Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Metroline's Frog Exchange & Enviro Shuffle

Since 2015, Metroline have consistently ordered Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH buses for their recent contract gains and renewals, with the latest examples often called"frogfaces" by enthusiasts. A huge number of these vehicles have started to enter service recently, primarily for routes 260, 302 and 17. However, the buses couldn't simply enter service on their designated routes, as these modified Gemini 3's have a long rear overhang, which prevents them from working routes 4 (which was originally meant to receive these buses in September 2017) and 17. However, the buses had already been ordered before route testing, so some re-shuffling was necessary in order to have the right buses allocated to the right route. Additionally, some of the cleaner, more technologically advanced buses will be diverted onto Central London routes in an attempt to improve air quality, meaning that Greater London buses are being downgraded to cast-offs.

Metroline VWH1415 arrives at Willesden Bus Garage after a route 52 journey.
Due to increasing pollution levels in Central London, the 52 will require brand new Euro 6 hybrid buses. However, the contract isn't due to be awarded until 2019, so some new vehicles have to be sourced from elsewhere. The 260 (which is also based at Willesden Bus Garage) was recently retained with brand new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, which are compatible with "green bus corridors" in Zone 1, so these buses will be used on the 52 instead, with the 260 taking the existing Gemini 2 vehicles (see above for illustration) currently on the 52. However, due to a ticket machine shortage, the 260 is still using the old Volvo President vehicles that have been the mainstay on the route for many years, even though the contract was retained on Saturday 24th June 2017! By December, all of Willesden's Central London routes will be operated by Euro 6 Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, as a result of more contract renewals and even more new Gemini 3's for the 6 and 98.

Metroline Travel VWH2314 pauses en route to Mill Hill Broadway, working the 302.
The one route at Willesden Bus Garage that has received the correct type of bus is the 302, running between Mill Hill Broadway and Kensal Rise. Although the route is extremely popular and creates many new links, residents at the Southern end of the route have always complained about it, stating that it "always runs empty" and "should be withdrawn from the area." There were also some complaints about noise from the roaring Volvo President buses, so hopefully the Kensal Rise area is grateful for their brand new quiet buses. This route was also retained on Saturday 24th June 2017, but the process of introducing buses onto this route has been very slow, with the majority of the allocation consisting of the older vehicles almost two months later! Hopefully some ticket machines can be sourced and the 302 can gain the new buses it deserves sooner or later, until it's robbed like all of its fellow outer London routes!

Metroline Travel VWH2017 departs Ludgate Circus on a route 17 journey to London Bridge.
On Saturday 22nd July 2017, the contract for route 17 was renewed with a batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, although these aren't the buses originally ordered for the contract. The newer "frogface" examples have a longer rear overhang, which resulted in an unsuccessful route test on the 17. However, the new buses had already been ordered for the contract, and some shorter vehicles that still complied with the latest tough emission standards had to be sourced for the fast approaching contract renewal. Before the upgraded Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH was made available, a temporary model was ordered for a handful of new contracts around 2014/15 (often known as the "smiley-face" by enthusiasts) which is just as clean as the latest examples, but also has a shorter rear overhang. A batch of 23 of these vehicles were working the 7, running between Oxford Circus and East Acton, a route with a similar Peak Vehicle Requirement to the 17. As a result, the former 7 buses (VWH2001-2023) are being transferred to Holloway (HT) garage for the 17 contract, with green blinds fitted from existing fleet at HT, whilst the 7 has been upgraded with the brand new vehicles originally destined for the 17. This efficient swap ensures that all contract standards are met, but the vehicles are also suitable for their respective routes.

VWH2296 stands at Oxford Circus on its first day in service on route 17.
Routes 4 and 17 have always been seen as the neglected routes at Holloway (HT) garage, with the oldest buses in the garage consistently appearing on these routes over anything else, even though they spend a considerable amount of time in Central London. Lots of enthusiasts were delighted that new buses were finally being prioritised for these routes (the 4 is scheduled to convert on Saturday 30th September 2017), although when both routes failed their route tests for the new buses ordered, it was announced that these routes would be receiving cast-offs instead (the 4 will receive existing "smiley-face" Gemini 3's from either Willesden or Potters Bar), further contributing to the constant degradation of these forgotten routes at Holloway (HT) garage. The 7, on the other hand, has always been one of Metroline's favourite routes, being allocated the unique Scania Olympus buses before 2014. It was also the second route in London to receive Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH "smiley-face" vehicles (Metroline's first batch), and now it has unexpectedly received brand new vehicles again, without a contract renewal prompting them! Instead of ordering various separate batches, Metroline decided that one large chunk of buses for all of the routes would be easier to handle, so some of the buses currently found on the 7 were originally destined for route 260, and carry Willesden (AC) garage code.! These buses have used existing blinds from the "smiley face" vehicles previously allocated to the route, so this swap also removed the need for ordering any new blinds. Hopefully regular users of route 7 are grateful for yet another batch of new buses, and the 4/17 commuters also (will) appreciate their modest upgrade.

The latest fleet shuffle across Metroline garages involved finding a large number of ADL Enviro 400 vehicles for their latest win, a temporary contract for the 266, a route they used to operate five years ago.

Tower Transit VH38118 is seen at Acton Old Town Hall, on a route 266 journey to Hammersmith.
Since Tower Transit started operating route 266 in June 2013, they've been slammed for their poor performance and constant failure to meet low targets. Sometimes the service was fairly decent, although mileage was a large issue and large gaps were a common occurrence. The allocation consisted of a dedicated batch of Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles which were inherited from First London's brief stint on the route from 2012-2013, but towards the end of the contract some Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles strayed onto the route, such as the bus seen above. The route was based at Atlas Road (AS) garage for the majority of the contract, conveniently located in the middle of the route, but for the last month the 266 was based at Westbourne Park (X) garage as the expansion was complete, resulting in the closure of Atlas Road. Upon tendering, the service was lost to Metroline, the same company who operated the route before 2012. Enthusiasts speculated that the route would be based at Willesden Junction (WJ) garage due to their available space, although the route returned to Cricklewood (W) after an absence of five years, on Saturday 29th July 2017.

