Sunday, 22 October 2017

10 Unique London Bus Routes

If you're not interested in the mainstream Central London tourist routes on offer in this city, there are a wide range of slightly less prolific, but much more fascinating (in my opinion) routes scattered all across London. In this post, 10 of the weird ones that particularly stand out for me will be documented briefly, in the hope that you'll be able to find one of these routes appealing.

Go-Ahead London SEN23 pauses at Barnet, The Spires in between trips.
I'm not going to venture into too much detail here, as the 399 (almost) had an entire post to itself, where I gave a proper route review. Therefore, this paragraph will teach you the basics and if you're still not convinced, you can read my in-depth analysis which has been linked above.

The 399 is the least busiest route in London, running between Hadley Wood Station and Barnet The Spires, without really travelling through any other places of interest. It essentially operates in a massive one-way loop as soon as it enters the gated premises, in an attempt to serve all the housing in this isolated area. There are only six trips per day on the 399, with only four serving the complete loop, as the first and last buses start in the middle of Hadley Wood rather than Barnet, which is close to Cockfosters. The 399 leaves Barnet The Spires at hourly intervals, from 1045 until 1445, on Monday-Saturday only, normally using an ADL Enviro 200 found at Northumberland Park (NP) garage. After turning off the main road in Barnet, the entire route is operated on a Hail and Ride basis, which is convenient for most of the residents as they can be dropped off directly outside their household.

However, this unappealing frequency isn't the only eccentric characteristic of the 399's operation; it actually shares its solitary bus with another route. After a morning peak hour stint on the regular route 299 (Muswell Hill-Cockfosters), the bus changes its blind and does a trip on the 399, before flipping its blind again to become a 389, and after that rounder is complete it goes back to being a 399. The process of alternating between the two routes repeats for 5 hours, where the last 399 terminates in the middle of Hadley Wood before travelling to Cockfosters to start an evening peak journey on the 299. Both the 389 and 399 are so short that the one bus can comfortably work both routes within 60 minutes, although I found the latter route much more interesting.

Hadley Wood is an upper-class residential area found on the outskirts of Greater London and it remarkably has a regular (up to every 10 minutes) train service into Central London, although the 399 is the only bus route serving the area. Most of the houses have multiple cars parked in the front garden, so its no surprise that bus usage isn't very high. However, there is some demand and the community nature of the route is something rarely found in London, with the majority of passengers greeting each other and the driver as they board, and giving newcomers some suspicious looks! The conversations I listened to were very fascinating, including one debate on whether placing a sun dial in the front garden would be effective, emphasising that residents of Hadley Wood almost live in an entirely different world to people like me! Nevertheless, the routeing is also intriguing, passing through huge mansions 90% of the time, something you don't see every day. If you want a proper look into one of the most affluent and upper-class areas found in London, make sure to ride the 399, you'll certainly be impressed.

Go-Ahead London WVL335 loads up at Heathrow Central at the start of a lengthy trip to Croydon.
The X26 is the longest bus route in London, running between Heathrow Central and West Croydon on a limited stop basis, travelling through Kingston and Sutton in the process. It is one of three express routes found in London and was recently converted to double deck operation with existing Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles, based at Go-Ahead London's Croydon (C) garage. If you love sitting on a bus for a long period of time, then the X26 is certainly for you, as some of the trips can take up to 150 minutes to complete! The routeing is also pretty cool, offering a spectacular perspective of Heathrow Airport and landing planes, views of the River Thames in Kingston, residential sections and urban high streets, along with the Croydon Flyover, which provides an alternative view of the bustling town centre. Even though the X26 only runs every 30 minutes, it's still an incredibly popular method of travelling across South West London, and now you should be able to find a seat and actually enjoy the journey.

Interestingly, the WVL-class vehicles allocated to the service are receiving an extensive refurbishment, which involves the removal of East London Transit branding and the second door (which means that these vehicles will be the only DD buses in London with a single door), to pave the way for a massive luggage rack downstairs. However, this process takes an awfully long time to complete, so only a handful of vehicles have received the treatment so far. The X26 might not appeal to all of you, especially if you can't bear travelling on a bus for more than 60 minutes, but if you're comfortable with staying on a bus for over 2 hours then I would definitely recommend the X26. It offers a well-rounded view of South West London, passing through the major town centres and the fascinating suburbs between them, as well as two rather unique sections at either end. Additionally, the buses themselves will all be special to this city soon, with the removal of the second door being a particularly striking, but controversial, decision.

