Why Do Buses Randomly Terminate?

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 44 months ago
Why Do Buses Randomly Terminate?

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But why aren't you in service? Photo: Shutterstock

Is there anything more annoying than your bus randomly terminating?

You're running late. But, hey, you've bagged a front spot on the top deck — best seats in the house. Suddenly, the bus grinds to a halt and driver makes some muffled announcement. Before you have time to compute what's going on, a cold recorded message plays: "This bus terminates here". Great. As you take your belongings, and go to collect your transfer ticket, you wonder why does a bus terminate early?

We decided to ask TfL. Here's how it responded.

1. Fault with the bus

This one's self-explanatory. If something's up with the bus — engine fault, burst tyre, malfunctioning door — it's coming out of service. Not much can be done about that.

Photo: D1v1d

2. Driver or passenger incident

Plenty of incidents involving a driver or passenger can lead to a bus being taken out of service. If the driver feels seriously ill, it's in everyone's best interest to pull over. If a passenger becomes seriously ill, they're not going to be kicked off the bus and left on the pavement waiting for an ambulance. Instead, the bus is put out of service, while the ambulance arrives.

Things needn't be dramatic enough to involve an ambulance callout, for a bus route to be curtailed. Buses are supposed to be taken out of service if anyone vomits on board — although drivers don't always notice. See:

And the phrase 'incident' isn't exclusive to medical issues; any number of scenarios might be implied. Some might even lead to police intervention.

3. Issues with the route

A diversion isn't always feasible. Photo: Lady Vervaine

Things go wrong with roads. Roadworks, planned or unplanned (every Londoner has encountered burst water mains in their time), cause issues for buses. Often, the bus goes on diversion, winding its way around back streets. But this isn't always feasible. Perhaps the roadworks come too close to the end of the route, and it's logical to terminate early.

Something more unpredictable might be the cause: a major traffic accident, or another incident like the Extinction Rebellion protests. These cases can all lead to early curtailment.

4. Timetable regulation

Buses in Camberwell Bus Garage
The dreaded call to terminate usually comes from the depot.

And then there's this. The reason most likely to grind your gears. The one that leaves you dumbfounded when the driver makes their 'out of service' announcement. The bus appears to be functioning normally. You haven't seen any incidents on board. But you're kicked off the bus anyway, as it terminates early.

You know it can't be an issue with the route, as the driver has informed passengers to wait for the next bus. In fact, the bus controller has deemed that this bus isn't needed (thanks to info gathered off TfL's iBus system); that the vehicle is better served elsewhere, perhaps on another route, or even on a different part of the same route. Perhaps the bus is running substantially late due to traffic; to be on time for its return journey it loops around in order to regulate the service (unfortunately not the style of regulation Warren G was into).

TfL recommends that when incidents such as these happen, to use services such as TravelBot and Journey Planner to get you to your destination. Londonist recommends quietly seething, and then following TfL's advice.

Got any particularly infuriating stories of buses randomly terminating? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Last Updated 18 August 2020