Metroline Travel TE1090 pauses at Willesden Lane en route to Hammersmith on the first day of operation. I bet you're all delighted that you have the opportunity to play 'spot the enthusiast' here.
 Due to the high PVR of this long route, a large number of ADL Enviro 400 vehicles had to be sourced from multiple garages for the new contract. Around 50% of the buses have transferred from Potters Bar (PB) garage, following the loss of route 217 to Sullivan Buses. They have been refurbished recently and contain new inserts that display "Hammersmith Bus Station", which is a little confusing as there are two bus terminals there! The rest of the buses on the 266 were formerly allocated to the 113 at Edgware (EW) garage; these have been replaced by TEH-class ADL E40H vehicles that have transferred from Cricklewood (W) garage, enabling the 113 to convert to 100% hybrid operation (which means 80% in practice). Many enthusiasts were angry that the route has received some 11 year old vehicles for the changeover, although the 266 is on a special 2-year temporary contract due to route modifications in conjunction with Crossrail, meaning that the vehicles should still be in a decent condition towards the end. As the route is becoming very difficult to operate due to its impressive length, TFL have proposed to curtail the 266 to Acton High Street, meaning that it will no longer serve Acton Vale or Hammersmith, although the night service will be maintained for the whole route, with the Brent Cross-Hammersmith through trips re-numbered "N266". The daytime replacements will consist of DD route 306 (running between Acton Vale and Fulham Sands End) and SD route 218 (running between Hammersmith and North Acton). Click here for a link to the consultation, where you can share your views on the 266 restructuring with TFL themselves by submitting a response.

Metroline Travel TA642 pauses at Willesden Green Station. Ironically, these ALX400 vehicles were used on the 266 for the previous contract before 2012!
The first day was rather dramatic, as the new Metroline schedule hadn't been updated into the TFL system, resulting in buses not appearing on countdown screens or London Vehicle Finder, which made chasing the solitary Trident ALX400 on the route rather difficult! Despite the technical difficulties, Metroline have made a promising start, with a generally reliable service since the first day, which makes me think that the curtailment of the route could potentially be unnecessary, and perhaps the service can be operated sustainably with a dedicated operator. Although the ADL Enviro 400 buses have made up the majority of the allocation since the new contract, some of the 6 Trident ALX400 vehicles based at Cricklewood (W) garage have strayed onto the route, which has been amusing for some enthusiasts as these vehicles were used on the previous contract before 2012. Even though regular users of route 266 have received a downgrade in terms of vehicle type, the service has improved significantly and hopefully Metroline can keep up the good work for the next 28 months.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Busageddon: Central London Bus Changes

Due to ever-worsening congestion in Central London, bus patronage is falling dramatically, with most passengers switching to the faster, more convenient tube network. Empty buses taking up valuable road space has become an important concern for TFL, who recently published a consultation about reducing the number of services in Central London. A detailed report and summary of the changes can be viewed here, although the consultation is now closed and you won't be able to respond! Unsurprisingly, all of the changes have been given the green light and most of them have already taken place, with the few remaining modifications expected to happen later this year, or in 2018.

The first set of changes took place on Saturday 17th June 2017, affecting routes 6, 73/N73, 172, 242 and 390.

Route 6:
Metroline VWH2100 prepares for departure at Marble Arch, the first stop along the new routeing of route 6.
In order to reduce the number of buses travelling down Oxford Street, route 6 has been diverted between Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. It now travels down Park Lane and Piccadilly, omitting Oxford Circus and Regent Street. As well as providing an (underused) round-the-corner link between the aforementioned streets, the removal of a high frequency route along Oxford Street will certainly improve travel times for the remaining buses. Even though the number 6 was pretty popular on its Central section, routes 23 and 98 provide a sufficient alternative for customers wishing to travel to Aldwych, Edgware Road, Maida Vale and Willesden. At the moment, the 6 isn't very busy on its new line of route, but I'm sure passengers will soon realise that this is a much faster alternative to the slow, overcrowded 23 between Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. Overall, this is a positive change that should be quite useful to lots of us, especially when the other remaining through route along this corridor is removed from zone 1 altogether (more on that later).

Routes 73/N73:

Arriva London LT531 terminates at Oxford Circus, the new destination for the 73.
The old 73/N73 closely mirrored the Victoria Line between King's Cross St Pancras and Victoria, which seems to have taken a large number of passengers away from this route, due to the significantly faster journey time. As a result, routes 73/N73 have been curtailed to Oxford Circus, no longer serving Marble Arch or Hyde Park Corner, which sneakily removes another high frequency bus route from the crowded end of Oxford Street. In order to maintain the somewhat popular link from Oxford Street to Victoria, route 390 has been re-routed as a replacement for the 73. This curtailment has led to the stand at Holles Street becoming rather overcrowded, especially as the 73 (which runs every 5 minutes at rush hour) is sharing with the high frequency route 25, meaning that sometimes buses have simply had to depart early, or queue in the middle of the road! It's hard to imagine that in 2011, the 73 still ran all the way from Seven Sisters-Victoria, whereas now it's merely a shuttle between Stoke Newington and Oxford Circus, being duplicated by the 476 for 80% of its journey. Personally, I think that this curtailment is part of a wider scheme that will see the 476 extended to Tottenham Court Road (a few minutes away from Euston, its current terminus, and Oxford Circus) and the withdrawal of route 73, with a re-numbering to keep certain people happy! Even though this has been one of the more controversial changes, residents of Stoke Newington can appreciate a more reliable service from now on, even if a few links have been broken. 
Route 390:

Metroline London LT117 pauses at Marble Arch en route to Victoria/
Due to excess capacity along the Bayswater Road corridor, TFL decided the 390 wasn't needed between Notting Hill Gate and Marble Arch (something they might regret during Notting Hill Carnival). As the 73 was struggling to maintain a reliable service, the 390 took over the Oxford Circus-Victoria section instead, with a frequency increase to every 6 minutes. Even though this should've been a fairly straightforward changeover, many passengers still aren't comfortable with the change of number, as I've spotted numerous empty 390 buses on the new section of route, even though the 73 was pretty busy along this corridor. Essentially, this change makes the 390 much more purposeful heading West from Oxford Circus and makes it a much more significant route in Central London. However, this change isn't exactly altruistic in nature, as reducing the number of buses along Oxford Street is clearly the top priority. The curtailment of the 73 has removed 12bph at rush hour, and even though the 390 has received a frequency increase, it's runs every 6 minutes at rush hour, which is slightly less regular than the previous 73 service. A few extra New Routemaster vehicles have been drafted in from other companies to help achieve the frequency increase on the 390, which will certainly benefit commuters travelling from Tufnell Park and Archway. Hopefully, the re-numbering doesn't put people off using the bus from Victoria-Oxford Circus and beyond, so that the 390 can be a suitable replacement for the 73.

