TfL scrapping Countdown displays at No 31 bus route stops

by Mike Katz / @mikekatz

Information is power, or so they say.

Mostly, it’s the little bits of information that make our lives easier: “did I turn the gas off?” or indeed “have I just missed a bus?”  As a pretty frequent bus user myself, I find the latter quite important, which is why the ‘Countdown’ displays at bus stops telling you when the next bus is coming are a good innovation by Transport for London (TfL).

How will we know when the next 31 is due without the Countdown signs?

TfL has designed a new and whizzy system for Countdown, which will provide more accurate and timely information.  All good news.

The not so good news is that they have been consulting councillors about which stops will have the new displays.  Whilst they’re increasing the net total across the borough, some stops which already have them are going to lose them.

And I’ve noticed that in our patch, a number of the stops on the 31 route – on Belsize Road – are going to lose out.

Unlike going down the High Road or Finchley Road, where there are a number of buses which will do the trick, you can only travel from Kilburn to Swiss Cottage and on to Camden Town directly by a 31.

As it takes what is known as an orbital route, often traversing main roads with bus lanes, it often gets snarled up in traffic and so can be delayed.  A prime candidate, you would have thought, for a route where users need to know if they are going to have to wait two minutes or 20.   Let’s face it; we’ve all played the guessing game with the 31.

Not according to TfL, who want to take the displays away from the stops on Belsize Road.

(Actually, TfL isn’t actually consulting on taking the Countdown displays away from these 31 route  bus stops.  It says that unless a certain number of passengers per year use a stop, it won’t get a new Countdown display  – end of story.  TfL is, however, offering to swap proposed new Countdown stops for certain others on some routes – but only those alternatives that they specify; none are on this route.  Nonetheless, I’m prepared to make a noise!)

The number of mums with prams and old ladies with shopping I see at the stops on the Belsize Road, I have a strong feeling that the 31 is a bit of a ‘lifeline’ service.  If the frequency and punctuality was better, then not having Countdown displays wouldn’t be a problem.  But the service isn’t always that great, so people are entitled to know how long they’re really going to have to wait for a bus.

(You could also argue that the stop by the Abbey estate on Abbey Rd travelling north should have a Countdown display.  Although it is served by both 189 and 139, the two routes diverge soon after the stop, and go off in quite different directions (one goes up the High Road to BrentCross , the other to West Hampstead) – and the stop is the nearest for two large estates.)

Maybe I’m barking up a not particularly important tree and maybe I’m a bit of a bus bore, but I’m keen to know what you think – particularly if you use the 31 frequently.

It would have been nice for TfL to actually talk directly to service users about this, but there you go.  Plus ça change, I’m led to believe, in terms of their responsiveness to local concerns.

Here is the map showing which stops in Kilburn ward are affected which Camden has provided (a map of the wider area is here, if you’re interested).

Please email me at if you have any views.  I think this is shortchanging users of route 31; and I’ll be letting TfL know that.  Do let me know if you agree.

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