A better simile than 'packed like sardines' is needed to describe the crush on the number 25 bus every morning and evening. It is so oppressive downstairs that the only bearable way to travel is to stand near the exit doors, get off the bus at every stop, and then force your way back on again.
At least on the top deck they don't allow standing, but upstairs was beyond my aspirations because of the scrum of bodies on the stairs (where you're also not meant to stand) blocking my way.
Yet my neighbour tells me this is a quiet day because of half-term. “At least we can get on the bus today,” he said, as we sweated our way along Mile End Road towards Stratford. “Often you have to wait two or three buses to get on at Whitechapel and Stepney Green.”
The bendy buses got a bad press, but the punters say it was better in those days, because they carried so many more people than a double decker (150 plays 90). They were also easier to get on and off because they had more doors and no stairs. But the bendy buses were unpopular among those who didn't use them regularly, notably Mayor Boris, who has spent a fortune replacing them with buses of reduced capacity. The new Routemaster looks very elegant on the outside, but that isn't much consolation to the cattle on bus 25.
Several passengers told me they don't feel quite safe on board. One of my fellow passengers said that a fortnight ago, as he was wedged downstairs, there was, “a near fight between the driver and a severely agitated would-be passenger who couldn't get on because of the crush.” While behind him an “unsavoury character sniffed glue from a bag. Nobody batted an eyelid.”
Eighteen hours later I'm on the suburban 269, speeding away from Bexley to Bromley, with barely a handful on board. We don't even halt at most bus stops, because there is no-one to get on or off.
Doubtless it's busier in the evening peak, but route 25, which carries 64,000 passengers a day – the population of Crewe – is another world. However, the views are better; at night St Paul's Cathedral and the Bank of England are brilliantly illuminated; you can catch a priceless glimpse, but only if you force your way to the window.