Transport for London (TfL) is facing the ire of Hackney residents over proposed changes to the borough’s bus routes.
Bus users, union representatives and councillors all voiced their disquiet at plans to divert the 242 bus route to Aldgate, at a 22 October meeting of the skills, economy and growth scrutiny commission, described by Cllr Mete Coban (Lab, Stoke Newington) as an “everyone versus TfL” session.
TfL is consulting on proposed changes to 33 routes across the borough, with representatives present at the meeting stating that a long-term decline of 10 per cent in local bus usage is part of the motivation.
Those in attendance retorted that changes or cuts to the 242 in particular would fall heavily on the most vulnerable in the borough.
RMT Union rep Janine Booth said: “If you make these changes just by looking at the numbers, then you leave out the people who need the service the most.
“As someone who had to attend Barts Hospital every day for radiotherapy, being able to do that journey in a single journey on the 242 when you’re having an exhausting treatment like that is essential.”
John Thornton of campaign group Disability Back-up spoke out at the meeting on behalf of disabled service users.
Thornton said: “[TfL has said] that the buses are relatively empty. There may be a 242 bus which in [their] eyes is relatively empty because there is only me on it, but as far as we are concerned, that bus is at 100 per cent capacity because it’s got one wheelchair user on it. Please bear that in mind.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has described TfL as being in “deep financial difficulties”, with the London Assembly concurring on 23 October that the organisation is in “some severe financial trouble”.
TfL’s money woes were blamed on a £700 million cut in government funding, as well as the recent fares freeze by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the delay of Crossrail.
Cllr Ian Rathbone (Lab, Lea Bridge) accepted the transport provider was under pressure, but suggested that a business-minded approach to the service was inappropriate given the number of people who depend on it.
Cllr Rathbone said: “Kings Park is one of the most deprived wards in Western Europe. Is this a service that you’re running or a business?
“A service runs buses to a poor area because people need it. It may be three people on a bus going to a cleaner job at 5am.
“The way you’re talking about it is as a business, and I really object to that. It’s a public transport service, and it should therefore serve the people.”
Cllr Rathbone also cast doubt on the motivations behind TfL’s “confusing” consultation, stating that he was advising people not to bother “reading the crap, but scroll to the bottom where the consultation will actually be”.
He added: “It’s my view that you’ve deliberately done this to confuse people because you don’t really care that much about the consultation. I worked in the transport industry for many years, so I know the score.”
The councillor made it clear that his views on the motivations behind the consultation were not necessarily those of Hackney Labour.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville was also present at the meeting with TfL representatives, and voiced his disappointment at the lack of engagement with the council over the proposed changes.
Mayor Glanville said: “Notwithstanding the budget position that TfL finds itself in, many of these changes feel like blunt instruments.
“There’s a lot of fear that if you divert the 242 to Aldgate, it’s a slippery slope to getting rid of the route entirely.”
Glanville added that a lack of consultation with the council from TfL had created interchanges in places where the infrastructure was not in place to deal with them.
TfL is suggesting a diversion of the 242 bus route to Aldgate, an increase in frequency of the 149, and for the 67 to terminate at Dalston Junction, due to a decrease in recorded demand for the services.
Frequency of the 242 would also diminish to a service every 10 minutes, or 12 minutes on evenings and Sundays.
The 48 bus route could be scrapped entirely, with customers advised to use the 55 instead.
Cllr Sharon Patrick (Lab, Kings Park) made an impassioned speech against the proposed plans, claiming that poor, disabled and elderly residents would be disproportionately affected.
Cllr Patrick said: “Buses mean a lot to the people I represent, and to me.
“I would rather spend an extra twenty minutes in the morning going to work on the bus than try and struggle on the Overground, where I often have to travel under somebody’s armpit.
“The poor, the disabled, the elderly and people without recourse to cars are people who are going to be affected by these cuts.
“People have based their lives around where the 242 goes, and it’s important for people to be able to get to the city.
“Going the other way, it’s a major route to the Homerton Hospital, and TfL wants to cut its frequency. The effect of cutting the 242 to our disabled or elderly residents would be massive.”
Cllr Patrick added that cuts would also affect refuse collectors, street teams, and staff at the Homerton who relied on the bus to get to work.
Geoff Hobbs, director of public service planning at TfL, said: “We don’t have a single penny of public subsidy for operating our services. Bus usage in Hackney has gone down by 10 per cent over the last three years. It’s not a flash in the pan, this is a sustained trend.
“There’s been a large transfer to walking and cycling, and the railways in this neck of the woods have got markedly better over the course of the last few years and people are choosing to use them a bit more.
“The reason for that is that we’re running more buses than you need for the level of demand on that corridor, and we’re not expecting that demand to flow back any time soon.
“There’s some reduction in the volume of trips as well. Part of that is Uber, and people also prefer to stay at home more than they used to for all sorts of reasons.
“Deliveries can be made at home more readily than a decade ago, and there are things to do at home that one can only dream about.
“Netflix isn’t much of a dream, maybe, but it’s something I suppose that those people find that sort of thing entertaining.”