Action Needed On Bus Overcrowding Says London Assembly

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 55 months ago
Action Needed On Bus Overcrowding Says London Assembly

busybus_291013You might not realise this, but where Transport for London has plans for how to deal with growth in passenger numbers on the Underground and rail networks, there isn't a similar plan for buses. In other words, TfL hasn't earmarked (or doesn't have) any money to expand the network. The subsidy amount will remain the same to 2014-15, as will the number of kilometres London's buses travel.

Yet TfL also predicts passenger numbers will increase 1% a year to 2021-22, a number which, as a new report from the London Assembly points out, contrasts with the actual growth of about 4% a year between 2000-01 and 2011-12. Earlier this year the Assembly put out a call asking for Londoners' experiences of buses, particularly interested in overcrowding, as TfL doesn't routinely measure how busy buses get. Over 1,000 people responded and their contributions form part of this report. Clearly, this is a self-selecting sample, but 73% reported their usual bus as being busy or overcrowded, with 61% saying it had got busier over the previous year. The report also cites that most frustrating of phenomena: watching a bus packed to the rafters sail by.

So what's to be done? TfL has suggested it will shuffle buses around during off-peak from quieter routes to busier ones, or switch from single deckers to double deckers. The Assembly wants to see more concrete planning and has asked for a long-term strategy to be published by March 2014.

The report also calls for TfL to measure crowding on buses in a similar way to the annual rail measurement, to see how many 'passengers in excess of capacity' are being carried. The Assembly acknowledges that the sheer size of the bus network makes such an undertaking more difficult, but doesn't think that's enough of an excuse.

Interesting facts from the report:

  • in 2012-13, the most used bus routes were (in order) the 25, 18, 29, 149, 38, 207, 5, 73, 86 and 243
  • the 25 alone carries 64,000 people per day, which is apparently the equivalent of the entire population of Bognor Regis
  • the most crowded buses cited in the survey were the 185, 208, 96, 38, 176, 172, 484, 336, 162 and 358
  • each weekday, 7,500 buses carry more than 6m passengers
  • there are twice as many trips made by bus as by tube.

Photo by D1v1d from the Londonist Flickr pool

Last Updated 29 October 2013


Stopping the roll-out of the cramped and uncomfortable vanity nonsense which is the new “Boris Bus” might be a start; was on one which was crowded when it arrived, then proceeded to become overcrowded as people just kept pushing themselves aboard through the open platfom. Having lost space to the inclusion of two staircases, they are obviously designed for their external look (which seems based on a budget toaster to my eye, more than the original Routemaster) than passeneger comfort or convenience. Add to that the fact that they seem to steer and manoeuvre like a brick (I can watch them trying to enter the stance at South End Green on the 24 route, and they regularly fail to make the turn succssfully), and we will see more, not fewer, problems on the bus service in coming years if these things get introduced in place of perfectly comfortable and safe busses.
Not to say that there couldn’t be a better bus, better suited to London. However, please can we have a proper, unbiased (I.e. not telling the designer what the solution should look like *before* the research starts) investigation into a bus for the 21st century, rather than one designed to pander to the nursery memories of a mayor who doesn’t even travel by bus!

Overground Commuter

No surprise that the majority of those routes where crowding is an issue is in South East London, where the rail service continues to be inferior to those served by the tube.


Our residents association - Kensal Rise Residents Association - submitted a paper for this recent investigation into London buses. Unlike other areas of London which suffer from inadequate bus provision, here in Kensal Rise we have plenty - 12, 821 bus services serve our residential area weekly across 7 routes. The said buses are as follows - 187, 302, 28, 52, 452, 6 and 316.

The population of Kensal Rise is circa 13,000, the area itself is not a town centre, does not have any superstores and the most exciting outlets are Tesco metro, a couple of pubs, newsagents, cafes and estate agents.

We do not understand why TfL sends thousands of buses to our area particularly as hundreds of these buses, particularly those on routes 302, 452 and 28, travel to and from our area for miles more or less empty and so are referred to as "ghost buses".

It is a shame to see so many hundreds of under-utilised buses in our area when so many other areas in London are desperate for buses. We have pointed this out to TfL on several occasions but for some reason they think that it represents good value for buses on say route 302 to transport on average 2.4 passengers per day between Willesden and Kensal Rise when each bus on this route has the capacity to carry up to 82 passengers. There are 250 buses services assigned daily to route 302 for this section of route, which is already well served by 355 bus services daily from route 52 and over 200 from route 6.

We have pointed this scandalous waste of valuable bus resources and taxpayers’ monies to TfL; but it has become clear to us that TfL is a law to themselves.

Of course TfL vigorously refuted the term "ghost buses" when we put our research and evidence to them, but it is good to see that the term "busyness" is the preferred terminology. In our opinion, the decision that TfL should report on "busyness " will achieve our objective, which is to see the reallocation of ghost buses to areas, which are suffering from poor bus provision.