As TfL makes plans to reduce bus network capacity, one of the people in charge of running the capital’s bus services gives a rare interview. John Trayner is managing director of Go-Ahead London, the capital’s biggest bus service operator. We met last Friday at the company’s Waterloo garage, the most centrally-located in the capital and currently home to an all-electric fleet. The outcome of Transport for London’s review of bus services, which proposes a seven per cent cut in network capacity, was published as we spoke.
Question: We don’t often hear from London’s bus operating companies, so why have you decided to do this interview?
Answer: I’m concerned that what’s happening to the bus service and TfL’s plans for changing it is going to damage things further, so I need to get our story out there. In fairness to TfL, they are aware that we’re doing this and I don’t want to seem too critical. But I don’t think our side is being heard and, even more importantly, the bus passenger’s voice isn’t being heard either. It’s almost as if the bus service has been too much of a success story in London and everyone’s forgotten that, and it’s now almost seen as OK to start cutting it. That will start to break up the network and inevitably make it less reliable, which will mean even less people use it.
Q: How do you see the way the bus service network has changed in recent years?
A: We went through a period, probably from about 2000 when the Mayors came in, when we had massive network growth and massive patronage growth right through till 2014. Then the agenda changed slightly. We had a roads modernisation programme and a cycling and walking agenda taking more priority. These are good things, but with hindsight Boris Johnson, who was the Mayor at that time, probably tried to do too much in too short a period of time – it was about leaving a legacy, as all politicians want to.
With lots of major schemes all being done at the same time in conjunction with cycle superhighways, and the economy starting to recover so you had more buildings going up – just look at the skyline, you can see cranes everywhere – plus internet deliveries increasing, it all caused more congestion than people were predicting.
From 2014 the reliability of the bus service deteriorated. We were going slower and slower. Traffic speeds across London are about nine or nine-and-a-half miles per hour. On some services, such as Route 11, which is one of our flagships – Liverpool Street to Fulham Broadway – it was at some times a day down below four miles per hour. You could almost walk quicker. That inevitably led to patronage starting to fall. Up to that point, whoever the Mayor was, we had built a bus network to cope with the last peak passenger journey – in other words, whoever that last person was, we would be there to carry them and I would put on additional buses in order to do that, which led to record passenger numbers – 2.4 billion passenger journeys a year.