Note: If you're dedicated to waking up early on a weekend morning, there are some early trips which only take 80 minutes end to end, so if you're determined to ride the X26 end to end, but don't fancy wasting 2 hours of your day sitting on a bus, then head down to Heathrow Airport or Croydon and catch one, ideally before 8am. I think it will be worth it.

A type no longer found on the 521 is the Electric Irizar single decker.
On the surface, the 521 might seem like an average single deck commuter route in Central London, but there are a number of quirky characteristics about the service. The allocation consists of electric vehicles only, specifically a batch of 50 ADL Enviro 200 MMC BYD vehicles shared with the 507, which were introduced in August 2016. These buses are based at Waterloo (RA) garage, which is home to the "Red Arrow" routes only, as their high combined PVR takes up all of the limited space. The 521 runs from Waterloo to London Bridge, via an indirect route which involves crossing the River Thames twice at either end, serving Holborn, St Paul's and Cannon Street in between. Even in the height of rush hour, the 521 only takes 30 minutes from start to finish, which is very surprising as it doesn't leave the traffic-filled Central London.

Something else that's quite odd about the 521 is the sheer difference in frequency between rush hour and midday. During the morning/evening peak the service runs every 2-3 minutes, providing 26 buses per hour for commuters coming to and from the two mainline stations. However, during the day there are only 6 buses per hour, at a dismal 10 minute frequency. The buses also have an open boarding feature, which means that passengers can board or alight from the centre door too, although this does mean that there is a high amount of fare evasion on the 521.

Although the peak frequency looks much more attractive, I would strongly recommend that you travel outside of this time, as every single bus is rammed full of commuters from start to finish. There are only a limited number of seats on these vehicles, in order to cram in as many standees as possible, and travelling when the service is quiet guarantees a much more leisurely ride. You can even use the USB sockets conveniently provided on these vehicles. The iBus screen is also unique, providing much more information than what's found on normal vehicles, including real time train departures from Waterloo, London Underground status updates, as well as an ETA for the next few stops en route. The routeing towards London Bridge is also quite eccentric, as it skips the bustling hubbub of Aldwych in favour of the Strand Underpass, which is always an enjoyable experience, so I recommend that you complete the route in this direction.

The 521 is probably one of the easiest routes to complete, due to the convenient location and the decent frequency, with the only disadvantage being the lack of service on weekends. The quirky electric buses, unique Central London routeing and the fascinating operation technique easily make the 521 the most interesting route in Central London, and if you're looking for something odd to complete that isn't too difficult to get to, then the 521 is perfect.

Metrobus 255 starts a journey at Orpington Bus Station on route R8 to Biggin Hill.
Another infrequent bus route is the R8, running between Orpington and Biggin Hill via the village of Downe. The Peak Vehicle Requirement is only for 1 bus, which comfortably completes the loop within 90 minutes, something that's essential for the next trip to run on time. The route used to be home to the shortest vehicles in London, although these buses have sadly been withdrawn and now longer vehicles are used instead, which can result in some gripping experiences on the narrow country lanes! The routeing is very odd for a TFL service, spending more time in the middle of green fields rather than picking up any passengers. The countryside views are spectacular and the whole route is really fast-paced, enabling a "thrashy" journey for speed-loving enthusiasts. The 8.9m E200s and Dart Pointers that regularly work the service are struggling on the route, with parts of the bus falling off on a regular basis, and some really tricky situations involving passing cars on the tiny roads, where the bus simply can't fit. The R8 turns around in Biggin Hill using a loop via the housing area of Aperfield, so technically you can enjoy a 75 minute round trip from Orpington if you love the route, rather than being dumped in Biggin Hill, which is very poorly connected. The R8 is actually quite popular with locals, despite the unreliability of the service, mostly due to nature rather than traffic!

