A bus on route 188
The 188 bus route will have its frequency cut from next weekend

Transport for London has insisted that one of the key routes serving North Greenwich station will be able to cope when it has its frequency cut next weekend.

Route 188, which runs from North Greenwich to Russell Square via Greenwich, Deptford and Bermondsey, will be cut back to six buses an hour – every ten minutes – from November 6. At peak times, the current service is every seven or eight minutes.

Only two buses to North Greenwich serve Blackwall Lane – the 188 and 422 – and large crowds are regularly seen at the bus stop serving new housing developments at Enderby Wharf. The 188 is also the fastest link to Surrey Quays and Canada Water station from Greenwich and Deptford.

TfL representative Ami Ibitson told Greenwich councillors last night that the cutback had been modelled around the busiest point on the route – Surrey Quays station – and that this meant the whole route should be able to deal with having fewer buses.

“Demand for that service hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels,” she told the regeneration scrutiny committee. “The monitoring that was done pre-pandemic shows that the busiest point on the 188 was Surrey Quays station going westbound.” She said that the monitoring showed that 6.7 buses per hour would meet demand, and asked councillors to get in touch if the route was becoming too crowded.

“It’s really early days, we need to look at the next few months and if people keep working from home and how that pans out,” she said.

“We can bring buses back in if we find they’re struggling, if any of you think the 188 or any other bus is struggling, please let us know.”

Renegation scrutiny panel
The scrutiny session was held at Woolwich Town Hall

TfL had been cutting central London services before the pandemic, but the coronavirus crisis has left the transport body reliant on short-term funding from the Westminster government. Its current deal expires on December 11.

Ibitson’s colleague Abbas Raza said that bus ridership was at over 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. “There’s a lot of different scenarios playing out at the moment that we’re watching quite closely – the situation changes daily,” he said.

The annual session with transport providers also heard from representatives of the bus companies Stagecoach and Go-Ahead, and Thameslink; with Southeastern and Network Rail criticised for not turning up.

Both bus operators said there were issues with recruiting drivers, with staff being lured away from the bus industry to fill gaps caused by the shortage of HGV drivers.

Pressed by Woolwich Common councillor David Gardner on why bus drivers don’t challenge passengers who do not wear facemasks, Stagecoach’s Jackie Regan said: “Drivers are requested nor to confront people – you don’t know if they don’t have health issues and you don’t want to hold the bus up for an individual.”

Asked about rumours that Plumstead bus garage – which is holding an open day this weekend – could be sold, Regan said: “I’m not aware of any move away from Pettman Crescent at the moment.”

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