Route 25 has a long history. Starting with a route 25 which began operation on 30 October 1910, between Victoria and Old Ford (Lady Franklin) via Picadilly, Oxford Circus, Holborn, Bank. In fact, the same routeing as today's route 8. This was the second motor bus route in London to carry this number.
As from 20 June 1912, routes 8 and 25 exchanged their eastern branches at Bank, with the 25 taking over what has become its traditional route from Victoria to Seven Kings (Seven Kings Hotel). By the end of the First World War, the 25 was working Daily between Victoria and Seven Kings Garage, with a Sunday 25A route from Victoria to Chadwell Heath (White Horse). During the 1920s, London's bus transport expanded rapidly, and the 25 soon had gained 25B, 25C and 25D suffixed routes.
On 1 December 1924, a new system of route numbering on London Buses came into force under The London Traffic Act of 1924. This made the Metropolitan Police responsible for bus operation and route numbering in London. The new system was designed to make route numbering easier to understand for the travelling public. In fact, the reverse was the result, as can seen by the following list of the routes that replaced the 25, 25A, 25B, 25C and 25D buses.
25 remained 25, 25A renumbered 125, 25B renumbered 26, 25C renumbered 126 with the 25D becoming 145. This was further complicated in that all these routes had short working suffixed routes. The plain route number being only used for journeys for the whole length of the route.
This situation remained until 3 October 1934, when the newly constituted London Passenger Transport Board instituted its own numbering system, which generally re-instated the situation previous to December 1924, apart for route 145, which by then had developed into a self-contained route, thereby keeping its route number.
The 25 now ran: Victoria via New Bond Street to Oxford Circus, then the present route via Bank, Aldgate, Stratford to Ilford, then variously on to Seven Kings (25), Barkingside (25A) or Becontree Heath (25B). There was also the 25C, which diverted at Manor Park to East Ham, while the 25B was extended beyond Victoria Station to Ebury Bridge. Each route ran every 6 minutes on Mondays to Fridays, providing an incredible 40 buses per hour on the common sections; something like 150 buses must have been allocated, and the routes were operated from garages in Seven Kings, Forest Gate, Upton Park and (unusually) Hammersmith (Riverside) on the 25.
Various parts have fallen by the wayside over the years, the 25B variant from Victoria to Becontree Heath eventually becoming the main service and losing its suffix in about 1950. By 1982 the route was running in two overlapping sections, Victoria to Ilford and Aldgate to Becontree Heath; in that year the latter section was renumbered 225, albeit running to Limehouse instead of Aldgate. Both routes were Routemaster operated, but the 225 was soon converted to one-person operation using Titans - no doubt the original reason for the split. The 225 also reverted to Aldgate this time to match loadings. In 1988, the 25 (now Victoria to Ilford) was also converted to one-person operation, and consequently the 225 was renumbered back to 25 to match. The combined 25 was operated from Bow garage and needed no less than 60 Leyland Titans! The weekend diversion via Tower was also introduced at this time.
The first real cutbacks to this very long route did not come until 1992, when the Victoria to Oxford Circus section was handed over to route 8. The sections were retained however, with Seven Kings garage now operating Becontree Heath to Aldgate and Bow from Ilford to Oxford Circus. In March 1993 a local route scheme saw the 25 cut back to Ilford with a straight through service; new route 128, with the 129, covered the section to Becontree Heath.
However, this did give a reduced service between Ilford and Aldgate, leading to the very heavy loadings that have persisted to this day, especially between Stratford and Aldgate where the 25 is the only route. Capital Citybus, in their bid, proposed a reversion to sectional operation during the day on Mondays to Saturdays, with the sections being Ilford to Aldgate and Stratford to Oxford Circus. This suggestion was turned down on the grounds of service simplification. The inner section would have been operated by the above mentioned Hackney garage, with the outer section operating from Dagenham (some way off route!) - in the event the whole route went to Dagenham.
This base was moved to Rainham, and Rainham's inability to accommodate the long artics was cited as a reason for the route reverting to Stagecoach operation, though most people would have thought a base in Hackney would be more economical anyway. An interesting coincidence is that First gave Rainham the code R, which was also the code for Hammersmith Riverside garage, which, as mentioned above, had an allocation on the 25 at one time!
Following a fairly fraught five years with Capital Citybus/First Capital/First London East, the 25 has now reverted to Stagecoach East London operation. It is not often that major routes change operator, as the sheer scale of the task of finding perhaps 100 extra drivers to cover a route of over 30 buses makes this extremely difficult, so the original award to Capital Citybus on 26 June 1999 was quite a surprise; at 30 buses, it was and remains the largest London route to change operator as a result of re-tendering. Indeed Stagecoach will have had an even greater problem recruiting drivers, as the peak vehicle requirement had risen to 37 when they took over.
The first few months of First operation saw use of second-hand MCW Metrobuses, somewhat intrusive in a part of London which traditionally was firmly Titan territory. New short wheelbase Dennis Tridents were introduced as soon as possible. However, these new double deck low floor buses seated just 59, owing to very generous leg room provision. This led to extreme overcrowding; the buses had replaced 79-seat Volvo Olympians used by Stagecoach with no real change to frequencies! These early Tridents were quickly replaced with long wheelbase examples when the opportunity arose for cascades, but that was not enough to solve the capacity issues.
The introduction of congestion charging saw a new schedule introduced with a hefty service increase to a requirement for 40 buses. This may have helped in the short term, but buses soon filled up again! Re-tendering again in 2004 brought the predictable and currently fashionable response of converting the route to articulated single deckers. These have a much higher theoretical capacity than double deckers, with around 140 passenger spaces rather than 90, although most of this is standing room rather than seated and it is questionable if it can be achieved in practice.
When it returned to Stagecoach, the route inaugurated their new Waterden Road garage as an operational base, having previously been used for storage. There are three bus garages in Waterden Road; First London call theirs Hackney, while Stagecoach have two on opposite sides of the road. The original one is called Stratford and goes back to London Buses days when it was opened to take on midibus work from Bow garage.
The artic conversion initially resulted in the withdrawal of three evening peak journeys and a consequent reduction in peak vehicle requirement from 40 to 37. A weekend routeing variation via Tower Hill instead of Bank was also withdrawn. However even the larger artics started leaving people behind - one theory is that, because they operate on an "open boarding" principle where the only means of revenue protection is random (and seemingly infrequent) checks, passengers are deserting the parallel District Line for the 25 and the prospect of a free ride. Either way it has now been necessary to introduce a further frequency increase, taking the PVR to 42, at the expense of route 453, which was reduced. 25 was brought back to First London using Volvo B9TL Gemini 2 double deckers on June 25 2011.
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