London: West End Buses

The revised network for West End buses in London city centre was recently under public consultation. I fully support the principles behind the proposals for the revised network of West End buses. In my view, the suggested changes could go further towards improving bus journey reliability and offering new direct links within the city centre. I would suggest expanding the proposed actions by doing the following:

  1. Terminate long-distance city-centre-bound bus routes at Circle Tube line stations.
  2. Amend remaining routes or create new short-distance routes serving local journeys, acting as feeders for the rail-based lines and directly linking Tube stations and rail termini with one another.

Implementing these would require designing the details of the new network as well as carrying out an impact analysis of the changes in the city centre bus network, covered in this and other related reviews.

The role of a bus in a dense rail network

In an area with a dense rail-based network, like London city centre, it seems safe to assume that long-distance journeys requiring high capacity are already being served by the Tube, Overground and commuter trains. Hence, the types of journeys left for the buses to serve are:

  1. Local, short-distance journeys where the time spent walking between the street level and a platform would be longer than time spent on board of a tube or train. Route 11 is a good example as it deals mainly with local journeys within the city centre.
  1. Providing the missing links between rail-based lines, e. a direct bus where a direct tube or train is not available.
  1. Acting as feeders to rail-based lines. This is of particular relevance for the Elizabeth line, where bus routes perpendicular to it are likely to experience a spike in demand once the line is operational.

Bearing in mind that buses in London city centre frequently go through narrow and congested streets with tight turns, the journey times and reliability are constantly under threat. Shorter routes can provide improvement in this regard as reduced cycle time means they are less likely to suffer from accumulated delays (resulting in Excess Wait Time) and high frequency can be provided with fewer vehicles.

These points lead to the following conclusions for the revised city centre bus network, of which West End services form a vital part.

Circle line as a perimeter

Most bus routes from outside of the city centre could terminate at Circle Tube line stations, with predominantly city-centre-only routes operating within the perimeter formed by the Circle line (in its original routing via Notting Hill Gate on the west side). The rationale would be as follows:

  • Most Circle line stations are already offering a number of options to travel in any direction within the city centre with multiple Tube lines and bus routes.
  • The Hopper fare, combined with a coherent network design, should eliminate any disadvantages from the lack of a direct bus journey from further boroughs into the core city centre.
  • The busiest point for numerous routes is outside of the city centre (g. 3, 8 or 25), implying a limited impact of shortening them to the Circle line on passengers.

This approach has been successfully applied to the new route 242 in the proposals (allowing for an extension to St. Paul’s, justified by the demand around the Bank station area) and I believe it is appropriate for other city centre bus routes as well. For example, the longest of the Finchley Road and Abbey Road services (13, 82, 113 and 189), which were subject to a separate public consultation recently, could terminate at Baker Street station, served by five Tube lines as well as the other nine bus routes.

Out of 12 day routes that are subject to this proposal and currently penetrate the city centre, 10 will remain to do so once these changes are implemented. I would see the proportions reversed, i.e. buses from outside the city centre would enter it as an exception, rather than a rule.

Side effects

There is a need to consider the effect of the proposed changes on the rest of the network, which – admittedly – is a challenge, given its complexity. For example, the proposed route 23 (Lancaster Gate – Wembley Stadium) would appear to be a duplication of route 18 (Euston – Sudbury, not subject to change under this proposal), which itself is a ground-level version of the Bakerloo Tube line.

In fact, the current 23 (Liverpool Street – Westbourne Park) seems to be a local city centre route and as such may deserve to be one of the few exceptions with largely unchanged routing once these proposals are implemented (together with e.g. 11 and 139). Leaving the 23 as is would also reduce the total number of broken links due to these proposals by 14% by eliminating its biggest contributor. The only amendment I would suggest is terminating it at London Bridge station in order to reduce the duplication with route 11 and improve connectivity to the said station.

In order to avoid undesirable side effects, it seems that all bus routes in the city centre need to be in scope of the next review, in addition to the Oxford Street routes.

Opportunities

The new city centre bus network creates new opportunities for journeys that will be quicker and/or easier, for example thanks to new direct links like Park Lane to Piccadilly. These deserve to be quantified and emphasised in order to balance the disadvantaged journeys that will require a change in the future (naturally, they need to be presented as well) and – more importantly – in order to increase the chances of general public’s acceptance of the new network.

Designing the new network with new opportunities in mind would also help achieve one of the functions of city centre buses identified above, i.e. provide the missing links between Tube and rail stations. Based on my analysis, at present there are 8 such missing links and this number will increase to 11 due to the proposed changes. This includes journeys like Paddington – Trafalgar Square (caused by re-routing of the 23) or Euston – Bank/Cannon Street.

Oxford Street

In line with the target of making Oxford Street more pedestrian friendly, a gradual removal of bus routes from the famous shopping street is included in the proposals. However, it also includes a potentially dangerous precedent of adding a new route (113) to Oxford Street as a compensation for removing another one (13).

The Mayor’s commitment to the goal of transforming Oxford Street, combined with the functions of a bus in the city centre described above, effectively introduce a ban on new routes in Oxford Street, in my view. There is a risk that certain changes proposed now will need to be reversed soon, once the Oxford Street routes review is completed.

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