There are no stops along the country lanes, so most of the service is operated on a hail and ride basis, which is rather ironic as there are literally no safe places to pause in the countryside. Something I'd love to do is ride the R8 at night time, as there are no lamp posts or light sources anywhere along the country lanes, so it would certainly be an eye-opening experience. However, if you simply want to appreciate the brilliant views from a TFL bus, then it's best to consult a timetable and track down the journey suited for you, something I had to do twice as the bus broke down on my first attempt at riding the route! The main reason why the R8 features on this post is due to the narrow, country lanes that are pretty much unique to this London route, which you can experience twice for £1.50!

Note: I've heard that the R5/R10 in Orpington are also very similar to the R8 and spend even more time in the countryside, but I still haven't ridden those yet so I can't confirm that they will be as good.

A Metroline Enviro 400 arrives at Whitestone Pond on a route 603 journey.
One way to describe the 603 is bizarre. There are only four trips per day, making it the least frequent route running 5 days as week. The elusive journey's are only at school times, 2 towards Muswell Hill in the morning and 2 towards Swiss Cottage in the evening. Additionally, the '600 series' routes are nearly always school services, with the only other exception being the 607 in West London, numbered like this for nostalgic reasons. So, you might think that the 603 is a school route and that it has no place here, although I'm pleased to say that this isn't the case. The 603 runs on Monday-Friday throughout the year, meaning that it runs during school holidays too, which is very odd considering it simply carries fresh air during this period. So technically, the 603 is just a normal route running at extremely inconvenient times for no apparent reason, other than to transport school children. The routeing is actually very interesting, passing through the middle-class leafy suburbs of Hampstead Heath and East Finchley, and some sections such as Fitzjohn's Avenue normally only see single deck routes. Some of the links created are very useful, and it's a shame that TFL would like to withdraw the holiday trips soon, which would just make the 603 another tedious school route. So, if you want a guaranteed empty double decker running on a school route during the holidays, then ride the 603 as soon as possible, before it disappears from the list of unique bus routes here. This week (23rd-27th October) is half term, and the 603 should be running during this period, as there has been no formal withdrawal announcement, but whether the route will operate during Christmas is uncertain.

Go-Ahead London SE234 pauses at Moorgate on the final stretch to London Wall.
The 100 is one of the shortest routes in London, only taking 30 minutes from start to finish. The route has constantly been fiddled with over the past few years, with a diversion to Blackfriars and a recnt large-scale curtailment, withdrawing the route from St Paul's and Elephant & Castle. This part of the route sometimes took as long as the current section, turning the 100 from a useful Central London bus into an irrelevant single deck route that serves housing in Wapping but doesn't do anything useful after. However, this cut back has made the 100 even more quirky. The routeing is very unique, travelling down the cobbled streets of Wapping and passing a large number of docks and riverside pubs, making this last section of the route reminiscent of the Victorian era! The Central London part is also enjoyable, because the large office blocks can appear rather daunting as they tower over the small single deck vehicle. The ADL Enviro 200s allocated to the service also have the ZF gearbox, meaning that they really overrev upon acceleration! However, the main reason why the 100 features in this list is due to the section in Wapping. I can't think of any other London bus route that spends so long in such a unique area; although the D3 does briefly serve Wapping, the route is really busy and the section from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel is quite grim, so the 100 wins by a mile. Since the curtailment, the 100 isn't that useful to the locals, so you're pretty much guaranteed a seat on this short, but sweet route.

Go-Ahead London WVL471 stands at the isolated terminus of Dagenham Dock.
The first section of the EL2, between Becontree Heath and Barking, is very dull and simply involves travelling along a main road with houses on either side for 20 minutes. However, the next section consists of something completely different...

The EL2 is one of London's newest routes, replacing the 369 to Thames View Estate in 2010, with a dedicated batch of Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles that worked the route until February 2017. The route is part of the "East London Transit" scheme, which involves reconnecting the isolated area of Barking Riverside to the rest of East London, with branded vehicles and a number of bus priority measures to speed up journey times. One of those is the use of Ripple Road in Barking Town Centre, which involves cutting straight through the middle, rather than using the slow and inefficient loop that just scrapes along the edge of the high street. The East London Transit branding involves painting the buses in a unique colour scheme, and adding some swirls to bus stops along the routeing. All of this seems a little unnecessary to me, but this sort of project is the only example in the TFL network.

