How to go west when you live in Kingston

When I was a kid growing up in Croydon, there were two types of buses: red ones and green ones. Red ones were run by London Transport, green ones (including the green and white Green Line coaches) by London Country. You had to get the green ones if you were going out to the country, or if you were going somewhere better, or only, served, by the green ones, like parts of Coulsdon or Sutton. Green buses had 400 numbers (Green Lines had 700 numbers), and anything else was red. Red buses took bus passes, green ones didn’t.

Then they allowed other companies to bid for LT routes, which is when that colour scheme broke down a bit. Then there was something called deregulation, and the National Bus Company was split up, and the dull green London Country buses became colourful stripey bright green London & Country with stripes and funky modern lettering, and other parts of the country similarly erupted in a riot of colour. Then the holding companies wanted their corporate image everywhere, so the riot of colour disappeared into Arriva’s uniform purple and First similarly put its stamp on all its buses. But one thing that also changed was that the green buses became London Transport routes as well, the bus pass became valid and travel became that much easier, and eventually this was extended into the outer suburbanised towns and villages of Surrey, like Caterham, Ewell and Epsom, even Redhill and Leatherhead, as well.

Kingston, like Croydon, used to be Surrey until the 1960s. Kingston town centre lies pretty much on the edge of Greater London. West of Kingston lies Elmbridge district, with yet more suburbanised towns, like Walton, Esher and Weybridge, but for one reason or another - it was necessary for the rump Surrey county to be viable, the middle-class residents were likely to vote Tory, and might have tipped the balance of power in the old Greater London Council - they were kept out of Greater London despite being every bit as suburban as Kingston. But they are Kingston’s back yard.

If you’re wondering what the point of all this is, today I went into Kingston to see what the cost would be of getting a bus to Walton on Thames, where I have a job lined up for tomorrow. There are quite a few buses going out in that general direction, all of them run on behalf of Surrey County Council - not what is now Transport for London - and none of them take bus passes or Oyster once out of Kingston borough and into Surrey. The bus fare for a return to Walton was over a fiver. It is slightly less than the cost of the train fare. Compare this with the cost of a bus pass on Oyster - £3, which entitles you to unlimited travel on buses anywhere in Greater London, and out to those bits of Surrey served by the red buses.

The problem is that there is plenty of industry in those parts of Surrey, and I recently contacted my employment agency in Croydon, which has recommended that I sign on with their Kingston branch (actually not in Kingston but in Molesey, another Elmbridge suburb) as getting to Croydon at short notice (it’s 12 miles away) has been a problem. It seems that a lot of their jobs, like the agency itself, are in places served by the infrequent and expensive Surrey County buses. They are not reasonably accessible unless you have a car, which I don’t. Which means signing on at Kingston is a less viable option than it might seem.

Given that Transport for London have been able to facilitate London rate travel to some parts of Surrey (and other surrounding counties), why on earth can’t they provide buses to the suburbia of Elmbridge? Kingston is a part of London, and Elmbridge is Kingston’s back yard. A look at an old London bus map demonstrates that once upon a time, red London buses (the 131, which presently runs only from Wimbledon to Kingston) did indeed run to Walton. If it can’t be reinstated (and it probably could), why can they not provide an equivalent service? The situation is not helped, of course, by the fuel taxes which artificially inflate bus fares (any talk of subsidy needs to take this into account). It’s ridiculous that a bus fare down the road and back costs as much as a full day’s travel in London.

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