Route 172:

Abellio London 2440 stands at Brockley Rise, showing the incorrect destination.
 In order to reduce the number of buses travelling along Fleet Street, route 172 has been diverted at Ludgate Circus to terminate at Clerkenwell Green, rather than St Paul's, which has freed up stand space for the 242. Additionally, the 172 now improves accessibility to Farringdon Crossrail Station, as it will stop directly outside the main entrance. However, the 243 already provides a sufficient link from Waterloo-Farringdon (travelling via Holborn, which is quicker) and the 172 will be caught in heavy traffic during rush hour at Ludgate Circus, so at the moment the extension is very lightly used, with buses carrying little more than 2 or 3 passengers at a time. I'm sceptical that this change will be very successful, as the 243 copes easily between Farringdon and Waterloo already, having room for a small increase in demand; I think TFL have overestimated the number of people travelling between these two areas. However, the 172 might've been re-routed simply because its stand at St Paul's was required for another route, and the terminus at Clerkenwell Green has been abandoned for many years now. Personally, I've never thought that the 172 had much of a purpose further than Aldwych, and it could easily be curtailed there and extended further South, perhaps to Lower Sydenham, to provide some more useful links into Central London.

Abellio London 9060 pauses at Lancaster Place, showing correct blinds this time!
Unfortunately, Abellio weren't fully prepared for the changeover on Saturday 17th June, with most of vehicles showing the incorrect destination, usually 'Ludgate Circus' or 'St Paul's'. Some home-made blinds were placed in the front window for a few vehicles, but others just ran around fully banditised. Thankfully, the majority of the allocation have been fitted with correct blinds now, although any odd workings probably won't be blinded, considering the route is transferring to Go-Ahead London next year. Hopefully, my predictions about light loadings are incorrect and this change will be worthwhile in the long term, and maybe the route might become slightly more reliable as it doesn't have to deal with some of Fleet Street now.

Route 242:

Arriva London HV237 approaches the end of the line at Bread Street, St Paul's.
As the 172 has been re-routed to terminate at Clerkenwell Green, a vacant stand at St Paul's permitted a curtailment of route 242, which has been running empty between Tottenham Court Road and Bank for a long time. Apart from a few trips during rush hour, the 242 was very quiet beyond Liverpool Street, with most passengers from Dalston/Homerton choosing to alight there. This superfluous section of route has now been withdrawn, with routes 8/25 maintaining the link to Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus respectively. Conveniently, this also provides a permanent stand for route 8, which has been standing near Goodge Street until recently. Even though I always loved the 'inner-city' section on the 242, the reasons for its withdrawal are understandable, and hopefully a more reliable service for Homerton can be achieved, where the route can get very busy from my observations.
The next set of changes took place on Saturday 15th July 2017, affecting routes 22/N22, 137 and C2.

Route 137:

Arriva London LT954 stands at Marble Arch, the permanent new terminus for route 137.
 The 137 has made intermittent appearances along Oxford Street over the past few years, being curtailed at Marble Arch frequently, either due to an event along the aforementioned road, or as a mitigation measure. With the Oxford Street Bus Reduction Plan in full swing, the 137 was naturally one of the first routes to be curtailed. Regarding the issue of stand space, the 159 has been 'temporarily' curtailed at Oxford Circus due to works along Whitehall, so the 137 has settled in on Cumberland Gate for the time being; whether the 159 actually returns is another matter, so the 137 might be safe in the future. Interestingly, the highest number of broken links as a result of the changes were on this route, suggesting that the link to South London along Oxford Street was appreciated after all. Having said that, Marble Arch is a short walk away and hopefully shoppers have been made aware of their new bus stop, so the route can still be a popular method of reaching Central London from Clapham and surrounding areas.

Route C2:

Abellio London 9531 stands at Conduit Street, at the end of a C2 journey.
One of the more controversial changes involves the curtailment of route C2 to Oxford Circus (in reality, this means the junction of Regent Street and Conduit Street), in an attempt to improve reliability on this route, with the diversion of the 22 partially compensating for the loss of route C2 in Mayfair. The Green Park-Oxford Circus corridor has frequently changed route over the past decade, with the 8, C2 and 22 all having a go. The popular Victoria-Oxford Circus/Camden Town link has been broken, much to the annoyance of many commuters, who were pretty miffed when their bus was turned at Oxford Circus. In my opinion, this change was unnecessary, as the C2 didn't have previous reliability problems and has been converted to a ridiculously short route that merely shuttles people between Kentish Town and Oxford Circus, conveniently travelling through Camden Town in the process. Operation of the route from Battersea (QB) garage is rather inappropriate now, considering the route now terminates nowhere near there, so a loss of the contract is to be expected. Once again, I suspect this change is more to do with finding stand space, with extra room at Victoria being especially important with all these changes. As a result of the curtailment of route C2, the 3 has temporarily been stopped at Trafalgar Square, although an extension to Russell Square is expected to take place in 2018. Overall, I'm unhappy with the C2 change, as it's now nowhere near as useful as before, and the best section of the route has been cut!

Routes 22/N22:

Go-Ahead London WHV33 approaches the end of the journey in Mayfair.
As a result of the curtailment of route C2 to Regent Street, the 22 has been diverted at Green Park to serve Mayfair and terminate at Oxford Circus rather than Piccadilly Circus. This partially fills in the void left by the absence of the C2, maintaining a few crucial round-the-corner links and creating some new ones to Sloane Square and Chelsea, although the removal of the fast Oxford Circus-Victoria link has angered lots of commuters. The 22 is already fairly popular on this section, with many 137 users changing for this route at Sloane Square, which takes them to Oxford Circus fairly quickly. Instead of merely providing additional support for the 14, the 22 now provides a unique link from South-West London and is much more useful than before; it's also now gained a very interesting section of route and I look forward to riding the revised 22 from start to finish soon. As the C2 was a 24 hour route, the N22 has also been diverted to Oxford Circus, which is slightly more convenient for some parts of Soho. Embarrassingly, Go-Ahead London completely forgot to run the N22 to the new terminus on the night of Friday 14th July 2017, but the C2 did curtail at Regent Street, leaving Mayfair without a bus service for one night! Thankfully, patronage on that section is fairly low, and Oxford Street is a short walk away, which is home to several 24-hour services and night buses. Rather conveniently, this now frees up stand space at Piccadilly Circus, which is going to be very important for the next few years, due to its close proximity to Oxford Street. Overall, this aspect of the change has been pretty successful, but I'm still debating over whether the loss of the C2 was worth it...

