the nearest bus and work out how to get home. Incidentally, Transport for London call them bus route diagrams, but you can’t argue with umpteen million Londoners, who call them spider maps and that term is now the one generally used by all.
  3. London has recently introduced text messaging at stops to find out how long you have to wait for the next bus.  Other cities have this and it should be the norm everywhere.
  4. Important London bus stops have displays showing how long you’ll have to wait for the next bus.  But as people are starting to use the text system more and more, I suspect, the number of these displays will decrease.
  5. You can also see when buses will arrive at a stop either through the web or from a phone app. I don’t have a smartphone, but my dumb Nokia 6310i is perfectly capable of telling me if a 30 bus, which is my preferred route home, is due ten minutes out of Kings Cross or Euston.

So how do some of the places I’ve visited compare to London in various areas?

Two Door Buses

You see the odd ones about, but not many.

On-Bus Information Systems

I’ve never seen one, but I’m told Colchester has them.

Maps at Bus Stops

Very few and most that I’ve seen have been very inferior and totally useless for visitors.

Text Information

This is a typical London next bus information notice.

London Sign For Bus Information By Text Message

And here’s one from Leeds.

Leeds Sign For Bus Information By Text Message

No prizes for guessing, which is the simpler system.

Not only is London, just a five digit number but the sign is easily read and is as low as they can put it, so that everybody from say eight to eighty can read it with ease.  I can’t believe that there are over 45 million bus stops in Yorkshire! The london sign has the great advantage that it is small and just strapped to the post.  So perhaps it could even be used on a temporary bus stop at road works.

I’ll let Frank Pick have the last word on this.

The test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.

And he was born before the age of modern technology. He would have had a field day, if he was still alive and in charge of trasport for the whole of the UK.

So to answer my original question, the answer must be an undoubted yes! London has proven that good, frequent and understandable bus services attract more riders, so the sooner we Londonise all buses the better.

People will go on about cost, but the first thing to do is get the maps at stops in place and get sensible text messaging systems working. And then we just have to make all new buses to the London standard!  Remember too, that London retires quite a few buses each year.  Many of these with a bit of refurbishment would be very suitable for lighter use in the provinces. Certainly, many of the older ones in London are much better, than the disabled-unfriendly old banger, I got back to the centre from Elland Road.

I think too, that we will underestimate the benefits of having the same bus information systems all over the country.

As an example, how much of my time and effort have I wasted trying to find out where to catch a bus on my challenge? And how much money have I wasted on unnecessary taxis?

So if it made travel easier and cheaper, would it make it easier for people to travel to workm in the next town or perhaps have a day with Aunt Edna in Felixstowe?

We need any economic stimuli however small.

Remember too, that if we need new buses, that these are generally built in the UK,  so much of the capital cost of new buses stays here. So if that is the case, why did Red Ken betray British workers, by buying a load of useless bendy buses? Few liked them, except perhaps fare dodgers.


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