Citymapper: the well-loved travel app that's lost us our sense of direction the same way calculators have lost us our ability to do mental maths. In the autumn of 2017 it launched its first night bus, which goes by the name of CM2 — Night Rider. We tried out their new route one rainy Saturday night to see how it compares to your standard 'I can't tell if that's vomit or burger sauce' night bus.
Citymapper claims that its superhuman bank of data about the capital, has left them 'in the know' as to what public transport routes Londoners are lacking. So the CM2 runs Friday and Saturday nights, from 10pm-4am, between Highbury & Islington and Aldgate East. It stops at prime nightlife locations including Dalston, Hoxton, and Shoreditch, a route which CityMapper says isn't serviced by TfL's night services, and has smart features (as Citymapper calls them) like USB phone chargers and contactless payment.
But does the self-proclaimed #smartbus match up to its title?
We get to Highbury & Islington Station at 11.30pm to catch the CM2. It's a bit confusing, as there's no sign on the stop to inform you the CM2 stops here. An in-app map that lets you track each CM2 along the bus route, but there are no times on the map, so we have to wait for 10 minutes looking a little lost before the bus arrives. When it does, we're pleased to find out that a journey is only £1 — 50p less than the going London bus fare.
The Night Rider is small and party bus-esque, with room for only 16 passengers. Whether the minibus size is a good or a bad thing, will be down to whether you're the kind of drunk that wakes up with a brunch invite from a total stranger you made friends with in the queue for the toilets, or the kind that's remembered only for the vomit you left on someone's shoes.
Thankfully, we're the former. There are bigger Citymapper buses from time to time, but seeing as they've recently changed the timetable from 9pm-5am to 10pm-4am, it seems the smaller ones do just fine to suit demand.
The CM2 is bright green — the Citymapper livery — which we're told gets many a funny look going down Kingsland High Street at 3am. Our driver, Roger is in his early 30s and has been a professional driver most of his life. He's been doing this job for eight weeks, and likes it a lot. He isn't hired by TfL, and hasn't driven a bus before, but he plays disco off his phone for the whole two hours we ride with him (told you it was like a party bus) and is never short of conversation — apart from the awkward silence when we request Barry Manilow.
To say Roger's a guy that suits the Night Rider lifestyle is an understatement. He parks at most stops greeting would-be passengers with a "How you doing man?!" and asking them where they need to get to. Though, spoiler alert: only four people get on for the whole two hours we ride the bus.
"The 67 is in front of us, and it goes exactly the same way, so we might not get any passengers this journey," Roger explains in the middle of our first leg through Dalston. The truth is though, a few people have tried to get on, but the bus only takes contactless or Apple and Android pay. It doesn't, however, take Oyster.
This is absolute sacrilege for a number of people who try to get on board throughout the night as, for anyone who's ever gone out and got so plastered they woke up to a lost card, or a £75 bill at McDonalds, it's easier to just not bring your card on nights out with you these days.
So we make it a whole leg without a single passenger getting on. Roger kindly lets us wait on board the bus station between journeys though. However he still won't let us play Barry Manilow.
The bus is extremely cosy though. It's the cleanest, most comfortable — and definitely the warmest — bus we've ever been on. Roger tells us that one passenger once got on and was so impressed by the bus' interior, particularly the wood-effect flooring — "just like in my mum’s house!" — that he took a selfie with it.
The CM2 calls itself the smart bus, and #smartbus pops up on the journey screen every 10 seconds. A perfect plot to garner free social media content from the kind of Instagrammers who take selfies with a bus.
One couple that do get on after midnight are Rosie and Jasper. Jasper has a contactless card, but Rosie only has her Oyster. It's OK though, Roger explains, because the service is privately-owned you can pay more than once on one card — actually quite a good perk for the contactless-card-challenged, not so much for their unwitting partners.
Jasper and Rosie have just come from a nine-hour board game marathon at a mates, and get out their board game of choice — Thurn and Taxis — to show us. It's about the postal service in the 1600s. But we're more interested in their opinions on Citymapper's smart bus than 17th century snail mail. "I've never caught the Citymapper bus before, but I've always wanted to, we're big Citymapper users," says Jasper. "I guess today is my lucky day!"
They alight at Dalston Junction and we wave goodbye as a crowd of confused, semi-paralytic, men stare at the bus, bewildered by this bright green thing on wheels. You wouldn't necessarily know it was for public use unless you had the Citymapper app. Roger gives up trying to coax people onto the bus.
Later on though, and Roger's luck is in again: on the way back to Aldgate, Kalie, a graduate Finance student climbs aboard. Hurrah! A fellow night rider. We ask her opinion of the CM2: "It's a lot nicer than other buses, and the fact you can charge your phone is cool.
"It's quiet today though, the last time I got on it there were three really drunk couples that had all made really good friends by the end of the trip."
We tell Kalie about the quirkier of Citymapper's smart functions for CM2, where you get given a specific emoji by the app, and it pops up on screen at your designated stop. Hence the cat emoji above.
Citymapper cites its main mission: "to make cities easier to use," which its app certainly does. And if you like your bus rides cheap, warm, and in good company, we'd absolutely recommend its CM2 bus service. Sadly, we're not sure Londoners are ready to have their lives made easier, or warmer, or cheaper. As the low level of riders we bumped into on the night might suggest, we're pretty sure they like them hard, confusing, and wet.
How very British.