All three "ELT" routes were converted to New Routemaster operation in early 2017, which is very odd as these 'Central London bound' vehicles are now found on routes that don't get any closer to the City than Zone 4. The usage of these vehicles on the EL2 is particularly confusing, as the last few minutes are spent travelling in the middle of nowhere in an industrial wasteland, which is exactly why the EL2 features on this post. After serving the Thames View Estate, the EL2 travels down Choats Road, in the depths of a bleak landscape with absolutely nothing to stare at other than marshes, something I absolutely love. This road is fairly lengthy and eventually pylons start to emerge as the EL2 terminates in the middle of nowhere, home to a few factories and nothing else. The oversized bus station at Dagenham Dock only contains one route and even though there is a train station, the dismal frequency of every 30 minutes instantly puts people off. In the long term, there will be residential housing along this desolate stretch of land, and the appearance of fancy New Routemaster vehicles will make sense. However, at the moment the usage of these high-profile buses, which have connotations of Central London and tourists, in the middle of nowhere, is particularly baffling, and is something I love about the EL2. If you absolutely hate the idea of staring at warehouses, then don't bother riding this one, but this section alone made the EL2 memorable and lovable, even though the rest of the route was really boring.

©LondonBuses72 - do not use without their permission
The H3 is another route that can be categorised as truly bizarre. It runs from Golders Green-East Finchley, turning around using a one-way loop at the Northern end. There are only seven trips per day, one at around 7am for commuters, and from 9am it runs hourly until 2pm, where the service stops completely. There also isn't a Sunday service. The route also uses some of the shortest buses in London, in order to navigate the extremely tight turns of Hampstead Garden Suburb. At Golders Green, it shares its tiny bus station with the H2, which is the much more frequent service to this part of Hampstead. The H3 starts off by running through the fancy Hampstead Way, part of the Garden Suburb, with some upper-class detached houses accompanied by the Hampstead Heath extension. As the H3 soldiers on, the houses just get bigger and soon electric gates begin to appear, and even more cars pop up in the front gardens. For any travellers who find this overwhelming, there is a brief interlude in the middle where the H3 stops at Kenwood House, providing an interchange with the 210 and the aforementioned 603.

However, the most fascinating point of the journey is when the H3 turns onto The Bishop's Avenue, often known as Billionaire's Row, home to an assortment of mansions among the most expensive in the country. New, 8-bedroom houses, sell for prices as high as £50 million, whilst most of the 66 houses along this road have been unoccupied for many years. Oddly, the houses aren't particularly satisfying to look at, with metal gates preventing you from peering inside these palaces, but the excitement of travelling down such an iconic street in a luxurious part of London on a bus makes this route so special. The fact that a bus route travels down here, even though I'd be surprised if anyone has boarded the H3 on The Bishops Avenue for many years, is pretty cool, and this road alone can justify the H3's place here. In addition, the tiny buses, half-day operation and unique routeing, make the H3 a must-do for people wanting to explore the wealthiest parts of this city.

Arriva London VLA106 stands at Western Road on the 375 to Passingford Bridge.
The 375 runs every 90 minutes, on Monday-Saturday only, between Romford Station and Passingford Bridge. The service was launched in 2008, in order to serve the village of Havering Atte-Bower, found on the border between Greater London and Essex. Even though the loadings barely justify a single decker, double deck vehicles found at Grays (GY) garage are used occasionally, and this makes the experience even better. After a residential start, the 375 offers some spectacular countryside views, but there are a number of routes like this in London, and the termination point is the only reason why the 375 features on this post. After serving the hamlet of Stapleford Abbotts, there isn't anywhere to turn around the bus, so the 375 soldiers on through the countryside for no apparent reason, until a roundabout emerges at Passingford Bridge, the termination point of the 375. However, when enthusiasts are dumped at the last stop (I don't think any civilians actually come to Passingford Bridge), there is literally nothing to look at apart from a main road with cars whizzing by, and greenery. If you're lucky, you might find a puddle to stare at for a couple of minutes, but other than that, the 375 literally turfs you off in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do. Normally, bus termini are associated with urban high streets, or at least a built up residential area, so Passingford Bridge is the complete opposite of what anyone would expect. There is also a scheduled ten minute break there, so if you do try the 375 you can admire the greenery and try to find anything else to do in order to waste time - if you are successful then please notify me!