Future changes:

As well as the changes reviewed above, some other routes will be diverted at some point in the future. Once they take place, another blog post will come out and my thoughts will be expressed then, but for now, I'm simply going to list them here and allow you to digest this information as it's quite heavy-going! Click here for the consultation page, which shows some detailed reports and maps on the changes.
  • Route 3 will be extended from Trafalgar Square to terminate at Russell Square, via Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road in 2018.
  • Route 425 will be extended from Stratford Bus Station to Ilford, with a frequency increase to every 10 minutes Mon-Sat, and to every 12 minutes on Sundays. These will replace the current short trips on route 25 that run between Ilford and Mile End only. September 2017.
  • Route 46 will be curtailed at Paddington, no longer serving Lancaster Gate.
  • Route 332 will be re-routed between Kilburn High Road and Paddington, serving Maida Vale, Shirland Road and Warwick Avenue instead of Edgware Road. It will terminate at Lancaster Gate rather than on Bishop's Bridge.
  • Route 23 will be completely restructured to no longer run East of Paddington. Instead, it will terminate at Lancaster Gate and run up to Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's as usual, then continue to Kensal Green, Harlesden, Brent Park and Wembley.
  • Route 452 will be withdrawn between Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's and Kensal Rise, and re-routed to serve Westbourne Park as a replacement for the loss of route 23, before terminating at Harrow Road. The last four changes will take place in 2018.
It seems that the Central London Bus Consultation has been somewhat successful. The number of buses in zone 1 has been reduced, although some links have been broken and inconvenienced lots of commuters. As many of the changes have been triggered by making more efficient use of stand space, we can infer that another 'Central London Bus Consultation' will be on the way soon, so make the most of your useful zone 1 bus routes, they might disappear!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!


Monday, 31 July 2017

Random Observations: July 2017

Hopefully this post should be a light relief from all the intense service changes that have been happening recently, we'll be reporting on those again from next week though!

Abellio London 8880 pauses at Brentford Station on route 195. What's missing?
 The 195 is pretty long for a London bus, taking an indirect route between Brentford County Court and Charville Lane Estate, travelling through Boston Manor, Southall and Hayes in the process. It's heavily used and hopelessly unreliable, with Abellio London struggling to improve service quality since they took over operation of the route in April 2017. After persistent unpleasant experiences, it's become one of my most hated routes in London and I try to avoid using the service as much as possible, but it's usefulness means that sometimes I have to simply put up with the crowds and long gaps as there is often no alternative. Recently, I needed to catch a train from Brentford Station and rather typically, the 195 was the first bus to show up, but my growing passion for Enviro 200 MMC single deckers made the journey slightly more bearable, plus this particular vehicle was an oddity. Originally, I dismissed the missing front logo as this is a fairly common problem seen on the London bus network, but when I stepped inside I noticed that the bus lacked any iBus equipment (meaning that there were no announcements) and the screen that usually conveys information about the destination and next stop of the bus was also absent. There was no CCTV in operation and it seemed like this vehicle had simply been rushed into service, without any London features added, which is very unusual. I've noticed that the bus has been off-road for a few days, so hopefully the necessary equipment has been installed, to provide an adequate journey for commuters who rely on this important technology!

Arriva London T163 on stand at Thornton Heath Pond, preparing for another 64 journey in South London.
Since Go-Ahead lost the 64 contract to Arriva London, the route has been slammed for its poor service reliability, and the positive comments the 64 received under the old service simply diminished in an instant, with a vehicle catching fire within the first week of operation not helping either! Although the route is no longer praised and respected much in the enthusiast community, the service seems to have improved slightly and I was willing to try out the route a couple of weeks ago. I was pleasantly surprised by my fast Enviro 400, which seemed to tackle the challenging hills in Selsdon with ease and was capable of reaching high speeds, especially around the rural parts of Addington Village, contrary to reports by other enthusiasts that Thornton Heath (TH) garage has persistent poor maintenance. Whether this vehicle is able to keep up its healthy state is another matter, but my first experience on one of their buses was positive, and the routeing is pretty interesting too. Starting off in Thornton Heath, the route travels through urban Croydon, before quickly leaving the town centre and diving into some of the wealthier residential areas of South London, before taking a circuitous route around the extensive complex of Addington, in an attempt to serve as much housing as possible. Although I'm generally not a fan of residential routes, this one stood out because of the sheer variety of areas it passed through, from the hilly upper-class section in Croham Valley, to New Addington, where rural fields and dense tower blocks were seconds apart. I highly recommend this route if you're in the Croydon area and hopefully you get a decent bus like me!

London United MCL30306 on route 203 to Hounslow Bus Station.

Running from Staines-Hounslow Bus Station, the 203 has always been popular in linking the two shopping districts, passing through lots of residential housing in between. This fairly quiet route is now well-known to the enthusiast community, as it's allocated the only Mercedes Citaro buses in the London United fleet; in my opinion they're also some of the best examples in London, capable of high speeds along the Great South West Road, which the 203 serves. Having said that, reliability has always been an issue with these vehicles and I'm slightly worried about the future of them, especially as the equally unique Optare Tempo buses based at Hounslow (AV) garage are at risk of withdrawal. Hopefully the 203 will continue to be a significant, substantial single deck route, rather than an irrelevant residential bus that runs at out of Hounslow less frequently than it deserves, which unfortunately was the sorry state of the route before 2011.

Stansted Express 379018 awaits departure at Tottenham Hale, bound for London Liverpool Street.
I've never been particularly fond of Greater Anglia, due to their ageing, worn-out class 315/317 trains that make up the majority of the fleet, and also tend to work most suburban rail routes in London. Some of the limited modern kit can be found running between London Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport every 15 minutes, with 8 coaches that often carry fresh air! Typically, all three "airport express" services run empty for the majority of the day, with only a few trips that justify the elongated trains. The Stansted Express is unique because you can use your oyster card on this service, as they do stop at Tottenham Hale, providing a handy fast link into Central London for those residents, on a luxurious Electrostar. Thankfully, there's a bright future ahead for the Greater Anglia franchise, as the entire fleet will be replaced with brand new trains by September 2020, hopefully making those occasional trips into NE London slightly more bearable.

Abellio London 8569 pauses at Ealing Broadway Station on the E1 to Greenford.
Due to a severe vehicle shortage at Hayes (WS) garage, the E1 was downgraded to partial single deck operation last Monday, with two Enviro 200's fulfilling these rather embarrassing duties. As this was an unexpected circumstance, neither of the vehicles were blinded, so some paper was stuck in the window and the buses took various trips ferrying the poor passengers between Greenford and Ealing in the evening peak.  I was concerned about how these vehicles would cope in rush hour, especially as I've been on double deck vehicles that have left people behind on this route! Thankfully, these buses haven't returned to the E1 and hopefully commuters will permanently have their much-needed second deck. Personally, I would've sent the single deckers out onto the E9, as this route is generally quieter in rush hour, but I have a feeling that the punishment would be much more significant if these vehicles were sent out onto my preferred route as the contract was renewed much later and only given DDs recently.

A Stagecoach London E200 is seen during a blind change, showing this rather ambiguous destination.

