A Greenwich councillor thinks he has found a way to stop the 53 bus being cut back to Elephant & Castle – by changing its route across Blackheath.
The long-standing route, which ran to Whitehall until 2019, faces being evicted from its Lambeth North terminal as part of a package of Transport for London cuts.
Cutting the route back to the Elephant would trim half a mile off the daytime route, councillors on the borough’s highways committee heard last Thursday.
But David Gardner, the chair of highways, suggested restoring the route to run both ways along Charlton Way, the road immediately south of Greenwich Park, reversing a change made 45 years ago.
At present the service runs eastbound via Charlton Way, but westbound via Prince Charles Road and across the centre of Blackheath on Shooters Hill Road.
“We should look at reintroducing something abolished on January 8, 1977 – my 17th birthday – running the 53 westbound down Charlton Way rather than the A2,” Gardner said.
“If you had bus traffic lights, it would take quite a bite out of the 53 in terms of time, and it would be easy to introduce,” he said, adding that bus priority traffic lights would be needed.
“It would avoid the hold-ups at Maze Hill and and on the A2.”
Gardner said the change would make westbound buses quicker, freeing up resources so the 53 could keep its Lambeth North terminal.
He added that the proposed cut would badly affect people travelling to appointments at St Thomas’s Hospital and those who would then walk to work at Westminster or Waterloo.
“The 53 goes through ten wards in the borough, it’s an absolutely vital method of transport for so many people.”
Other councillors reacted with dismay to the cut.
Charlton Village councillor Jo van den Broek bemoaned the loss of a bus “going along the spine of the borough” into central London.
Until the late 1980s the bus would run as far as Camden Town and Parliament Hill Fields, north London, and it terminated at Oxford Circus until 2002.
She said: “When I was a child, I used to be proud to see those buses in town – the 53, or the 21 where I used to live – that was my bus! It’s part of that sort of cutting you off from central London.” The 21 ran to Eltham and Sidcup until 1997.
Blackheath Westcombe councillor Christine St Matthew-Daniel, said: “I remember the 53 going all the way to Oxford Circus. I can’t understand why with a growing population the bus service is being reduced.”
The highways committee agreed to Gardner’s call, and it will now be included in Greenwich Council’s response to the cuts as well as a demand for better bus priority measure and opposition to the 53 cut.
The 53 is one of a number of victims of a swathe of cuts which are planned to help solve TfL’s cash crisis, which has been largely caused by the scrapping of government funding and the effects of the pandemic cutting passenger numbers.
Some of the capital’s best-known routes – including the 11 through the City and West End, the 12 serving Peckham and the 24, London’s oldest unchanged service from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath – are due to be scrapped altogether while others are set to be shortened or changed.
Another service serving Greenwich borough, the 47 between Bellingham and Shoreditch, which runs along the borough border at Creek Road in Deptford, would no longer run north of London Bridge.
A consultation into the cuts is open at haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/busreview.
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