The Mayor touts a new 'Superloop' bus network, to connect towns and vital services such as hospitals and airports in outer London.
An initial map of the planned Superloop route depicts seven separate but connected bus routes, taking in towns including Bexleyheath, Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Harrow, Edmonton and Walthamstow in an almost circular route. Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Ealing Hospital and Heathrow Airport are also planned stops on the network.
The Superloop also includes three routes which do not form part of the circle; Grove Park to Canary Wharf, Croydon to Russell Square, and Uxbridge to White City.
Of these 10 routes, six will be newly created, and four are existing routes — 607, X26, X140 and X68 would be incorporated into the Superloop.
If you're thinking that some of these sound like epic routes (Croydon to Russell Square? Yikes!), then bear in mind that they will be 'limited-stop express bus routes', rather than your average TfL stop-start service.
We'll be honest, when we first saw the map, we had to check the the date — it looks like a premature April Fool, or a fantasy map created by a transport fan, rather than a serious TfL proposal. The Mayor of London has released a promotional Superloop video, but it can hardly be labelled as informative (nice new roundel, though):
The Superloop is only an initial proposal at the moment, with exact routes and stops to be decided in a consultation by TfL with London boroughs and the public. The scheme coincides with the much-maligned expansion of the ULEZ, which will see many Londoners (numbers vary depending which source you believe) having to pay a charge to drive their car around their local area. Whether these new services will be in place by 29 August 2023 remains to be seen.
We'll be honest, though. We have questions:
- How will these new routes be paid for, at a time when TfL is notoriously cash-strapped (and has just dropped £4 million on renaming the London Overground lines)? It's claimed that the Superloop will be "funded by the Mayor and City Hall". It looks like the money reaped from those ULEZ charges might come into it, as TfL states that cash is "reinvested into improving London's transport network, such as expanding bus routes in outer London".
- What's so special about Grove Park? The planned route between Grove Park and Canary Wharf seems an unusual choice on first glance, particularly when you've already got the Elizabeth line shuttling passengers between south-east London and Canary Wharf.
- What happens between Royal Dock and Bexleyheath? The Superloop doesn't form a complete circle, the river presenting a barrier at this point, once again reinforcing the woeful lack of river crossings in east London. Maybe the Silvertown Tunnel will be added to the Superloop when it opens (currently planned for 2025) but that's still some way west of Bexleyheath. Again, it looks like the Elizabeth line will be taking up the strain, but that's an added change and expense for bus passengers.
- Why has Croydon been chosen as the start of a route into central London? The town centre already has a wealth of transport options including direct bus routes to south-central London, direct train routes into two major London termini, and trams connecting it to other parts of the borough and neighbouring boroughs.
- It's laudable to see increased public transport options to help with journeys that might otherwise be done by car. But how much will it help? Most car trips are for short journeys within the local area (e.g. school runs, supermarket trips, sports clubs...) rather than commutes to a neighbouring area. Yes, the Superloop is another tool to help dissuade car use, but it won't be seen as a direct replacement for many people.
So, the Superloop. Interesting proposals, and a welcome investment in outer London transport, but the devil will be in the detail.
One minor plus point: it looks like the scheme will be operated as a separately branded network from regular buses, so we welcome the prospect of a new style of roundel to ogle in the near future.