Friends of Capital Transport Campaign: newsletter 78

Proposed reshaping of buses in central London
The formal release of plans to make swingeing cuts to bus services in central London came on September 28th. They bore an uncanny resemblance to the leaked document detailing changes that might be made to reflect modal shift to the Elizabeth Line, except that the Elizabeth line is no longer mentioned.

The plans evoked widespread protest. They reflect operational need rather than passenger need, so buses terminate where it is convenient for the operator rather than where people want to go. The bus station at Dalston Junction, which originally housed a solitary service every 20 minutes, is filled with routes going north and east. Dalston is predominantly residential in character and most people want to travel south and west. Routes which were diverted to convenient resting points was low passenger use – the 22, the former 22 (now a 242) and the 172, which was the southern end of the 141 – are cut back further. Far too many routes terminate at Oxford Circus, so whereas the complaint used to be of lightly loaded buses in Oxford Street, we now have a plethora of empty out of service buses running around Cavendish Square.

“Reshaping” is associated with the disastrous changes of the late 1960s. The one successful change was the concept of routes serving as feeders to the underground. Until the travelcard in 1981, buses were seen as being in competition with tubes, whereas in reality affordable public transport is in competition with Uber and private cars. Buses should be serving interchange stations.

The mayor had previously indicated that services to hospitals would be improved as part of the redistribution of bus services from the centre to outer London. However, this too has fallen by the wayside. Patients discharged from the Whittington in the small hours will no longer have Night bus N271 to get them home. The 134 will serve UCH from the north rather than the 14 from the south. The 40, 48 and RV1 will no longer serve Guy’s and Tommy’s loses the 53.

Cuts were tried in the 1980s when control passed from the GLC to central government. The fewer buses that ran, the fewer people used those that remained. Like Austerity, it is a policy that fails in its own terms. What is needed is that the Mayor address the causes for decline in bus use. Chief amongst these are the extended journey times. Making people change buses would only extend these times further. Tackling congestion, with an updated scheme that reflects time of day and level of demand, is urgently needed. It is not acceptable to set targets for modal shift by 2041 and then sit back until 2040 before doing anything to achieve it. Enforcement against illegal parking – a white van in a bus stop added ten minutes to the journey times of all traffic- must also be carried out. And this ridiculous nonsense of “the driver has been instructed to wait at this stop to p**s off those of you still gullible enough to think the bus might get you there on time” needs to be knocked on the head. All that happens is that other buses go past, pick up the passengers instead, and then the delayed bus catches them up, but anyone wanting an intermediate stop has been needlessly delayed.

The consultation closes on November 9th. However, tourists have little say. They were the victims of the curtailment of the 176, which used to link Oxford Street and theatreland, and they are now to lose those splendid fallbacks for wet days, the 19 and the 11 to and from Sloane Street. The RV1 is to be withdrawn completely.

More ticket office closures proposed
A consultation to close several ticket offices on the London Overground closed on October 12th. Unlike the Underground, the Overground is part of the National Rail network and with the concession to run it comes the obligation to make available tickets to any part of the network.

Tickets can now be purchased on line but unless there is some saving to accrue from advance purchase, there is no advantage in obtaining tickets before travel and a major disadvantage if travel plans have to be changed.

Ticket machines are increasingly versatile and the latest improvements at some of the stations where ticket offices are under threat include the availability of tickets up to 28 days in advance, though not the cheaper advance purchase tickets. There is also an offer that refunds may be available if you inadvertently purchase a more expensive ticket than you need.

Unfortunately, passengers do not want a refund, and all the hassle that goes with claiming it, they want the right ticket first time. And as with so many economies, it is the people with disabilities who stand to lose most and are most likely to be discouraged from using public transport as a result.

Arriva derci, Cymru
The fifteen year reign of German National Railways in Wales ended with something of a whimper, thanks to Storm Callum. A planned protest at the service which was to have met one of the last trains into Cardiff had to be abandoned when all trains failed to run on the final day and Arriva’s advice was “Do not travel”. The new operator is a consortium of French and Spanish National Railways. Officially Keolis Amey, it will be branded as Transport for Wales.

Timetable chaos, continued
Worse was to follow for passengers from Wales and the West. A Hitachi bi-mode train managed to bring down wires between Reading and London Paddington in such a way as to render all four lines inoperable. After a day’s chaos, three lines reopened with the fourth open to diesel trains or bi-modes in diesel mode. These bi-mode trains are already in service (readers will recall the first one broke down with Grayling on board). It was unclear why it needed to be tested, let alone why the tests had such catastrophic consequences.

Sadiq and the additional cost of the freedom pass
Caroline Pigeon recently drew attention to Sadiq’s role as a former Minister in a decision which is costing TfL an amount that increases in real terms every year. In the wash-up before the General Election of 2010, the entitlement to a National freedom pass in England was reduced. For every week that an older person was short of age 60, two weeks were added to the time before the pass would be available. The Minister in charge of this policy was Sadiq Khan.

Boris Johnson seized the opportunity to offer a London pass to everyone over 60 – the Welsh government has done the same. As Nick Lester pointed out at the time, this was a sly move because the cost was minimal in year one and would only become significant after he had left office.

Caroline Pigeon has obtained figures which purport to show the level of significance. However, this is not the full story. Firstly, the Coalition government further deferred the eligibility dates for new holders when it extended the retirement age from 65 to 66, thereby extending still further the period in which sixty-somethings have a London Pass rather than a National pass. Secondly, the figures are based on perceived fares foregone, based on touching in of Freedom Pass oystercards. This assumes people are assiduous about touching in and out, whereas if there are no gates at one end of the journey and no financial imperative to search out an oyster reader, this is not going to happen. Moreover, the concept of fares foregone ignores the likelihood that the journey would not have been made if it had cost money. Some of us are more willing to undertake voluntary activities if there is no travel cost attached. Further, the availability of a greatly reduced fare to places just outside London has the effect of encouraging people to make the journey, providing revenue to Train Operating Companies that would not otherwise have been gained. Where journeys that have to be made suddenly become much cheaper outside the peak, they may be made at times when trains are less crowded.

