. . . And then three came along at once

Ask any cabbie their opinion of London buses and they will come up with the same answer, there are just too many, pointing out that in Oxford Street dozens of buses queue up just to enter this popular shopping nirvana.

There’s a lot of routes

So you don’t have to I’ve had a look at the routes which London’s 8,600 buses travel 6.5 million miles a day. The first on the list is Route 1: Canada Water – Tottenham Court Road Station, the numbers then run in sequence without a break up to Route 238: Barking – Stratford. A Route 239 is absent from the list, then the numbers run from Route 240: Edgware – Golders Green without a break to Route 303: Edgware – Kingsbury.

In fact, there are over 700 routes in total, the oldest being Route 24: Pimlico – Hampstead which was started by The General Omnibus Company in 1911, it has remained on the same journey with only minor changes since then to facilitate modern one-way systems.

If a route is split it often retains the original number. For instance, in 2003 the formation of Route 414: Maida Vale – Putney Bridge to augment historic Route 14 to continue south from Hyde Park Corner.

The original buses and the routes they took were identified by their colour, but in 1906 the London Motor Omnibus Company started calling their routes 1 through to 5.

Now to complicate matters

Today Routes 1-599 are for everyday routes; 600-600 are to be avoided at all costs as they are school routes; 700-899 routes are for regional and national coach services.

To complicate this further a prefix often is attached: C for Central; X for Express; and N for Night. In addition, there are some doubles in the number sequence as other operators have purloined their use.

A little bit of trivia

The longest is Route X26: Heathrow – Croydon at 23.75 miles taking up to 2 hours to complete.

The shortest Route 389: The Spires – Western Way both in Barnet at 1.5 miles long.

Route N29: Trafalgar Square – Enfield has the most stops at 73.

Tesco stores have been twinned, Route H28: Tesco, Bull’s Bridge, Southall – Tesco, Osterley, Isleworth.

The buses red livery is a leftover from The General Omnibus Company who used that colour in an attempt to stand out when colours denoted the operator and the route.

. . . and then three come along at once

The old joke that you wait for ages for one bus, then three come along at once, is bordering on cliché. But it is also, as it turns out, true because of maths. The depressing reality is that, over any length of time, buses serving a single route are likely to end up tootling along directly behind each other.

Because you lot can’t be bothered to discover the reason, Lewis Lehe, a postgrad working on a PhD in transport engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, built a game to demonstrate to the rest of us that it actually does happen. You can play it here. But if, like me, you are both lazy and impatient, here’s how it works.

The game features two buses, serving a circular route with four stops. At the start of the game, the two buses are evenly spaced, at opposing ends of the loop. Passenger flows at each stop are identical to those opposite: when one bus has to pause for a set period at one stop, the other is pausing for the same length of time across the map.

If the following buses’ progress aren’t checked with those same delays and same number of passengers embarking, more passengers will join the upcoming bus stops, making the first bus take longer to pull away, giving those following it even more time to speed past the now-empty stops and tuck itself in behind the back wheels of the first.

Featured image: Blue Eyes, vintage London bus, a common sight at bus gatherings. By Colin Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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