When I used to travel by London buses in the early 2000s, I’d found them to be punctual and very user-friendly. Features I’d grown used to from my experience with buses in Germany — like visual displays and verbal announcements of the forthcoming stops on the way — were also present in London. In addition, I’d found a few more features like the Local Bus Maps that were on display at the various Tube stations in London.
But, my recent experience with the London Bus Service has been full of travails and tribulations. Poor quality / lack of information and announcements, breakdowns and delays — these are the lowlights of my last two months’s experience.
Schedules posted at the bus stops do not list all the stops on the way. Inside the bus, there are no announcements of which stop comes next. As a result, you need to find out how many stops away is your destination stop (e.g. I need to get off at Oxford Circus, which is five stops away) and keep a count of the number of stops on the way (e.g. Ah, I have crossed the first stop, …, I have crossed the fourth stop, the next stop must be my stop). But, even that is very challenging, thanks to a large number of Request Stops, which you can easily miss out in your count because buses tend to zoom past such Request Stops if there’s nobody inside the bus who has pressed the button or sticking out their hand at the stop to request the bus to stop there.
Asking the driver where to get off works often, but not always. On Bus # 422 headed towards North Greenwich Station a couple of weeks ago, I asked the driver where I should get off for Odeon Cinema. The driver stared blankly at me. When the person behind me told him that the bus is supposed to go via Odeon Cinema, the driver was bewildered and told us he wasn’t going anywhere near Odeon Cinema. When I politely pointed out that the bus was indeed supposed to be going via Odeon Cinema as per the route chart I’d seen, the driver decided to check with the Control Room on his wireless system. The Control Room confirmed what I was saying. The driver then told the Control Room that he was headed towards North Greenwich Library, and not North Greenwich Station. Only when we pointed out that the display in front of the bus said North Greenwich Station did he realize the source of confusion. He quickly changed the display to North Greenwich Library. After a couple of stops, he did shout out that Bus Number 486 would go via Odeon Cinema. Since he didn’t have or didn’t use a PA system, it was purely by fluke that I realized that he was actually addressing me.
My next experience was in Bus # 15 going from Paddington Station to Blackwall. I had to get off at Limehouse DLR Station stop. Somewhere around Aldwych Tube Station, the bus simply stopped without any announcement — at least without any announcement that I could hear. I saw people getting off, so I also got off. I never figured out why this happened. After 15-20 minutes, all of us got into another 15, only to hear beeping sound after a couple of stops. It turned out that the engine was over-heating, so the bus had to stop right there, or, as the driver said, "risk fire"! So, my journey got aborted not once, but twice during a single journey!!
I also cannot forget the driver of Bus # D3 telling the passengers that he was only going up to "Isle of Gardens". I pointed out to the driver that the display in front said "Isle of Dogs", which is the correct destination, and asked him if he meant he was going up to Isle of Dogs — which suited me since I had to get off a couple of stops before the last stop — or Island Gardens, which came much before my stop. He kept saying Isle of Gardens. I again pointed out that it is either Isle of Dogs or Island Gardens, there’s no stop like Isle of Gardens. The driver realized his mistake and confirmed that he was indeed going up to Island Gardens DLR Station only. Hearing this, a lady traveling in the bus got off at the Westferry Circus stop to get into the next D3 arriving at the stop. Imagine her shock when the second D3 zoomed off without stopping at the stop, its driver possibly being the misguided impression that, well there was already a D3 in the stop, so nobody would be interested in getting into the second D3! She rushed back and was lucky to get back into her original D3. Seeing this, I complained to the driver and he then decided to radio the Control Room. Only then did the second D3 stop at the next stop and we were able to get in to continue our journey.