Tag Archives: London buses

. . . 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)

A Journey by a 1950’s London Bus

I came across this production by the Colonial Film Unit which tells those who find themselves in a foreign land, just how to identify a bus, the reasons we have a conductor, how to buy a ticket, and importantly how to queue. It’s just the sort of essential information our cousins from Africa would have needed in 1950 to assimilate themselves into British society. It also reinforces the perception that everyone speaks in either a plummy received pronunciation BBC accent or is a cockney urchin.

Opening scenes show Piccadilly Circus teeming with buses and cabs, some looking to be pre-1914 models. No cars or lorries are to be seen.

In case you haven’t realised, we are told that these “splendid” buses will transport you out of “the largest city in the world”, and yes, they will actually retrace their route back to the Metropolis, but we are told that one must ensure the bus is travelling in the correct direction for one’s needs.

The narrator describes how two “African students studying in London”, who’ve been walking across fields in the badlands of Potters Bar, now need to get back to their studies and prepare to catch the bus. They remarkably manage to join a queue at the bus stop, presumably having been told by the upper-class documentary makers at just what end of the queue to stand.

The Cockney conductor, after ensuring everybody is safely seated, collects the fares. The film is at pains to show even our African students are capable of purchasing a ticket, but our guinea pigs don’t have the correct change, which the narrator tells us that it’s just not the British way.

Later in the journey, as if to reassure the public, the bus manages to stop for schoolchildren at an early pedestrian crossing.

At the end, the students alight from the bus to a cheery wave from the conductor, before unhurriedly crossing the road, presumably the subject of another documentary to teach bright African students how to traverse England’s highways.

Wonderfully politically incorrect, and evocative of post-war Britain, when only those with the correct accent had the brains to use buses and a much-needed teaching aid for Johnny Foreigner.

Featured image: Northward up Old Bond Street from Piccadilly, the 25 bus, the only route on Bond Street, is bound for Victoria from Becontree Heath by Ben Brooksbank (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Barmy Bus Tours

The proliferation of buses in London of late has been the cause of much of the capital’s congestion. Outside the rush hour, especially during the evening, great convoys of these empty red monsters convey nothing but air.

At least some of these leviathans have been put to novel use. These tours offer an insight into what makes our capital city so distinctive, the guides boast diverse interests and expertise.

Afternoon Tea Tours

Combining two English icons, the red Routemaster and traditional cream tea. For one-and-a- half hours you are driven around much of the London tourist sights: London Eye, Houses of Parliament; Piccadilly Circus, nothing unusual you might claim, but while London passes by your window you are served scones, sandwiches and tea whilst seated at your table resplendent with a crisp white linen tablecloth.


Afternoon Tea Bus Tour 12.30 and 15.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Ghost Tours

In a city as ancient it’s hardly surprising that reports of a supernatural nature have been reported. Whether real or imagined this tour takes you by night (naturally apparitions don’t appear in daylight). The black gothic themed funeral bus, as it was in a previous reincarnation, takes you on a 75-minute experience full of stories many of which should be taken with a high degree of scepticism.


The Ghost Bus Tours 19.30 and 21.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Harry Potter Tour

Somebody had to do it, yes your favourite apprentice wizard takes you to places in London featured in his stories, but you will need to be au fait with the novels. A three-hour mini coach tour of all the London plot locations. Walk through the wall at Platform 9¾ or walk in the footsteps of Rubeus Hagrid with opportunity (naturally!) to buy the merchandise at the end of the tour.


Harry Potter Bus Tours of London from Temple tube station see website for tour times and dates

London Spy Tours

With the tag line ‘take a ride on our discretely disguised open top tour bus’ this irresistible tour claims to guide you to the dark and dangerous world of intelligence gathering. It’s all a bit hush-hush, but apparently you meet on route number SP1.


London Spy Tours from Aldwych on Sundays 11.30

National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours

Known for stately homes and cream teas the Trust is also involved in preserving the best of modernity. They worked with Aviva Heritage Fleet to restore RMC 1453 the first ever Routemaster coach back to its original condition and green livery. At this time of year they offer tours of London in the vehicle conducted by knowledgeable guides. The limited number of tours this year can be found at the National Trust website.


National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours from Festival Village Southbank Centre Saturdays