When I first saw the destination 'Five Ways, Green Lane' on a 314 blind change, I was completely baffled as Stagecoach don't run any routes that pass the infamous 'Fiveways' junction in Croydon. However, I later found out that there is a similar crossing in South-East London also notorious for heavy traffic,  specifically in New Eltham, which the 314 passes through towards the end of its tedious journey from Addington. Blind specificity has been a controversial issue recently, with some being far too vague such as this example on the 314, where I had absolutely no clue where the bus would've been terminating if this was the actual destination, and others being inconsistently specific, like the new 266 blinds that display "Hammersmith Bus Station", which isn't shown on any of the other 10 routes terminating there. Additionally, there are actually two bus stations in Hammersmith, making this blind even more confusing and pointless! If bus nationalisation did take place, this would be one resolved issue, as all blinds would be ordered by the same people!

Tower Transit MV38238 on route 58 to Walthamstow Central.
 Interestingly, this particular vehicle has been accused of "stalking enthusiasts" lately, with a large number of people reporting to have ridden this bus on several occasions, or significantly more than the rest of the batch. After catching MV38238 on the 308 back in May, I was surprised to find this on stand at East Ham Central Park on the 58 last Saturday, even though appearances on the route aren't too common. The 58 has always been hated by the enthusiast community, being traffic-filled, unreliable and pretty overcrowded, providing many useful links across North-East London but also  avoiding Stratford Town Centre, which is the main reason for its popularity. Nevertheless, I attempted to ride the 58 on a Saturday morning and found the actual routeing pretty decent, passing through a wide variety of residential areas and urban high streets, with occasional glimpses of nature like Wanstead Flats. My bus was very busy and some roadworks in Upton Park meant that my journey was anything but fast, although I still enjoyed my experience and hopefully this route shall remain in my good books, which definitely relies on me avoiding it during rush hour! 

London United LT85 on Oxford Street.
Unusually, my number 10 bus was curtailed to the Royal Albert Hall recently, which is a fairly common curtailment for route 9, but not seen much on its sister route. The 10 has had a tragic downfall since the introduction of Wrightbus New Routemaster vehicles, with it's high rating simply vanishing after these horrid buses infested the route. Since its re-route to Russell Square, it's been made even more useful and unfortunately I haven't been successful in avoiding the service, which was my initial plan for all 'LT routes'. With the Oxford Street Bus Reduction Plan in full swing, I've begun to question the future of this route, especially with the alternative routes being largely duplicated by other buses, namely the 9 and 390. An obvious suggestion would be to divert the route via Shaftesbury Avenue between Hyde Park Corner and Tottenham Court Road, although this would match 75% of the routeing of the number 9, and perhaps the aforementioned iconic bus route will be withdrawn, with the 6 being diverted via Pall Mall. Although his extreme change is unlikely to happen due to the sheer number of complaints TFL would receive concerning the "loss of number 9", it would save them a lot of money...

Go-Ahead London LDP183 stands at Kennington Lane Tesco on free bus route 877.
In order to promote Kennington Lane Tesco, a free, commercial bus route numbered the 877 was set up to provide a link for residents living near Vauxhall, specifically in the Black Prince Road area. It runs every 20 minutes in a loop format, with Go-Ahead London running the service with a solitary cream-coloured 9.3m Dart Pointer, which ironically used to work on route 360 that also serves the area. Only operating on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am-3pm, this route acts as a lifeline to many elderly residents, who like using their free bus service which prevents them from having to face a tedious long walk to the shops. Apparently, the route will be withdrawn from September, which is a real shame as London loses another completely unique bus route, that happens to be well-used too. As usual, it seems that Tesco's introduction of this bus service wasn't entirely altruistic and was simply a method of raising awareness of the opening of this superstore; they're perfectly aware that these residents will continue to visit Tesco after the bus withdrawal, albeit via a less convenient mode of transport. I absolutely loved my ride last Tuesday, passing through some ridiculously tight narrow roads (requiring a very experienced driver whom I most credit) and some unique areas which mainstream London bus services simply don't serve. It goes through some of the most run-down areas of inner South London and is almost like the antithesis of the famous 399 from Barnet-Hadley Wood Station, serving completely different areas but for the exact same purpose. Unfortunately, variety on the London bus network seems to be disappearing rapidly, so if you want to make the most of it make sure that you don't neglect this wonderful service; it's free too!

ADE40308 terminates at Cromwell Road Bus Station, on a rare appearance working route 411.
The 411 is the only bus route that serves West Molesey, a middle-class residential area located on the outskirts of South-West London near the River Thames, in close proximity to Walton On-Thames and Hampton Court. The route only takes 25 minutes from start to finish, but it's very popular due to the cheaper fares that TFL provide, compared to the Abellio Surrey commercial services. An extension of the 411 beyond West Molesey would certainly be welcome, but unfortunately cross-boundary services are being withdrawn rather than instated, so the 411 will always remain a single deck route that has potential to be more useful. Due to the sheer popularity of the service (and some loose allocations at Epsom garage), the 411 occasionally uses a double deck vehicle from routes 406/418, which was certainly justified on my trip, where almost 50% of seats on the upper deck were taken. If TFL weren't on such a tight budget, I'm sure this route would be investigated for full-time double deck operation, and West Molesey residents would be very grateful for their new-found extra capacity, which might even make the service more attractive. Despite the short length, I really enjoyed the 411 and hopefully I won't ever have to experience a crowded single deck journey on this excellent route!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Busageddon: SD Major Model Change Catch-Up

The ADL Enviro 200 MMC has been very popular with many London bus companies, who have consistently ordered this vehicle type for their new contracts since its debut in late 2015. This post will focus on London United and Abellio, who have pushed these vehicles into service on routes 70, 464, R68 and R70 over the past couple of months, so you may notice that most of the buses illustrated in pictures look pretty similar!

Tower Transit DML44315 on route 70 to Chiswick, Business Park.
The 70 is one of the longest single deck routes in London, taking a very indirect routeing from South Kensington-Chiswick Business Park, via Ladbroke Grove and East Acton. It gets reasonably busy with single deckers and some enthusiasts have requested a double deck conversion of this route, which would make it much more enjoyable! However, the recent extension to Chiswick Business Park hasn't been particularly successful, with buses rarely carrying more than 1 or 2 passengers beyond Acton Town. Tower Transit previously operated the route with a dedicated batch of ADL Enviro 200 buses from Westbourne Park (X) garage, and it didn't receive any odd workings as it was the only single deck route based at that garage. Considering how challenging and long this route is, Tower Transit operated the route pretty well, with occasional hiccups but a generally reliable service, providing much-needed support to the 7 for the majority of the route. However, when the tender results were published many enthusiasts were surprised to find that London United had won the route from Shepherd's Bush (S) garage, being the fourth operator to run this route within five years! Specifically, Metroline ran the 70 for the first half of 2012, but the contract was awarded to First London. However, they sold their London operations in June 2013 and Tower Transit took control for four years until 2017, and now London United are attempting to operate the service, hopefully for more than a couple of years this time!

