The X26 and why it sucks

The X26 is the bus I’ve been commuting to work on most of this week. It has one main benefit, which is that it runs directly from New Malden, where I live, to Croydon, where I’ve had to go for my employment skills training thing. That’s pretty much it.

It has a long history — until recently it was called the 726, and has run at various points from Slough to Gravesend, Heathrow to Dartford, Heathrow to Bromley, and as the X26 it runs only from Heathrow to Croydon. It has always been a limited-stop bus, but it now runs basically from town to town. It was historically about hourly; now it’s half-hourly.

The problem is, at peak hours it’s almost always packed, the reason being its abject lack of capacity. It’s usually a single-deck bus, and the space taken up by several of the seats is taken up by luggage racks or “backside rests” mounted on the walls, because the route seems to be run on the basis that it is primarily an airport link, rather than a link between three large towns used by commuters and schoolkids in the absence of a direct rail link (except between Croydon and Sutton). Some of the buses have one entrance/exit at the front, and others have a separate exit in the middle, and as you might expect, this reduces the capacity, and they use both types of vehicles at all times of day, when you need more capacity at peak times. As with many modern buses, the legroom varies wildly from ample (like the groups of seats that face each other), to just about adequate (most of the seats), to just about zero (some of the seats on the bench at the back, crammed in between the back of the bus and the two seats in front).

I’ve noticed that other buses I’ve taken this week have not been full, even at peak times, so perhaps that reflects the slowdown in the economy, but the 213 route (from Kingston to Sutton, also via New Malden) is much more frequent, and uses double-deck buses, and is not always utterly packed. There should surely be a lesson here for the running of the X26 route.

A lot of this has to do with the opening-up of the route — it used to be a Green Line route and the vehicles were coaches, with more comfortable seats than on a normal bus, with limited stops and special fares. Nowadays you pay the same as you do on the stopping buses, which is a good thing, but if more people are to use it, they need to increase the capacity and not reduce it. Surely the regular users should take this up with Transport for London or the operator (Metrobus).

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  • Mitsurugi

    I used to get the X68 from West Croydon to Russell Square. The problem was that there was always one person who didn’t realise it was an express bus, and would plead with/shout at the driver to let him get off. I only used the X26 a couple of times to go to the airport but I don’t remember that happening. Last time I was in the U.K, they used both double and single-decker buses for the X26 route.

  • Mitsurugi: the thing with the X68 is that it has an odd system whereby it goes a certain distance without picking up or setting down or something, so that the only people who get on are going to Central London in the morning or to the outer suburbs in the evening. A lot of people, perhaps, don’t understand that.

    The X26 is a bit simpler: it has a few set stops, so that problem doesn’t really arise, except perhaps that people might expect it to stop at places it did stop at when it was the 726 (e.g. Beddington, Old Malden Plough). It does use a few double-deckers, but most are single-deckers and I suspect they use the doubles when they run out of their standard single-deckers which are specially kitted out for airport traffic, i.e. the ample luggage space. If they used double-deckers as standard, you’d think they’d use them at peak times, but they don’t.