What's the Most Crowded London Bus Route? Here's Our Theory

By James O Malley on at

Here at Giz UK, we’ve spent a lot of time obsessing about the London Underground. By “we”, I mean “I”, as I’ve been able to use my position as Interim Editor to write far too much about the Tube.

But the Tube isn’t actually the most used form of public transport. That honour goes to the capital’s expansive bus network. According to Transport for London (TfL), the Tube has 1.37bn passenger journeys every year. Buses? According to recently released figures for the year 16/17, there were over 2.03bn journeys.

And anyone who has tried to catch certain London buses at rush hour will be able to testify - heck yes, it feels like there are 2 billion other people trying to catch a bus too.

What’s The Busiest And Least Busy Bus Route In London?

So which route is busiest? Perhaps unsurprisingly for anyone who has ever taken it, the 25 comes top of the table with 17,145,134 recorded passengers in the 16/17 year. This is a long route - going all the way from Ilford to Oxford Circus, via Stratford and the City of London. No wonder it is so busy.

Also at the top of the list are other buses that snake into central London, such as the 18 which goes from Wembley and then all the way along Euston Road, and the 29 which goes from Wood Green to Trafalgar Square.

Not all of the most popular bus routes are central though. The 207 joins Hayes with White City, and the 140 goes from Heathrow to Long Elms, wherever that is.

Here’s the full Top 20. Don’t worry, Bus KM and Density will be explained in a moment.

The least used normal bus routes (excluding night buses and school services and so on) are the 399, 389 - both of which serve the area around Chipping Barnet. In 2016/17, the 399 had only 10,536 passengers - that works out as around 29 passengers per day if it operated every day but Christmas Day (which it almost certainly didn’t).

What’s The Most Crowded and Least Crowded Bus Route in London?

So now we know what route is the busiest in London. But perhaps that isn’t particularly surprising: The 25 is a big route, so would obviously be at the top. What’s a more interesting question is what route is the most crowded. Is there a way we can figure out which route is the most annoying - perhaps where you’ll be least likely to get a seat?

Brilliantly, with the data TfL has included the “Bus Km operated”. In other words, if you take every bus which ran on that route, and added all of the individual journeys together, it makes it possible to compare like-with-like. The 25 is the busiest route, but is also a long route with a lot of buses running on it. If you were comparing, say, accidents, it’d be unfair to compare with the 399 - because the 25 is completely different in every respect: in distance, service and passenger numbers.

But this also enables us to make a calculation: We can take the passenger kilometers and divide by the number of passengers to get a figure that I’m going to refer to as “density”. If the resulting number is low, it means that the route is mega-crowded, and you’ll be squeezing in, struggling to get a seat. If the number is higher, you might be able to spread out a bit.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted in the that the bus KM figures are actually from the year before - 2015/16 - but given that bus services don’t change too much year to year, the resulting data still strikes me as meaningful: Given that buses on London’s busiest routes run every few minutes, if one breaks down, over the course of a year that will be lost in the noise.

So using the density calculation - which is the most crowded route for passengers? Surprisingly, it isn’t one of the biggest routes. It doesn’t run through central London, and it doesn’t cover an enormous distance. The most intensively busy route is in fact the W7 - the lifeline which enables the North London middle classes in Muswell Hill and Crouch End to commute, by transporting them to Finsbury Park Station.

Anyone who has ever taken this bus won’t be surprised by this revelation given that it is a bit of a scrum at even the quietest times. (C’mon folks, if you’re boarding and Finsbury Park and are going past Crouch End, then you sit upstairs. Follow the rules.)

The rest of the list makes for interesting reading too. The 41, which links Crouch End with Turnpike Lane and Archway Stations is number 7 - which highlights just how much the people there rely on buses. The 330, 69, 104, 238, and 58 all serve a similar swathe of East London.

What’s particularly interesting here - and I don’t know the answer to this - is to think about what impact the Elizabeth Line will have when it opens fully in 2019: Will it mean commuters are less reliant on a connection to Stratford to get into town, as they’ll instead be able to use Maryland or Forest Gate to head west? Perhaps not surprisingly too, the new Tube line will also cover much of the same route as the 25, which you will remember is the busiest bus route over all.

And that’s more than you could have ever wanted to know about London bus routes. Here’s the full data, so you can look up and see just how popular your own local bus is.