Superloop bus network : Finally something in local transport to get excited about

By Harrison Galliven, Local Democracy Reporter

While much of last year’s transport news centered around the cancellation of HS2’s northern leg and continuous industrial action, one of the more encouraging stories flew under the radar.

This could be due to the relatively small number of people affected or that the routes were already in existence, but the last stretch of the Superloop network has been warmly welcomed.

After being announced by Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn last March, Londoners were introduced to Transport for London’s (TfL’s) latest policy to bolster public transport usage in the capital in July of last year.

According to the TfL website: “Superloop is a network of 10 express bus routes which will improve connections and journey times between key outer London town centres and transport hubs.”

The new routes are also priced at the same £1.75 rate as other bus routes across the capital and are subject to the same hopper fare rules that apply across London.

Unsurprisingly this news was welcomed by many in London’s outer boroughs, who often experience patchier transport connections compared to their inner London counterparts.

This is especially true for those living in the far reaches of the capital, who often have to rely on circuitous routes that go ‘around the houses’ before getting to their destination.

Despite being just under six miles apart as the crow flies, bus users travelling between Croydon and Bromley often complained of ‘painfully slow’ bus routes that could take up to an hour during busy rush hour traffic.

However, the arrival of the SL5 line earlier this month offers South Londoners a quicker route between the two busy hub boroughs.

The SL5 arrives in Bromley (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

I decided to spend a morning on the SL5 to experience the future of speedy outer London travel and, more importantly, to see if anyone was using it.

I joined the route from a stop placed directly beneath the skeletal remains of the Nestlé Tower in Croydon town centre.

Starting my journey at the foot of a controversial Croydon landmark seemed apt for a journey that was meant to embolden London’s outer boroughs.

However, my sightseeing time was cut short as the SL5 came promptly into view, just as the timetable said it would. The route runs every 12 minutes during the daytime on Monday to Saturday and every 15 minutes during the evening, and all day on Sundays.

While the striking white livery suggests the new network will comprise a new and improved fleet, the inside of the bus suggests otherwise.

Once you have tapped your way on to the SL5 you are met with the familiar interiors of a Go Ahead single decker. My particular bus also had the added advantage of heavily vibrating loose windows in the middle of the vehicle, which let out an excruciatingly loud rattling sound when traversing the South London roads.

This was a mere inconvenience, though, and on the whole, the bus was fine. It was clean and comfortable and even the newly-installed charging ports worked.

Often, the deciding factor for what makes a good route is the speed at which it gets to your desired destination. At least this was the case for those riding on the SL5 with me on Thursday morning of last week.

A Hammersmith resident named Claire, who has friends in Croydon and Bromley, said: “It’s not that there wasn’t a direct bus before, it’s just that it stopped at all the houses and took ages. I got this for the first time last week without knowing anything about it and it was so much quicker.

“The idea that Bromley is easily connected to Croydon is great because if anything goes wrong with the trains, and it usually does, you have a quick way to get in between. It’s brilliant. God knows why it took this long.”

Leaving Croydon’s metropolitan cityscape, we entered the sweeping avenues of Addiscombe and Shirley near the Bromley border. At this point, a group of mothers and grandmothers step on board, with a gaggle of excited grandchildren in tow.

While their moods may have been the result of the sense of fun that comes with half-term breaks, all were visibly happy to be on the new route, and conversation quickly turned to how fast it was.

One of the mums, Louise, said: “Just to know that it’s there is great, it makes life so much easier. We’re going straight to the train station, so we can jump right off the bus and on to the train without having to worry about parking the car.

“We used to take the 352, but that goes everywhere before it gets to Bromley. You can also get the 358 from here to Bromley  it’s pretty quick, but not as good as this. We’re quite excited to have a new toy to play with.”

The SL5 is the shortest section on the Superloop network and operates almost entirely the same line as the former 726 line, which took passengers on a long route from Bromley to Heathrow Airport.

The Superloop’s interiors are nothing fancy, but the route gets the job done (Picture: Harrison Galliven)

The Superloop rebranding split the journey up into the more manageable SL5 and SL7 routes, the latter of which takes passengers from West Croydon bus station to the busy west London airport.

Before arriving in Bromley town centre, Louise told me of the problems that preceded the arrival of the new route. She said: “We have been in Croydon before and thought we needed to get to Bromley for the shops. However, instead of getting the bus we would come home and get the car instead because it was quicker than the other routes.

“It’s easier to get a bus now because a lot of older people can’t use the new RingGo app you need to use to park in the town centre. It’s just too much of a faff for old people.

While rounding up the kids for hasty disembarkation at Bromley South, Louise pointed to her mum, saying: “She rode one of the first Superloop buses and even got a special pin badge. I told her to keep hold of it, it might go up in value.”

The bus eventually pulled into its terminus at Bromley North, a mere 24 minutes after starting its journey in Croydon town centre. Other than the window’s heavy vibrations and the occasional baby scream, it was one of the most pleasant bus journeys I’ve experienced.

For the most part, the route glides effortlessly through leafy suburban streets and passes intriguing sites like Bromley’s Chinese Garage. The mood on board was cheery, with people seeming eager to give up their seats and make general chit-chat.

While rush hour traffic and the waning novelty of the network may eventually dampen the gaiety on board, the efficiency the new route brings seems to be warmly received.

On the returning leg of my journey, fellow passenger Geona distilled the mood of many South Londoners when she told me: “I thought it was going to be fancier inside, but it seems quick and reliable. That’s the main thing, isn’t it.”

Pictured top: Reporter Harrison Galliven (Picture: Harrison Galliven)


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