On the first day of the new contract, an ADL Enviro 200 MMC stands at Chiswick Business Park.
Due to increasing pollution levels in Central London, which this route serves, the contract was awarded with electric single deckers, which will arrive next year in the form of BYD Enviro 200 MMCs, which are essentially the electric equivalent of what currently runs on the route. As the electric buses aren't scheduled to arrive for a while after the contract change, a temporary allocation of Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered as a stop-gap until the new vehicles eventually arrive. These MMCs will then transfer to route H22 to replace older stock after their short stint on the 70. Having ridden on these vehicles twice, I can confirm that (in my opinion) these are some of the nicest Enviro 200 MMCs in London, with a welcoming, comfortable interior and excellent potential for speed. My only criticism is the annoying stop-start feature which pointlessly wastes time at bus stops and traffic lights, but unfortunately this is becoming a normality for all new vehicles. It will be a shame to lose these excellent buses from a local route, but the prospect of electric vehicles roaming around West London is certainly exciting.

The only vehicle to appear on route 70 since the new contract that isn't part of its allocation, DE20096, awaits departure at Acton Town.

London United have been fairly strict with the allocation of route 70, with only one odd appearance since the contract change, in the form of DE20096, which is currently allocated to the C1. In terms of reliability, the route was troublesome for the first few days with some nasty gaps and bunching, although since then London United have developed their understanding of this difficult route and can now operate it better than Tower Transit did for the previous contract. Due to space constraints at Shepherd's Bush garage, the 272 was shifted to Stamford Brook (V) garage, with the 419 moving from there to Hounslow (AV) garage, one of the only London United garages with space after their recent losses. Personally, I think the 70 has a bright future ahead, with even more new vehicles, and hopefully a reliable service if London United can keep up their excellent start. I wish them luck for the next five years and maybe they'll actually retain the route for the next contract!

Abellio London 8171 arrives at New Addington, ready for another 464 journey to Tatsfield.
One of the quieter single deck routes in London is the 464, running between Tatsfield Village and New Addington via Biggin Hill, on the edge of South-East London, acting as a lifeline for residents living on the border with Surrey. It's one of my favourite single decker routes in London, passing through some very rural areas and offering some spectacular views of the countryside that are pretty unique for a TFL bus service. The route only takes 20 minutes from start to finish and contains a mixture of residential and rural thrash sections, but in general it's a very fast-paced route and well-suited to all enthusiasts who prefer non-London bus services; it even tackles a hill with a 15% gradient! This particular road is also the reason why it's impossible to increase the frequency of this route; the buses simply can't meet each other on Saltbox Hill and the route has a special timetable with a "do not proceed" rule for the Northbound vehicle; it simply has to wait in Biggin Hill until the Tatsfield-bound bus has departed.  It has a peak vehicle requirement of two vehicles and runs every 30 minutes during the day from Monday-Saturday, and hourly for evenings and Sunday, although there are special school trips which between Biggin Hill and New Addington during term time which are timetabled very closely to the normal service.

8171 waits at the rural terminus at Tatsfield Village.
Previously, the route was run by Go-Ahead London from Orpington (MB) garage, with a general allocation of Mini Dart Pointers, although any vehicle small enough could appear, such as ADL E200s or even Optare Solo's from the R8. They had lots of experience with running this route and many enthusiasts were gutted when the route was lost to Abellio upon contract renewal, who were expected to have a difficult time in getting to know the 464. The route is now based at Beddington Cross (BC) garage and three brand new Enviro 200 MMCs entered service on time, although a couple of buses from the 367's allocation have strayed onto the route since then. In terms of reliability, there have been no issues apart from on the first day, where one of the buses (8172) was experiencing difficulties with the infamous stop-start technology, which caused some delays. Naturally, the new drivers struggled with the route for the first few days, not being aware of the need to accelerate sharply before attempting Saltbox Hill, therefore causing the buses to struggle with the steep incline. Stop-start technology will never be ideal for such a fast-paced route, but thankfully the drivers can simply by-pass this annoying feature by leaving the handbrake on at bus stops. The local residents are certainly appreciative of their new vehicles and hopefully Abellio can run the service well for the next five years, with the teething troubles ironed out as they get to know this very quirky route!

Abellio London 8878 stands at Kew Retail Park preparing for departure on route R68 to Hampton Court.

The R68 is one of two "Richmond prefix" routes, running between Kew Retail Park and Hampton Court via Teddington and Twickenham. It can get extremely busy with many visitors to Hampton Court Palace liking the service which conveniently transports them to a wide variety of areas in South-West London, providing some unique links. Abellio have always run the route well, providing a reliable service even with some of the capacity issues this route faces; a frequency increase would certainly be welcome. Nevertheless, brand new Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered for the new contract and they've slowly started to enter service at Fulwell (TF) garage, where the route is based. However, a common user pool arrangement also involving routes 350 and 195 means that the R68 vehicles spend most of their time away from their allocated route, and the majority of vehicles found on the R68 are still the former allocation, which will still be used at the garage to eventually replace older stock.
Abellio London 8881 pauses at Richmond Station en route to Nurserylands.

The R70 has also been retained recently with ADL Enviro 200 MMCs, but these vehicles haven't entered service yet. However, some of the existing MMCs at the garage have already worked the route, so I can already give an accurate representation of the future! The R70 can also get quite busy, linking the dense residential area of Nurserylands and Richmond quickly and efficiently, operating in a one-way loop to turn around at the end. Like the R68, the former allocation of Enviro 200 vehicles will be used to replace older stock, namely Dart Nimbus and Dart Pointer vehicles which are somehow still roaming around the garage. Hopefully, residents of Hampton and Richmond will enjoy their new vehicles and I wish Abellio good luck for the next five years in running both these routes. This change concludes the recent single deck contract renewals, but there will certainly be more to come as the successful Enviro 200 MMC becomes even more common in London. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Busageddon: Orpington "Roundabout" Changes

One of the biggest changes of 2017 has been the Orpington "Roundabout" routes reshuffle, where a large proportion of buses in the town centre were changed in terms of their routeing and in some cases, were given new buses. TFL released a consultation on these proposals last year and made a few minor changes due to the large volume of negative feedback received by respondents all over London for specific proposals . By clicking on the link above, you'll be able to access the consultation itself, which includes maps and a detailed report about issues raised, as well as the proposed changes, which I'll also outline here.