In conclusion, the 375 is a decent countryside route, with a unique and eccentric termination point that simply can't be beaten.

A yellow minibus pauses at Bridport Place in between trips on the 812.
Although the 812 isn't a TFL bus service, it is one of a couple of commercial routes that run entirely within the Greater London Boundary, with this one sticking to Zones 1 & 2. The 812 runs between Hoxton, Bridport Place and Old Street, in a loop format which involves travelling via Essex Road, Islington Angel and Barbican in the process. It is run from the CT Plus Ash Grove (HK) garage, with a dedicated fleet of Volkswagen Bluebird Tucana minibuses. The 812 runs every 20 minutes, on Monday-Friday during shopping hours, acting as a lifeline to residents living along roads which aren't served by mainstream bus routes. The 812 is pretty successful for a route tendered and subsidised by  Islington council, and the routeing around the Barbican area is wonderful, giving you an insight into some interesting back streets which you'll miss from simply travelling to the Barbican Centre, or by the 153 bus. There is a £1 flat fare, which is much cheaper than TFL services, and you can pay by cash on this hail and ride service. Although this service isn't run by Transport For London, it's certainly unique and is one of the more accessible services in this list.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully you've found one you'd like to try!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Demonstrating Metroline's Organisation: Route 222

One of the most recent bus service changes has seen the operation of route 222 transferred from London United to Metroline West, with a batch of brand new buses, although none of them entered service on the first day. This post documents what should've been a simple operator change, but instead turned into a rather complex re-shuffle of lots of buses in the Metroline fleet.

ADE40131 was part of a regular batch of E400s that used to work the 222. It is one of a few left at Hounslow for use on the 81.

The 222 runs between Uxbridge and Hounslow Bus Station, running through West Drayton, Cranford and Hounslow West in the process. It's one of the busiest routes in Hounslow Town Centre, and it recently joined the increasing number of routes than run 24/7 in London. The former allocation consisted of ADL Enviro 400s based at Hounslow (AV) garage, although Scania OmniCity buses were also found on a regular basis. In terms of reliability, London United were praised throughout their contract for generally maintaining a decent service, even when the route was operated with single deckers a few years ago. The 222 is quite popular with enthusiasts, due to the mixture of urban high streets, outer London residential running, and the possibility of a "thrashy" journey, particularly around the Sipson area. Many enthusiasts were gutted that London United had lost the service, especially because the company had given up so many other major routes at the time. Since the contract change, some of the ADL E400s are still at Hounslow (AV) garage working the 81, although others can be found working on the long-term London Overground Rail Replacement service, or up in North West London on the recently acquired route 258.

Personally, I've always been quite fond of the 222, as it's one of the more interesting routes found in quite a dry part of West London. Although I've generally been unlucky with fast trips, the external surroundings are interesting enough to keep you entertained, especially around Heathrow. I had mixed feelings about Metroline running the 222; even though they are capable of providing an excellent service, the large number of bus types previously found on the route would be ruined, as Metroline tend to be much more strict with allocations. Nevertheless, I wasn't dreading the changeover, and I was intrigued to see how Uxbridge (UX) garage would cope with this difficult service. Predictably, Metroline ordered some Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles for the new contract, which started on Saturday 16th September 2017.

