‘Absolutely shocking': Transport for London announce plans to cut Camden bus routes

London's longest running bus route the 24 among those facing axe under TfL cuts

Wednesday, 1st June — By Harry Taylor

24 bus wide

Passengers board the bus in South End Green on Wednesday morning

PASSENGERS and drivers have been left stunned by news that one of Camden’s most historic bus routes that serves the Royal Free Hospital, Camden Town and the West End could be axed, as it announced a consultation on changes in an attempt to plug a funding gap.

The 24 bus, which is the longest-running unchanged bus service in London, could be cut after City Hall named it among 21 that could be removed from service completely. It provides a spine through central London, beginning in Hampstead near the Royal Free Hospital and finishing in Pimlico, passing through Camden Town, Tottenham Court Road, the West End, Whitehall and Victoria.

Elsewhere the 31, that runs from Camden Town to White City, faces being split in two.

Transport chiefs say the closures are the result of increasingly stringent terms put on government bailouts of TfL after its revenue streams collapsed during Covid-19 lockdowns. A six-week consultation has begun on the future of the 24-hour service.

Hours after the announcement, passengers in South End Green told the New Journal on Wednesday morning that it provides a lifeline for them.

Christine Watts, who lives with her husband Harris in Flask Walk said it was an invaluable service for them both, particularly since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“It would be very sad if it goes ahead, it’s a really useful service. We are using it more frequently now as [Harris] can’t use the tube at all. The drivers are really helpful and so are the passengers, they are very understanding and give seats up. It would be a real struggle for us if it is taken away.

“We are keen gallery goers, and it takes you past the National Gallery and the Tate, it’s very useful.”

Anthony Kupelia, who works at UCLH in Euston Road uses it to commute. He said: “It’s dreadful news, it’s really useful, it’s safer, it’s less crowded and it’s cheaper, and things are always more interesting from the bus. You see more.”

Drivers on a tea break at their cabin at the bus terminus were in shock when the New Journal broke the news to them. Abellio, the private firm that TfL outsources the bus contract to, had not told them.

“I can’t believe it,” one driver said. “It’s absolutely shocking. It’s one of the oldest routes in London and now they want to end it.

“It’s a key route, it’s always busy and they have only just refurbished the buses. You get people using it for the Royal Free Hospital and UCLH, it goes through the West End, I just don’t understand it.

“If there’s one route they should want to keep it’s the 24.”

Drivers estimated that the total pool of staff that work the buses could be as high as 60, and fear that job losses could follow.

The 24 is London’s longest running unchanged bus service, running from Pimlico to Hampstead since August 1912

Under the plans, the 24 bus would be stopped. Instead the 88 would start from South End Green. It would then go along the current route of the 24 up to Parliament Square, where it would follow Millbank and cross Vauxhall Bridge before eventually terminating in Clapham Common.

Kentish Town and Highgate Road, currently served by the 88, would then get a rerouted 205 and 214 service. The 205 would terminate in Mile End and the 214 in Pimlico.

The 31 service from Camden Town to White City will also be ended. Passengers would have to change from a new 189 to a rerouted 113 in Swiss Cottage.

The consultation announcement is the latest twist in an ongoing funding battle between City Hall and Whitehall. TfL’s revenue sources collapsed during the pandemic when people were working from home, and the government has announced increasingly stringent conditions to give them extra funding, as it becomes a political football between Sadiq Khan and Tory-run Department for Transport.

TfL argue that some services have seen falls of up to 9 per cent in passenger-levels, but pointed to the need to save money. If the proposed changes go ahead, it could see 24 per cent of journeys involve two buses where it now only needs one.

Camden’s transport chief Cllr Adam Harrison said: “While these proposals clearly try to maintain certain connections within the borough, we are concerned that the overall fall in capacity could impact on how often or whether people continue to choose to travel by bus. People using pushchairs or wheelchairs may find it increasingly difficult to find space on a bus if they become more crowded. And buses are one of the most affordable ways of getting about, especially since Sadiq Khan introduced the Hopper fare.

“I am calling on the government to stop their shortsighted cuts, which impact on the lower paid in society.”

Seb Dance, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport said: “No one wants to see reductions to our bus network, but TfL is having to consider these changes because of the savings demanded by the Government as part of the emergency funding deals during the pandemic.

“If TfL is to avoid further cuts which would damage our city’s economic recovery from this pandemic, the Government must do the right thing and come forward with a long term funding deal to support the capital’s public transport – as governments of almost all other major global cities do.”

Abellio has been contacted for comment.

You can respond to the consultation link here: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/busreview

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