  • The R1 has been re-routed between Sevenoaks Road and Orpington Town Centre, to serve Tower Road and Orpington Station, instead of double-running to the station from the war memorial, with a frequency decrease during the daytime to every 20 minutes.
  • The R2 has been curtailed at Orpington Walnuts Centre, no longer serving Amherst Drive and Petts Wood.
  • Initially, the R3 was meant to be re-routed to serve Amherst Drive in Petts Wood rather than Poverest Road and re-routed from Orpington Station to terminate at Orpington Hospital via Tower Road, rather than double-running and continuing to Chelsfield Village. However, the extension to Orpington Hospital was cancelled and it's now curtailed at Orpington Station with no extension, although the re-routing in Petts Wood did go ahead.The frequency has been increased to every 20 minutes from Monday-Saturday and to every 30 minutes on Sunday.
  • The R7 has been extended from Orpington Walnuts Centre to Chelsfield Village and was meant to be extended from Bickley Aquilla to Chislehurst War Memorial, but the large number of complaints about missing the high street means that the R7 has been sent to Chislehurst Sainsbury's instead. An hourly Sunday service has been introduced and the Monday-Saturday daytime frequency has increased to every 30 minutes.
  • The R11 has been re-routed away from Foots Cray Tesco and was meant to be sent away from Orpington Hospital, but this link has been retained following negative consultation feedback. Frequencies have been increased to every 12 minutes from Monday-Saturday and to every 20 minutes on Sunday.
As well as the route changes, new contracts commenced for a large number of the R-routes involved and a large fleet shuffle has taken place at Orpington (MB) garage. With the changes taking place on April 1st 2017, I've had three months to evaluate the success of them and on the whole they've been beneficial to the local community on the edge of South-East London.

Go-Ahead London 173 serves Orpington High Street before commencing the new routeing via Tower Road.
The R1 was retained by Go-Ahead London and its main allocation now consists of ADL Enviro 200 vehicles which were already at the garage. It runs from Green Street Green to St Paul's Cray, via an indirect routeing through Chelsfield, Orpington, St Mary Cray and Poverest. The new routeing through Tower Road has made it slightly less complicated and trips from Orpington Town Centre-Chelsfield are much quicker and some additional housing has been served along Tower Road. Even though the frequency decrease initially seemed disappointing, the route isn't severely overcrowded and it's better that the resources are provided where they're needed, so overall this is a positive change.

Go-Ahead London SE215 stands at Orpington Walnuts Centre, before attempting another R2 journey to Biggin Hill Valley, Melody Road.
The R2 has always been one of the quieter, lesser-known routes in Orpington, providing an additional link from Biggin Hill Valley and it used to serve some housing in Petts Wood, however this section of the route has been withdrawn under the new routeing, with the R3 now serving the residential area of Amherst Drive instead. Now, the R2 has even lower patronage levels and many enthusiasts have started to question the usefulness of this service, bearing in mind that Orpington already has a link to Biggin Hill, covered by the slightly quicker R8. The R2 essentially follows the more frequent, double deck routes 353/320 for 95% of its route, before serving one residential area on Melody Road, to the South of Biggin Hill Valley, which is restricted to single deck operation. Apart from providing round-the-corner links from Leaves Green-Locksbottom (which are still pretty underused) and serving a few houses along Melody Road, the R2 doesn't have much of a purpose rather than carrying fresh air along the 320/353 corridors. Personally, I would keep the route running as some of these links are important (such as to Princess Royal University Hospital in Locksbottom) even if they are not used in high numbers, although with TFL's excessively tight budget it's no surprise that many people have thought that this route should be withdrawn. However, there is no suitable replacement route for the Melody Road area as the 320 (which terminates around the corner) needs to be run with double deck vehicles due to high loadings in the Bromley area, and the R8 (also running between Biggin Hill and Orpington, albeit via Downe and Green Street Green) physically can't run more frequently than every 90 minutes due to the narrow country roads it uses, and that is considered to be an inadequate level of service for linking the two centres. So the R2 still soldiers on, albeit with no more than 3 or 4 people on board usually.

SE215 stands at the rural terminus at Melody Road. 
Following the curtailment of route 100 to London Wall, four ZF gearbox Euro 6 ADL E200 vehicles transferred down to Orpington (MB) garage for the new R2 contract and these arrived towards the end of April. So far, their appearances on the route have been sporadic, due to one being involved in an accident and some questionable maintenance, which has resulted in these vehicles frequently spending time off-road and longer buses having to step in. When I rode the route last Saturday, SE215 was making some worrying screaming noises and barely made it up Stock Hill; this batch of buses are also notorious for their over-revving upon acceleration. However, the R2 is certainly an interesting little route, running past Biggin Hill Airport and through the countryside in Leaves Green, even if finding a full bus is a rare sight. Overall, since the cutback the R2 is now even more irrelevant in Orpington Town Centre and is struggling for survival with its low patronage, only having physical restrictions to keep it going. Whilst the vehicle change has made the allocation much more interesting, the service will be less reliable and vehicle breakdowns might become a common occurrence, which isn't ideal for a low frequency route!

Go-Ahead London 160 drops passengers off at Orpington High Street on route R3.
The R3 is one of the most indirect routes in Orpington Town Centre, taking over 40 minutes to travel between Princess Royal Hospital and Orpington Station, a trip the 353 covers in 5 minutes. However, it is popular with local residents of Petts Wood and Poverest and has been re-routed to serve even more housing in Amherst Drive. The removal of the Chelsfield Village section has made the route much more reliable than before and the frequency increase to every 20 minutes has made it more attractive for local residents, meaning that the service has become much busier even with the additional bus per hour. Overall, this routeing change has been a success and the main purpose of this route can be achieved more successfully, with other sections being more suited to other routes.

Go-Ahead London WS5 arrives at Orpington High Street following a trip "around the houses" from PRU Hospital.
The R3 was also retained by Go-Ahead London and the original plan was to use existing ADL E200 vehicles that were already found at Orpington (MB) garage. However, the recently refurbished Wrightbus Streetlite vehicles (transferred from Barking garage following the loss of route 462) that were initially destined for routes R4 and R6 were unsuitable for the former route, so an allocation swap has taken place and the R3 has essentially been upgraded to newer buses, even though I would prefer to ride any single decker apart from these ones! Apart from a few reliability issues at the start and their very late introduction into service, their performance at Orpington (MB) has been pretty consistent and they are a suitable replacement for the ageing Dart Pointer vehicles, some of which are still clinging on at the garage.

