03 February 2009

The Big Freeze

Amidst the news reports from yesterday, and to some extent today, one thing stuck out more than anything else: there were no red London buses operating in the capital.

The last time London's bus fleet was effectively grounded was during the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 suicide bombings; however, then, services resumed by the early evening. Yesterday saw no bus operation for the majority of daylight hours.

What appears to have been the main catalyst for the decision Transport for London (TfL) took, during the early hours of yesterday morning, was the way in which London was caught out on Sunday afternoon, with around 5 inches of snow falling, resulting in near gridlock in some areas within the M25.

Trains are often affected; airports are guaranteed to have significant delays; rural bus services either do not operate or run to main roads only. Bus TfL's regulated bus network in Greater London always operates - generally as a result of London's privileged locality within the British Isles - being somewhere that often escapes the extremities of what the weather has to throw at us.

In a move not widely reported yesterday, London Mayor Boris Johnson suspended the Congestion Zone and ensured refunds for those who'd already paid.

Initially, a TfL spokesman said that they'd made their decision not to operate bus services in London after meetings with emergency services and the Metropolitan Police. It had been decided that the risk posed to pedestrians and those on board a bus operating in thick snow was so great that this persuaded them to take the unprecedented move to cancel the lot. But in later editions of the Evening Standard, a different story was being told: TfL now acknowledged that all 360 miles of road they maintain was clear but the problem lay with getting buses out of their depots - the areas around which are not maintained by TfL but the local councils, who were alleged to have not been so efficient at keeping these routes clear.

We often comment that a little bit of snow grinds our country to a halt. It seems that when London receives a dose of the white stuff it's brought to its knees. There are quite possibly a million or so people living there who've probably never had to drive in snow before. It's a shame that London's plight took up over 30 minutes in yesterday's BBC Breakfast programme. Had Leeds, for example, seen its bus service suspended and its airport closed due to snow, you can be sure that this would have made the third or fourth item in the news round-up, but nothing more - it certainly wont have taken up a half-hour's valuable airtime.

Would the Routemasters have continued to operate if they were still seeing mainline service in London? I like to think that they would! (CW)