The Red Bus

14 October 2009

The Red Bus

London has many icons that distinguish it from other cities: black cab, beefeaters and the double-decker bus. Sadly the old Routemasters have been phased out. They were the buses that had the entry in the rear. No door, one just hopped on or off holding on to the grab bar. The fun was to do your hopping when the bus was moving. Now the new buses come to a halt door swing open for you. A step backwards I think.

Transport of London partners with several private companies to provide service. As we all know London buses are red but they are not all the same red. Each company has its own specific red color. The name of the operating company is also painted on the bus.

Bus Routes & Zones

London has as many buses as Trafalgar Square has pigeons. A bus will take longer than the tube but you could be a lot closer to your destination. Plus you get to take in the sights and sounds of the street. Most buses cross London from one end to the other and this is a cheap way to see the city without walking. You can also get off to check out the local area and get on the next one to continue tour. One good route is the No. 11 that starts at Liverpool Street Station and travels through the City, Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square to Big Ben and towards Chelsea and Fulham. The No. 24 goes from Victoria to Parliament, then to Oxford Circus and Chalk Farm Road. See the bus map in the PDF Files.

Bus routes are zone free. A bus pass, travel card or London Pass with included Travel Card is valid to any destination in the system.

Matthew Somerville has an excellent map showing stations and trains in real time at The link will show the bus route number. At the bottom of the page simply select the route you desire and the map will display it. You can find other accessible UK train timetables from him as well.

Wikipedia has an excellent page of
all London bus routes at the bottom of that page. Clicking on the route number will give you information on the route and clicking the operator will take you to a new wiki page. But there you can go to the operator’s page for even more information.

Bus Stops

Bus stops for a given route can be some distance apart. Changing from one bus to another can require a walk down the street or around the corner. Bus stops usually have a shelter with a map that shows the routes. Next to the shelter is a pole with a time schedule and route diagram. The diagram shows the direction of travel for the routes shown. Sometimes a map of the area is shown with bus stops indicated with red dots and marked A, B. C, etc. A table shows destinations for buses using this and nearby stops. Look for your destination and read the stop, A, B, C, etc. Walk to that stop and continue on your way. To make sure you are at the correct stop look at the top of the pole and read the letter, A, B, C, etc. This sounds more confusing that it is. Do this once and you will be an experienced Londoner.

Stops on some routes can be rather far apart so if you miss yours you may be in for a walk. In Holborn there are no stops between Holborn tube station and Aldwych. Do not assume that the bus going the other way is directly across the street. Bus stops are dispersed to avoid congestion. Most central London bus stops have diagrams showing the location of stops. You look for your destination and the chart tells you to go to stop A, B, C, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask the driver for help. They know the stops and are willing to call out yours. Don’t forget to say thank you.

Bus Stops – Location Maps

Transport of London has a bunch of location maps showing the stops for all routes in a particular area. Use this link to get to their page. It’s easy to follow and work with so have fun. The maps that appear on your screen can be found inside tube stations in paper form. The map shown in the website is numbered and denotes the name of the London borough. Place your cursor over a borough to read the name.

Bus Stops – Arrival/Departure Times (Live)

Transport for London has a new (albeit beta version) page that allows one to see the arrival time of your next bus at ANY stop in London. It is located here:, and some stops may be inaccurate. It is to be officially released by TfL in the fall of 2011. The site also shows you recently viewed stop by you and allows you to add your favorites so you can see without re-entering locations each time.

Bus Etiquette

When boarding a bus please do not cut in line. Queue in line and allow people who were in line to board first. With the exception of the bendy bus always board in front and exit in the rear. You pay when you enter and if you do not have a travel card or bus pass you need to buy a ticket at the stop. Some stops do not yet have ticket dispensers so you can buy a ticket from the driver. Just tell him your destination.


The bus network will take you (directly or indirectly) to all tube and rail stations in London. Be advised that bus stops could be near but not at tube entrances.

Luggage in Transit

There is space for some luggage and large items near the front door. One should exit using the rear door but it is ok to get off with your luggage in front. Please say to the driver (when he stops) that you would like to get off in front. It is simply a courtesy to the driver and other passengers. You may not be able to stand or sit next to your bags but they are generally safe. Hauling luggage or large items during peak travel times may pose a problem for you and others so try and think of this ahead of time.

People Having Special Concerns
(Students, Families, Children, Disabled & Elderly)

See the Transport for London page in this guide for information.

Bus Specific

Wheelchair users: Space is set aside near the rear doors for wheelchair. Person using wheelchairs ride free on the bus.

Baby Trolleys: Space is set aside near the rear exit doors for trolleys

Older or disabled: All buses (as well as other modes of transport) have priority seats near the doors for older and disabled people. The Freedom Pass allows free rides on the bus but for permanent residents only.

How To Pay

You pay when getting on a bus and you can use an Oyster Card or a Travel Card. If you have only cash you need to buy a ticket from the machine at the bus stop. Should there not be one you can pay the driver but only if there is no ticket machine. They have simple instructions for follow.

The Bendy Bus

The bendy bus is a relatively new bus for London and Mayor Boris Johnson’s administration is trying to eliminate them. They are extra long buses that bend in the middle. The purpose is to get more commuters on a single bus to get them home. This is working but the buses have problems with the narrow and traffic clogged streets, thus becoming a problem too. If you use one you need not touch out with your Oyster-Travel Card. You can enter from the rear door but you will still need to touch in.

This UK Student Life site has bus news on
London Buses. UK Student Life is an excellent resource for anyone traveling to London or England.


Home Work Problem

Here is a good homework assignment. Go to Wiki and search London Bus. The page you are looking for will have a table of all the bus routes by number and the areas that bus travels through. Open your London map and follow the route to see if it passes any sites you want to see. You can download a bus map from the Transport for London website.

Coach Service

The London bus travels well beyond central London but for travel to other cities you need to use a coach service such as National Express or Green Lines.

How that I have just told you how easy it is to scurry about the town, let me give you some reasons to be concerned. When Transport of London closes a bus stop for one reason or another, they don't tell you where the next nearest stop is. On one my voyages back to my hotel one evening they closed two consecutive stops, which left me walking a good portion of my route. As stops are far apart you could wear out a bit of shoe leather as this case took me about half a mile. The buggers.

Bus stops have maps and route finders, which makes finding your bus number and stop easy. Provided it is during daylight hours and not raining. Stops are not always well lighted at night and the information you are looking for may be hard to read. One would do well to carry a torch.

On a good note: Buses announce approaching stops and the underground system does so on inside the trains. Overhead signs on the platforms give the time the next trains are coming and many bus stops also do this. Getting around is easy but knowing your stop, especially on a bus can be nerve wrecking at times.