Christmas Day crowds on vintage bus route

Peter Bradley speaks to his good friend Richard Shirley about his enterprising festive bus service

On Christmas Day no wheels move on the London Bus Network. But in 2017 one free bus service was provided by an enthusiastic small operator – and 455 trips were made.

The free service will run again this year, following last year’s success

Picking up over 60 passengers an hour on a day when demand is considered too low to justify official bus provision is no mean feat, so I ask Richard Shirley more about his decision to operate an hourly service between Roehampton and Putney Bridge.

Connecting key areas

“Roehampton combines some of the highest population density and lowest car ownership levels in London: You only need to look at TfL’s fantastic 24-hour bus network on other days to see that demand is buoyant,” says Richard.

“The 430 connects the people of Roehampton with one of their main local centres in Putney where at least seven pubs are open on Christmas Day, some serving Christmas dinner, and there are numerous churches.

“It also passes Roehampton hospital, or can take you for a walk by the Thames. Being able to connect these two areas at an easy-to-understand hourly frequency with one bus was key to the decision.”

Providing a service

This well-informed approach, coupled with plenty of publicity, was behind a service that proved rewarding to operate, while fun and useful for local people.

“On our first trip, a man walking along looked over his shoulder when he heard the bus approach,” Richard continues.

“We stopped and found he’d allowed himself two hours to walk to church in Putney. He was overjoyed to see us. As the day went on we picked up plenty of people going to and from pubs or just coming out for a family ride.”

Of course, the service would have been no use at all if no one knew about it and drawing attention to a solitary bus operation in a huge metropolis isn’t easy, as Richard explains: “London bus route numbers are a brand in themselves. People have a strong loyalty and attachment to them and know where they go, as you sometimes see when a long-established route number is proposed for withdrawal. 

“So, it was important that we tagged onto an established brand which people understand. An enthusiast suggested I use the historic route number 85A, but that was a no-no.”

Spreading the word

They targeted local websites and publications and got coverage in the Roehampton Voice, delivered to every household in the area, and the London Evening Standard, resulting in people coming from other areas by car specially to travel.

“There’s still no substitute for walking the route though, dropping leaflets into local shops, pubs and community centres, as well as talking to people,” says Richard.

Of course, the service has a role in raising awareness of Richard’s private hire facility.

“We did get more enquiries from the area as a result, and all those extra website hits raise you up the all-important Google rankings,” he says.

The vintage service will run hourly between about 0930-1530hrs on Christmas Day, following the normal 430 route between Roehampton and Putney Bridge.