16 Things You Might Not Know About London's Buses

By Zoe Craig Last edited 89 months ago

Last Updated 10 January 2017

16 Things You Might Not Know About London's Buses
Photo by Picka Picture.

1. How many buses are there in London?

There are 8,600 buses in the whole fleet, operating on 700 routes, serving 19,000 bus stops.

2. London's 'greener' buses

Of the 8,600, 2,000 are hybrid buses; 73 are electric; and the eight on the RV1 route are fuelled by hydrogen, emitting nothing but water into the air.

3. London's electric bus routes

At present, there are three purely electric bus routes in the capital: the 312 in Croydon, the 507 (between Victoria and Waterloo) and the 521 (from Waterloo to London Bridge).

Electric bus by Rob Telford.

4. How many people do London's buses carry each day?

According to TfL, London's buses carry around 6.5m passengers a day. That's more than the whole population of Scotland (5.2m people live north of the border).

Those 6.5m passengers account for more than half of all bus journeys made in England.

5. London's first bus service was on the Marylebone Road

On 4 July 1829, George Shillibeer began the city's first omnibus service, copying the idea from Paris. The omnibus could carry 22 people and was pulled by a team of three horses.

Reconstruction of Shillibeer's horse bus of 1829, built 1929

Shillibeer's bus ran from Paddington (The Yorkshire Stingo) and Bank via the 'New Road' (now Marylebone Road), Somers Town and City Road.

Four services ran in each direction every day.

6. London's first bus fare was (kind of) more expensive than it is now

Shillibeer's omnibus fare was one shilling from Paddington to Bank, and sixpence for a halfway journey. This is equal to about £4 and £2 in today's money.

Fares on the omnibus were less than those charged by hackney cabs and short-stage coaches.

An artist impression of Shillibeer's Omnibus, 1829.

But travelling by bus still wasn't cheap, and the 'Shillibeers', as they were sometimes called, were mainly used by the middle classes.

7. London's oldest surviving bus route

We've covered this before: it's the route 24, first started operating between Pimlico and Hampstead Heath under The General Omnibus Company in 1911.

The 24 has been subject to only minor changes to accommodate one-way systems since then.

Photo: London Transport Museum

You can read more about this venerable London bus route here.

8. One to avoid? London's busiest bus

Route 25, crawling running between Oxford Circus and Ilford, is London's busiest.

In 2015/6 it carried 19.4m passengers.

9. Long-distance Clara: London's longest bus route

London's longest bus route is the X26 from Heathrow to Croydon.

It’s 23.75 miles (38.22 km) long and it can take more than two hours to travel the full distance.

The x26 goes a long, long way...

The next longest is a night bus, the N89, from Erith to Charing Cross, at 23.3 miles (37.5km) long.

10. Short and sweet: London's shortest bus route

If you're looking for the shortest hop between termini, then the 389 bus from The Spires to Western Way around Barnet is the bus for you. It's a mere mile and a half long.

All 10 stops on the super-sweet 389.

11. London's bus route with the most stops?

The N29 night bus, from Trafalgar Square to Enfield, has 73 official stops.

12. There's a London bus route which runs between two Tescos

Introducing the H28 between Bull's Bridge Tesco in Southall and Tesco Osterley in Isleworth. A must-ride for bus/supermarket fans.

13. London's worst bus

Fires, fare dodgers and fatalities; the bendy bus had it all.

Bendy Bus by watpix.

The articulated buses served London between October 2001 and December 2011, on 12 different routes. At their peak, there were 400 on London's roads, making up around 7% of London's bus fleet.

It wasn't the finest decade for London's bus network, as the longer buses proved incompatible with London's streets in many ways: blocking junctions, encouraging fare dodging, injuring pedestrians and cyclists, and occasionally bursting into flames.

14. Why are London's buses red?

It's all down to the General Omnibus Company attempting to stand out from the crowd, back in 1907. Find out more here.

15. How are London's bus routes numbered?

It's complicated: we've dedicated another article to the system, or otherwise, of numbering London's bus routes.

16. Is there any truth to the '...and then three come along at once' cliche?

Yes! The idea that you wait for ages for one bus and then three come along at once is an accepted, if frustrating, fact.

It's a transport phenomenon so widely recognised, it's got (at least) three names: bus bunching, platooning, clumping.

Seeing double by TC378.

It's all down to maths: any small delay (traffic lights, traffic, passengers) to a timetabled bus gives the one behind time to catch up.

If the following buses' progress aren't checked, in those delays, 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.

You can even play a game to prove the theory, thanks to Lewis Lehe, transport engineering PhD student at the University of California. Enjoy.