Metrobus 271 at Orpington Bus Station on route R4.
Due to the physical restrictions en route, the R4 has been deprived of its refurbished Wrightbus Streetlite vehicles and is now stuck with existing Enviro 200's, as well as a few Dart Pointer's which are somehow still in service at Orpington (MB) garage. The R4 serves a decent amount of residential housing alone and provides some valuable links across Orpington Town Centre, such as from Princess Royal Hospital to St Mary Cray, even if it's not completely direct. Currently, I feel that the route has the potential to be much more popular than it currently is and a frequency increase will certainly make the R4 much more attractive to the large number of locals living on this route. A 1bph service on Sundays is definitely inadequate compared to the rest of the Orpington network and I think that this route and the R6 have been neglected in the tendering results with all the other changes and their poor Sunday service has been overlooked and should be sorted, these two routes could be a lifeline to some people!

Go-Ahead London WS3 on Orpington High Street, working route R6 to St Mary Cray Station.
The R6 is one of the shorter "Roundabout" routes, running between Orpington and St Mary Cray through a small amount of residential housing alone. It provides vital round-the-corner links for residents in Crockenhill and the route is fairly well-used despite the short length and lack of unique residential sections. This suggests that the route is very popular in Crockenhill and the current frequency perhaps isn't adequate; maybe an increase to 3bph from Monday-Saturday and 2bph on Sunday would be justified for such a busy section. Unlike the R4, refurbished Wrightbus Streetlite vehicles are suitable on this route and the R6 has been using them consistently since their arrival, allowing more Dart Pointer vehicles to be withdrawn for the new contract.

Stagecoach London 36620 pauses at Orpington High Street on route R7 to Chelsfield Village.
The R7 has received the biggest individual route upgrade, being extended at both ends and having its frequency doubled to every 30 minutes, as well as the introduction of a brand new Sunday service. The route now takes around 60 minutes from start to finish and is very complicated, having to tackle various double runs and tight turns, especially in the Petts Wood area. Initially, the buses were running around empty whilst the locals were made aware of their more frequent service, although in more recent times the route has started to become popular as an easy method of travelling to the high street. The Chelsfield Village section was fairly busy from the start as this was previously covered by the R3, but some useful links to Petts Wood and Chislehurst have been created following the R7 extension. The original part of the route, between Orpington Walnuts Centre and Bickley Aquilla (also including Crofton Lane, Petts Wood and Oxhawth Crescent) was never too popular with the previous 70-minute frequency, but locals have now been made aware of the service and more people in these residential areas have switched to the R7, relieving the busy number 208 bus in this area. Even though the brand new Chislehurst-Bickley section was quiet for the first couple of months, people are now taking advantage of this handy new link and some buses are leaving Sainsbury's with multiple shopping bags from my recent observations, which is good in some ways!

Even though the late evening service is still underused, TFL have certainly been successful in upgrading this route from one of the quietest in Orpington Town Centre to a fairly substantial and useful bus providing some excellent N-S links. However, due to the one-way loop in Chelsfield and fairly low frequency causing an awkward schedule, buses are timetabled to depart from the same stop on Orpington High Street at the same time in both directions, which has caused some confusion due to the similarity in wording of "Chislehurst" and "Chelsfield" and unfortunately various elderly residents have ended up on the wrong bus due to this difficult scheduling. As the R7 currently undertakes a double run in both directions and serves stops on Orpington High Street on both sides of the road, I would change this so only Chislehurst buses served the Northbound stop and only Chelsfield buses served the Southbound stop, ensuring that everyone boards the correct bus; even if they have to cross the road it'll be much quicker than ending up at a completely different destination! However, on the whole this change has been largely successful. Four existing ADL E200s were drafted in to cover the PVR increase and these can be found on the route alongside newer E200 MMCs technically allocated to the 336.

Go-Ahead London 101 on the R8 to Biggin Hill.
 Until April 2017, the R8 was one of the more well-known routes in the enthusiast community, due to its allocation of Optare Solo single deckers, which were the shortest buses in terms of length in London, at just 7.1m. However, these were too old for another contract and during their final months in London their unreliability intensified, with both of them off-road for a long period of time during February. As a result, longer vehicles had to be used on these occasions and the trial was successful, even if some of the narrow country lanes were quite difficult to navigate! This removed the need for ordering an expensive, new, narrow vehicle for the contract renewal and now the route simply uses any spare 8.9m vehicle found at Orpington (MB) garage, usually a Dart Pointer or Enviro 200.

Metrobus 255 arrives at Orpington Bus Station, ready for another journey to Biggin Hill.
The R8 has been the best "Roundabout" route I've ridden so far, due to its very unique routeing between Green Street Green and Aperfield. Some of the narrow country lanes it uses are ridiculously tight and some of the scenery is stunning, with the bus simply travelling through the middle of nowhere. It only runs every 90 minutes due to the physical restrictions preventing buses from passing each other in the countryside and there is a strong sense of community along this route, with many passengers greeting each other as they board. It's also very useful, providing a fast link between Orpington and Biggin Hill, even if the service isn't exactly 'turn up and go'. Despite my first attempt of riding this route e2e failing (part of the front door flew off minutes away from the terminus  meaning that it couldn't close properly), I was thankful that I had a second opportunity to ride the route and I managed to catch one of the unique Optare Solo single deck vehicles before they left, which was a lovely experience. Even though the allocation is much more mainstream now, the route is still spectacular and I recommend that you give this one a try if you love countryside views!

Go-Ahead London SEN22 works route R11 to Green Street Green.
  The most controversial change has been TFL's attempt at making the R11 more direct, by effectively removing all of the double runs to serve valuable facilities such as Orpington Hospital and Foots Cray Tesco. Even though the former change didn't go ahead, a worryingly large number of residents in Grovelands have now lost their link to Tesco and instead have to endure a 10 minute walk through industrial wasteland, making the service far less popular at the Northern end of the route. Although TFL's intentions to make the R11 more direct were sensible given the long-distance links that this route provides from Orpington Town Centre, the lack of replacement to Foots Cray Tesco is ridiculous, the St Paul's Cray area needs a bus service to their local superstore, especially when there are no sufficient alternative transport methods. Personally, I would cut the R11 from Foots Cray Tesco, but extend the R1 from St Paul's Cray along the previous R11 routeing to Tesco, ensuring that the majority of the Grovelands still has a link to Tesco, even if the frequency is slightly less appealing. The R11 was also given a frequency increase and some ADL Enviro 200s were refurbished and transferred from Northumberland Park (NP) garage following the loss of route W16 for the new contract, these are a nice addition to Orpington Town Centre. Overall, this hasn't been a successful change, but hopefully TFL read this blog and discover that extending the R1 won't be so harmful after all!

The "Roundabout" network in Orpington has grown considerably over the past few years and these changes have made it prosper even more; with a couple of small issues that can easily be ironed out soon. Thanks for reading and stay safe!