Nightmare in WalthamstowThe Reshaping Plan


The new Walthamstow Bus Station in about 1974, six years after Reshaping changed the route structure in the area for ever.  MB144 is six years old and already at the end of its life - it was withdrawn in 1974 and scrapped in 1976.

Photo © John Law


The infamous Bus Reshaping Plan of 1968 made major upheavals to long-standing patterns of service and introduced areas of 'flat-fare' operation (now that all London bus journeys cost the same, it is easy to forget that crews used to have to cope with complex fare charts for each route).  These were numbered with a letter prefix based on the area, thus starting with the W series and moving on to include Peckham, Ealing and so on.


The idea behind Reshaping was to replace parts of the bus network with a 'hub & spoke' arrangement, shortening trunk routes and providing high-capacity local links. At the same time, many suburban routes were converted to one-man operated buses. The high-capacity routes were 'flat-fare' - i.e. the same price for any distance, and used automatic fare machines on buses designed to carry large numbers of standing passengers.  The Plan was a response to increasing staff problems and financial constraints at London Transport.


Leon Daniels' tribute to Roy Smith, the architect of Reshaping who died in January 2010, appears at the foot of this page.


Implementation started in September 1968 in the Wood Green area (W routes W1 to W6 initially) and at Walthamstow (linked with the opening of the Victoria Line), where only one new service was flat-fare, the W21. The Wood Green area stretched from Crouch End to Edmonton, and encompasses today's routes W1 to W10. The Walthamstow area covers today's W11 to W19.


Reshaping, as first tried, was a disaster. Too much changed too quickly, the buses were too long for some of the roads and were unreliable, as was the fare equipment. And passengers didn't like standing.


But the staffing and cost reasons behind all this were irrefutable, and then Ken Livingstone came along with Fare's Fair, so over time the old variable fares died out, first by fixed-fare zones then London-wide. One-man (later one-person) operation became inevitable, although some would argue the jury is still out on the efficiency of OPO on high-frequency trunk routes.


So the area schemes continued to be rolled out. Ealing (E routes), Peckham (P routes, even though P1, P2 and later P4 didn't go to Peckham), Morden (M routes) and Harrow (H routes) appeared by 1969. But the rot had set in - the Harrow scheme was a shadow of the original proposal and Woolwich and Romford schemes never got off the ground. A limited Croydon scheme (C routes, later abandoned) went ahead in 1970 and some Stratford (S) routes in 1971. Later schemes were the Bexley area (B routes), Docklands (D routes), Hounslow (H20 upwards), Kingston (K routes) Orpington (R routes for 'Roundabout', the group name) and Uxbridge (U routes).


Later examples of prefix route numbers tended to be local, rather tortuous routes, introduced to get buses into streets not previously served. This trend started with the minibus services in 1973 - see notes on the P4 for more detail - and continued with the likes of Sutton services (S routes, including S3 which was previous used at Stratford) and Richmond routes (R68 etc). There are still oddities, like G1, presumably named after St Georges Hospital for which it's a local service, and the PR and RV routes, mentioned at the end of the article on the route number page.


Full details of the Reshaping Plan are set out in 'Reshaping London's Buses' by Barry Arnold and Mike Harris, published by Capital Transport in 1982.  It is now out of print but worth tracking down.


Roy Smith


Leon Daniels of First Group wrote the following tribute on 29 January 2010:

I was saddened to learn today of the death of Roy Smith, aged 87.

Roy was the first "senior" person at London Transport I ever knew. He was sufficiently forward in his thinking to embrace the benefits the private sector could deliver many years before tendering was invented. Under his term of office we at Obsolete Fleet ran part of the Round London Sightseeing Tour and invented new pick-up points. We also ran Baker Street to The Zoo in place of supplementary 74s and generally provided buses which the organisation could not do itself.

But Roy's biggest challenge was as the architect of the Reshaping Plan - this delivered widespread single-person operation to London in a bold attempt to shorten routes, speed up boarding, and improve reliability.

Sadly he was let down - mostly by the hardware. The buses were hopelessly unreliable, the fare collection systems failed, and revenue was way below what was expected. In due course the major schemes morphed into simpler conversions to driver-only operation but the main thrust of shorter and simpler routes remained.

For some reason commuters used to standing on the Underground and suburban trains were less happy standing on buses, and illogically people were concerned at only 25-33 seats on a bus even though the average off-peak load on the old double-decker which had been replaced was rather less than that. (Indeed if they had been carrying 25-33 passengers the economic pressure to single-manning would not have been so strong).

It was ahead of its time - today's two-door Dennis Darts equal the footprint of the Swifts and Merlins but manage to run for several days without disgracing themselves by the side of the road. Instead of unreliable on-bus fare collection we now have mostly off-bus ticketing.

Roy joined the LPTB in 1938 and was a bus traffic man mostly throughout his career, retiring as Development Director (Buses) in 1981. He had been President of the LT Old Comrades Assocation and Chairman of the Fifty Five Society.

I often tell newer staff that this business is "all about the people" not the buses. Roy was one of those people and I am sure history will record that he was very much ahead of his time.
MBS449 shown here on route M1 - representing the short, flat-fare routes being introduced in the suburbs as the plan Reshaping London's Buses was rolled out.  MBS444, a companion bus at Merton, is now preserved. 
Photo © Leon Daniels