There has been a surprising lack of interest in analysing the effect of the Freedom Pass. It should encourage modal shift, off peak travel, and greater economic or leisure activity with associated health benefits. Elderly drivers have a higher accident rate per mile than the under-75s. If the freedom pass is not getting them out of their cars further measures are needed, either to make public transport more attractive or private motoring more expensive. If older people are not persuaded to a more active life-style, either public transport must be improved or the television licence fee increased.

Accident Investigation report into Peckham incident
A little over twelve months ago, a London Overground rush hour train came to an abrupt halt 100 yards short of Peckham Rye station. Passengers were stranded for over an hour, during which the driver was twice required to fight his way through standing passengers to check the state of the doors. There was a failure in communications. Arriva’s policy that drivers should contact them first, at their Swiss Cottage HQ, rather than Network Rail did not help but the main problem was that when it was involved, Network Rail failed to ascertain the correct position of the train. The upshot was that, after more than an hour in which there had been little information, passengers were invited to leave the train via the driver’s cab and walk the 100 yards to the station. In the belief that the train was almost at the station, Network Rail had failed to disconnect the power supply. Fortunately no-one stepped on to the live rail or the story would have had rather more publicity. Eventually the mistake was realized but then the people still on the train were angered still further by the instruction to remain on the train.

Apart from the need to address the communications policy, it is not acceptable for a driver to be in sole charge of a heavily loaded train for more than an hour. The change to Driver Only Operation has given insufficient thought to what is needed in an emergency. Network Rail were more concerned with clearing the line and dealing with the considerable knock-on effects to have much thought for passengers caught up in the problem and starved of information.

Government loan to meet Crossrail funding gap
The government has announced a loan to ensure completion of the Crossrail project, allegedly in time to open by Autumn 2019. The money would have to be repaid once Crossrail starts producing revenue, so London will pay in the end. At a recent conference I asked the Director of Operrations how robust the new date is, having regard to the experience of the Jubilee Line extension, when a promised opening date was set well in advance, only to be postponed at almost the last minute. Not unreasonably, he responded that each scheme had to be looked at on its merits and the length of the delay on one is no guide to that on another. The trouble is that the causes of the delay to Crossrail – three different signalling systems that do not speak to one another – seems a bigger hurdle to surmount than the problem of fraudulent contractors which beset the JLE.

HS2: Minister casts fresh doubt on phase II
After weeks of speculation that several cabinet ministers are calling for HS2 to be scrapped, and the postponement of the Parliamentary Bill for Phase IIB, yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph reports the Transport Secretary saying that phase II is not certain to happen. As Sir Terry Morgan rightly says in response, the whole scheme makes no sense without phase II.

Reduced Sunday service on the Barking-Gospel Oak line
The latest misfortune to befall users of the Barking Gospel Oak line is a reduction to a half hourly service on Sundays. Since it is not to accommodate engineering work, I am not sure how this is allowed under the terms of the concession to TfL and the obligations to the National Network. If it is to apply on Sundays when the North London Line shuts down early, it will cause considerable and unacceptable delay to late night journeys.

Grayling announces another Rail review
Yet another rail review has been commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport. What happened to the last one? Designed to deflect criticism of the current set up, and stem the growing clamour for renationalisation, it will also consider again the perceived need to simplify fares. Was that not the subject of a previous report, after which nothing changed? It is due to report in 2020, when there is every hope that the report will be made to a new Secretary of State.

Virgin trains have taken a significant step in regard to fares, though perhaps simplification is not the right word. Noting that more of Friday travel is start of the weekend leisure trips rather than business trips, it has abolished the Friday evening peak fare. They hope this will end the headlong rush for the 1900 hours to Manchester, the first on which off-peak tickets could be used. London Buses worked out that Fridays were different to Monday-Thursday several years ago.

Stratford traffic management scheme opens
Although still incomplete, Stratford now boasts some significant cycle lanes. Some two-way working has been restored, and although the bus stops have moved around there is no obvious (to me, an occasional visitor) disbenefit to passengers. Indeed the buses to Plaistow now serve a common stop and the jumble of routes outside the Edward VII pub has been simplified. The first phase came into effect in September and the second phase on October 22nd.

Future events
Campaign for Better Transport (London) Tuesday January 15th at 77 Cowcross Street, E.C.1 at 6 p.m.
Chesham & District RUG December 11th, 7.30 p.m. Chesham Town Hall
Watford User Group, Tuesday November 4th (TOMORROW), adjacent to Watford Junction station.

From the archives of the Capital Transport Campaign

One hundred and fifty years ago. St. Pancras station opened, October 1st, 1868.

Seventy years ago. A newly built “Castle” steam engine is named in honour of the locomotive designer G.J. Churchward.

Fifty years ago. Programme of replacing tired but well built ticket offices on the North London line, at Kensal Rise, Hampstead Heath and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, with ugly brutalist buildings – but at least they sold tickets.

Thirty years ago. Clapham Junction rail disaster in which 35 people lost their lives, caused by a signal which should have been red displaying green.

Thirty years ago. LRT announces that the Travelcard will be increased in price to match the Capitalcard, effectively ending the option of a cheaper card excluding BR services in London.

Five years ago. Review of Bus services published by the GLA – “How London will cope with 167 million more journeys”.
North London Line closes for six days after a freight derailment at Camden Town.

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