Bus cuts will ‘hurt the most disadvantaged'

Community centre managers ahead of transport shake-up

Monday, 4th July — By Harry Taylor

24 bus in Pimlico

THE head of a community centre that helps some of the most disadvantaged young people in the borough has warned that proposed changes to the No 31 bus service could impact most on some of Camden’s poorest.

Rashid Iqbal, who runs the Winch Community Centre, said he fears that the changes to the current route that runs from Camden Town through Chalk Farm, Belsize Park, Primrose Hill and Swiss Cottage to White City, and eastbound from Kilburn, will hit youngsters who use his centre hard.

Mr Iqbal, who was given an MBE in the New Year’s honours in January, said: “We are concerned that the bus route will impact on children, young people and families’ travel to school and reduce their access to essential opportunities, including the Winch.

“Often, the 31 is oversubscribed at peak times, and in particular as the bus comes from Kilburn, down past Abbey Road and then to Swiss Cottage and on to Chalk Farm and Haverstock Hill. There are few, if any, alternative routes for those dependent on this service.

“What alternatives do exist are either unaffordable – like the Tube – or patchy and long-winded.”

The charity, founded in 1973, offers youth club facilities including sports and a music recording studio, as well as parents’ groups and after-school clubs.

Current plans will see No 31 partly replaced with a 189 service, but instead of running to the southern side of Kilburn High Road, it will join higher up and run towards Brent Cross. To carry on travelling west, passengers will need to swap buses at the Swiss Cottage gyratory to get the 113 service from Edgware to White City.

For those travelling from Camden, an alternative on the London Underground would involve getting the Tube into central London, and eventually picking up the Jubilee line and travelling back out again, incurring the costs of a zone one journey – more than the current bus fare of £1.65.

Mr Iqbal said: “Cuts to bus services, like the number 31, will inevitably and disproportionately impact our poorer communities, particularly families entitled to free school meals.

“The proposed cuts will reduce connectivity across London and, as a result, diminish young people’s mobility and social capital. Historically, disadvantaged communities have had less influence on Transport for London plans.”

He added: “At a time when the cost-of-living crisis is already forcing communities to cut back and dig in, reductions to essential bus services risk further closing down basic opportunities for too many.”

According to Transport for London plans, the replacement service between Camden and Swiss Cottage would run once every 12 minutes, being deemed “high frequency”, but that would still be less regularly than the current service which aims to be every six to 10 minutes.

Labour councillors have already aired concerns about the impact of the cuts, and have set up a petition to help save the historic No 24 bus service in Hampstead, coinciding with next week’s by-election.

Announcing the proposals on June 1, TfL’s deputy mayor for transport, Seb Dance, said the proposals were as a result of savings demanded by Government ministers in exchange for bailouts for finances that were badly hit by the collapse in passenger numbers due to the Covid crisis.

He said: “TfL has looked carefully at the routes affected in order to reduce the impact on passengers as much as possible. Routes changed are ones where there are very similar existing services or where passengers would make use of the Mayor’s ‘Hopper’ fare to reach their destination.

“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.”

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