It was built in 1932 to serve small sight-seeing tours around Britain – but now more than 30,000 passengers travel through the doors of London’s Victoria Coach Station every day.
Cut price fares and mass migration have caused the station which serves 1,200 destinations in Britain and 400 elsewhere in Europe, to become one of the busiest in the country as traveller numbers have rocketed by a quarter in the past five years.
The latest instalment of BBC 2’s The Route Masters – Running London’s Roads gave a glimpse behind the scenes of this important part of the capital's transport network.
It’s not just tourists as many people arrive by coach from European countries such as Poland looking for work.
While others find it a cheaper alternative to the train for their daily commute from the likes of Milton Keynes and Southampton.
Directing lost passengers, dealing with lost luggage and tackling ticket touts is all in a day’s work for the army of dedicated staff.
And those traveling through the station are full of praise for the team who lend a helping hand to the elderly and disabled passengers as well as anyone else needing assistance.
Ticket office supervisor Kate Brooks has even offered a room at her home to some passengers who have missed their coach.
And there ‘s Kimi, a Nigerian cleaner at the station who goes about her job with an infectious sense of humor.
She laughs as she describes how people have jumped over the barrier to avoid having to pay to use the toilets. Finding 30p to spend a penny in the toilets causes confusion and anger when travellers do not have sterling or protest at being charged, she explains.
It seems the station is full of characters that have become part of the furniture. A regular visitor to Victoria is an enthusiastic pensioner called Alan who regularly watches the comings and goings having caught the ‘coach bug’.
“You see all life here. Victoria is the hub, “ he says.
He is happy just to stand and observe as passengers rush past him to catch their coach or arrive in London to reunite with loved ones, with hope of finding work or just simply to visit the city’s famous landmarks.
While most of the station has changed beyond recognition, some of the old methods still prove the best.
Site controller Mike Lloyd can be seen using pencil and ruler crossing off departures as they leave the station.
“It’s very old school. Technology passed us by somewhere.
“The only thing older than me here is the infrastructure – 34 years for my sins,” he quipped.
High-tech surveillance is used, however, to ensure the coaches arriving at and leaving Victoria run smoothly alongside the arrival of passengers on buses and the underground.
Police also have a role to play as they treat the station as a border, which means checking papers and passports as well as ensuring nothing illegal is being smuggled into the city.
And they also prove vital in the search for missing people. When a 15-year-ol boy with autism runs away from home, they are able to find him quickly and reunite him with worried parents.
The Route Masters provided a fascinating insight into one of the country’s busiest stations showing you the hard work that goes into ensuring journeys run smoothly and keeping the city moving.Subscribe to our Newsletter