Bus driver: ‘TfL is playing politics’

Meeting hears proposed route axing will be loss of ‘vital lifeline’ for pensioners and disabled

Friday, 29th July — By Charlotte Chambers

Patrick Paul bus drivers

Patrick Paul with Metroline colleagues at Holloway bus garage

A BUS driver has called on the government and Transport for London (TfL) to “stop playing politics with people’s lives” and sort out their funding amid threats to axe his route.

Patrick Paul’s comments came as nearly 100 people gathered on Monday to discuss the changes to bus routes proposed by TfL. Described as a “vital lifeline” for pensioners and disabled people, his route – the No 4 – is the only service that travels from major tourist destinations in the City to Archway.

For many patients, as well as staff, it is the only bus that takes them to the Whittington hospital, while the route also serves numerous universities, schools and places of worship including Finsbury Park mosque.

Speaking at the public meeting at St George’s Church in Crayford Road, Tufnell Park – filled with pensioners who described the route as their only means of getting around – Mr Paul said: “If the 4’s gone it’ll be gone forever and I’ll be devastated. It’s my baby. I love the passengers. I know them, they know me, some of them know me by name. I get Christmas cards and presents from my customers. I call them my passengers even though we’re meant to call them customers.”

He warned that replacing the double decker with a single decker – one of TfL’s proposals is for sections of its route to be covered by the No 236 – would be disastrous as the packed bus is regularly full to capacity.

Kathleen Greaves

Mr Paul said: “What the government is doing is politics. They’re playing politics with people’s lives. I know the Conservatives are in power and Sadiq Khan is Labour and [with] all these cuts and whatnot, the government is trying to implement cuts on TfL but it’s not just affecting Labour – it’s affecting people, real people. The government need to look into this again and provide the funds that’s needed for TfL to preserve this route and others.”

Mr Paul, who lives in the borough and has driven the No 4 bus for more than 15 years, and is the Unite union rep for Holloway bus garage, representing 46 other No 4 route bus drivers.

He warned drivers could either be made redundant or offered work in a bus garage up to two hours away, which for many would not be possible.

Council leader councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz and other Labour councillors along with Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn also attended the meeting, billed “Save Our Buses”, after TfL chiefs launched their consultation on an “efficiency” drive which would see changes to 78 bus routes across London.

As part of their proposals, customers could have to take up to three different buses to make the same journey as the No 4, while changes to the 254, the 259 and the 476 have also been considered.

Monday’s meeting at St George’s Church

Under proposals, the 214 would vanish from Islington.

The transport authority has been locked in a funding battle with the government for months, with repeated extensions to a funding deal having been made while a longer term deal is hammered out.

Kathleen Greaves, 87, a retired civil servant from Tufnell Park who suffers with MS, was also at the meeting.

She said: “The No 4 is a very important service particularly for older and disabled people because it’s the only direct route we’ve got to the hospital and it is important to get to the shops in Holloway Road. Elderly people will have difficulty getting there without the bus.”

A TfL spokesperson said “reducing the extent of our bus network” was part of conditions to secure government funding.

“We have carefully studied our network in order to only propose changes to areas that are well served by other routes already or would be after re-structuring other routes as part of this proposal,” they said. “We have always adjusted the network to reflect our changing city, but the devastating impact of the pandemic on our finances and the government’s conditions have now required a more significant review.

“As with all our consultations, we will take into account all public and stakeholder responses before reaching any final decisions.”

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