‘Ghost buses’ spark renewed anger in West Hampstead

James Earl pictured with empty bus driving down Mill Lane. Picture: Nigel Sutton

James Earl pictured with empty bus driving down Mill Lane. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Empty double-decker buses on the way back to the depot have been whizzing down a West Hampstead street for more than 20 years – much to the ire of residents.

But the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum (NDF) has decided enough is enough and has formally complained to the bus company whose drivers use Mill Lane to get to and from the depot in Cricklewood.

The buses do not pick up or drop off any passengers when they pass through the street.

Cllr Flick Rea, who represents Fortune Green, said: “I’m extremely outraged about it. This is not a new issue.

“But why would they do anything about it when they haven’t for the last 20 years? I suspect they will go on using Mill Lane. It’s not their problem to worry about the impact on the community.”

Past complaints to both Metroline Buses and Transport for London have proved fruitless for disgruntled residents, who say that the street is too narrow for large buses to regularly use because it has two rows of parked cars on each side.

NDF chairman James Earl hopes to finally get drivers of the No 139 bus route – which terminates at West End Green in West Hampstead – to make their way to the depot via an alternative route, using Fortune Green Road, Finchley Road and Cricklewood Lane.

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He has sent Metroline Buses a letter, informing them that the fifth draft of the forum’s neighbourhood plan, which will provide guidance for planners and developers, will call for the company to stop the buses using Mill Lane as a shortcut.

Mr Earl said: “People have been complaining about it for years.

“It’s a near constant stream of buses, every 15 minutes all morning, day and evening, whenever the buses are running.

“It is a fairly busy road, but there is parking on both sides and there’s not much space for the buses to pass.

“Since it’s not picking up passengers, it’s not fulfilling a local function.”

In May, the chairman of the Greater London Authority’s transport committee, Caroline Pidgeon, said the proposed alternative route could not be used because buses cannot turn right onto the A41 from Cricklewood Lane.

A patch of uneven road surface prevented the buses coming down Mill Lane for years, but when the road was repaired and the bump smoothed over in the last year, the empty buses returned.

Cllr Rea said buses cut through Mill Lane to get to the depot because it saves them five minutes of journey time.

She has suggested a representative comes to a forum meeting to discuss the issue with residents.

A spokesman from Metroline Buses said: “Route 139 provides a very important service to the community of West Hampstead by providing a high frequency local bus service straight into central London. A consequence of running bus services from West Hampstead is the need to move drivers and vehicles between Cricklewood garage and West End Green.

“The route along Mill Lane is not a short cut but simply the most direct and reliable route for our buses to use.

“Our drivers are highly trained and regularly reminded of the need to drive safely along all of the roads that we use, and Mill Lane is no exception.”