Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, is warning that an on demand bus service being trialled in south London, will result in higher fares, a reduction in bus frequencies and companies engaging in ‘wacky races’ style tactics while competing for passengers.

Year-long trial

Transport for London (TfL) recently announced that it was introducing a year-long trial in the south London borough of Sutton, for an on-demand bus service.

It is anticipated that users will be charged a far higher rate of £3.50 per journey, which is more than double the standard £1.50 bus fare. Oyster cards won’t be accepted. Users will normally book the minibus service via an app.

No bus stops

The service will only run between 06:30 and 21:30 and will not be tied to bus stops or follow conventional routes.

TfL has licensed ViaVan and Go-Ahead to run the service in the trial area.

Gig economy

Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “There is a real danger with the creation of on-demand buses, that TfL is preparing to apply the gig economy to London buses.

“We have already seen massive cuts in central London bus routes, with the money being funnelled into this vanity project, if the trial is extended other routes face the axe.

“The service will be available at peak times for those who can afford the estimated £3.50 fare, this will be advantageous to a few elite users while hitting low paid workers, who rely on buses to get to work, squarely in the pocket.

“This service directly contradicts the mayor’s commitment to freeze fares, as users will be charged more than double the existing fare.

“It will create two categories of bus users, those who are fully tech savvy and with additional money, who are being given carte blanche to effectively queue jump, while other customers face having a longer wait for their buses.

“If people use on demand buses during peak hours it will undermine the viability of standard bus routes and result in further cuts to the service.

“On-demand buses will only operate during selected times, creating a real danger that the number of standard buses will be further cut to pay for the new service.

“As on-demand services develop, minibuses from different companies will inevitably end up racing each other to pick up as many fares as possible. This will resemble the wacky races with the safety of customers, passengers and other road users being placed in danger.

“Unite is urging TfL to stop wasting time and money and to concentrate on giving London the effective and affordable bus services that all Londoners deserve.”


Tfl is running a four week consultation on the service which closes on Wednesday 20 March.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.