Here’s to the Ladies Who Bus …

I first came across the Ladies Who Bus in 2012 when I was working as Director of Transport and Mobility at London Councils and one of the things I was responsible for was the Freedom Pass, the concessionary travel pass for older and disabled Londoners.


Starting in 2009, Jo, Linda and Mary (known collectively as the Ladies Who Bus) had been working their way through every London bus route using their Freedom Passes and blogging about what they saw. How we had not picked up on this before I do not know. But once we had, it seemed to me it would be great if we could invite the Ladies into the office and show them the little team in London who run the Freedom Pass.

London Councils is the umbrella body for the 32 London boroughs and th City of London. There is a surprisingly small team to manage Freedom Pass, given there are more than 1.3 million passes. It was just a bit of me plus another manager and then a dedicated team of three, who did all the hard work. The Freedom Passes themselves start out as blank white Oyster cards and are personalised with the holder’s name and photograph by a contractor in Hull. The contractor adds a silver coloured hologram (This is a security device on the front and is not as some people think where the microchip is located). They also enable the cards with the national smartcard system known as ITSO. This allows the cards to be read outside London where the local buses have smartcard systems. The London team deal with queries escalated from Hull, such as people applying for two passes at the same time. There is a public facing contact centre handling phone calls, emails and letters. This is run by the contractor from Scotland but the London team have to deal with the more complex issues, such as authorising refunds where a card had became faulty. The London staff also have to deal with the finance arrangements including the negotiations with Transport for London, the Association of Train Operating Companies and the bus companies who operate local bus services in London outside the TfL network.

But back to the Ladies Who Bus visiting the office. There are three bus routes (344, 381 and RV1) which pass the offices of London Councils which is at the quaintly addressed 59½ Southwark Street – and no this is not some Harry Potter fantasy address. It is a full sized building. It is just the building was between 59 and 61 and someone, many, many years ago decided it would be better to call it 59½ rather than 59A which would be more usual.

Well we were way too late for the 344 as the Ladies had done that route in November 2009, although their posting dates from 4 June 2012 to keep the routes in order. So my colleague, Zara Bishop, the London Councils press officer, contacted the Ladies to see if they would like to come and see us when they got to route 381. They accepted the invitation and came on 15 August 2012. As their post explains, this led to them being on local TV and radio! In fact they hardly had time to drink their coffee, with all the filming and interviews going on!

London boroughs fund almost all the cost of the Freedom Pass and almost all the concession is protected by national legislation. Yet listening to the Mayor (both Boris and Ken) it was often appeared that the Mayor was responsible for ensuring its existence and also paying for it. So in the spring of 2013, Zara suggested that London Councils produce a short video to explain about the Freedom Pass and Freedom Pass – the Movie was born. And who better to star in this but the Ladies Who Bus.

Early one Sunday morning in April 2013, the Ladies trekked along to a small film studios in Wapping to take part. There was a little troupe of Zumba dancers – Zara’s idea. London Councils also hired a big red bus and this plied its way back and forth in Wapping, no doubt confusing the locals who normally only see single deckers. The story of that day’s filming is in the Ladies’ blog “Route Random Wapping”:

And here is what it turned out like:

I was there too, and can be seen as one of the bus passengers (I do not dance!). You can see my name (and a signature) on the opening sequence which is like a British Board of Film Classification screen. And finally, as this was done with economy in mind, I did the voice over (free!).

By the time the Ladies Who Bus got to RV1 in October 2013, I had retired from London Councils. They did pop in and see the team again and although I was invited to join them, sadly I had another engagement that day. Here is that post:

They kindly linked to my blog “Walking London Post Code at a Time”. This is my retirement project. Inspired by the Ladies. They were travelling one bus route at a time – I thought I would walk London one post code at a time. This links builds on my qualification as a City of Westminster walking tour guide and my new part time career as a walking guide:

And today, Monday 10 February 2014, they have reached the end of their quest with route X68 from Russell Square to West Croydon and I was honoured to be invited to join them.

Here are few pictures from this historic occasion.

IMG_6074  IMG_6090 IMG_6091 IMG_6093

Geoff from Londonist was there, so there will be a report on their site. Here is a link to his piece:


That is it then, or is it? They have promised to do the tram and river routes and are threatening to move on to a new project involving the museums of London.

So to misquote Stephen Sondheim:

“I’d like to propose a toast … Here’s to the Ladies Who Bus, everybody rise …”


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