Metroline VWH2172 is seen at Hounslow Bell Corner on the first day of the new contract.
 The first night was easily the most shambolic changeover of 2017. As the 222 is a 24 hour service, the first Metroline bus followed straight on from the last London United trip, which gave enthusiasts the opportunity to spot two different operators running one route at the same time for around 45 minutes. However, drivers were given the wrong duty cards at Uxbridge (UX) garage, so whilst they thought they were running on schedule, the iBus controllers would see the bus as in a completely different position to where it should be, due to this confusion of trip numbers. As a result, buses were constantly being curtailed at places such as Heathrow North throughout the night, as the vehicles were so far ahead/behind schedule that fixing the service in an hour or two simply couldn't happen. This meant that there was effectively no service between Uxbridge and Cranford for 2 hours of the night, which is a sizeable chunk of the route. When I found out about the incident in the morning, I simply burst out laughing and Metroline certainly hadn't given a good first impression for the regular night users of the 222, who essentially had no bus for much of the night. However, after the first day hiccup, the service has actually been very good, with no real issues with reliability or even duty cards - I'm sure Metroline will never make that mistake again! Even though the dodgy start foreshadowed a shambolic and disorganised future, almost everyone can agree that the operation of route 222 looks promising and hopefully Uxbridge (UX) garage can keep this up.

Metroline VWH2183 is seen at Uxbridge Station at the end of a route 222 journey on the first day.
A controversial frequency cut to every 10 minutes coincided with the new contract, which has resulted in busier buses and overcrowding in the peaks, as this route already struggled with its previous timetable. Due to space constraints at Uxbridge (UX) garage, where the route is controlled, Metroline recently acquired an outstation at Uxbridge Industrial Estate, where the 222 buses are stored overnight. So far, the allocation has been pretty strict, although there have been occasional appearances of ADL E400s currently allocated to routes 607 and U4, and a solitary appearance of a Wrightbus Gemini B7TL, bringing another new type to the 222. However, for the past month or so the main allocation of route 222 hasn't actually consisted of its batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles. Only 5 of the new buses for the 222 had been delivered by the contract date, and even these weren't fit for service. As a result, the 222 had to borrow some buses from elswhere, and route 114, also running from Uxbridge (UX) garage, was the victim. In order to give a good first impression of the new route 222 operation, blinded buses had to be sourced from the route 114 allocation of 16-plate Gemini's. These buses are almost identical to the route 222 examples, although they are already fairly worn-out after working such a heavy-duty service, which was evident when I rode the service on the first day. So, whilst everything has seemed normal on the 222 in terms of vehicle presentation, the 114's appearance for the past month or so has certainly been questionable.

Metroline Travel VWH2323 pauses at Ruislip Manor Station, towards the end of a route 114 journey to Ruislip.
The buses currently on the 114 are actually brand new; they were initially intended for use at Willesden (AC) garage for routes 260 and 302, although the lack of 222 VWHs means that they have been diverted, so the two Willesden routes can keep their grim Volvo Presidents for a little longer. So in theory, route 114 users have received another vehicle upgrade, and when I rode one of the new examples on Saturday 16th September, the bus was in a pristine condition, containing that addictive rubbery new bus smell. However, you may have noticed from the photo that there is one significant issue with these brand new Gemini 3's working the 114. They don't have blinds for any Uxbridge (UX) routes, and have been running around banditised (with a sheet of paper in the window) for almost a month, which is unacceptable in my opinion. If this temporary allocation was only present for one weekend, then I think the lack of blinds could be understandable. However, these buses have been working the service blindless for almost a month now, and they're going to be staying on the route for a few more weeks. Evidently, the presentation on route 222 has been prioritised, and the 114 has been dumped with buses that aren't fully equipped for the service. I was expecting Metroline to add some blinds to these buses within a week or so, but I think it's outrageous that this ambiguous and confusing display has taken place for this long, and I do hope Metroline are punished as a result. The new buses for the 222 have only just entered service and unfortunately I haven't been able to take a picture of one, but I'm sure you've seen enough Gemini 3's in this post to know what one looks like on the 222!

Metroline Travel TE948 is seen at Uxbridge at the end of a route U4 journey.
 The contract for route U4 was retained back in April, which promised the withdrawal of the elderly Volvo Presidents that used to make up part of the allocation. However, the replacement Enviro 400 vehicles (displaced from Potters Bar garage) only arrived in September, and haven't really worked the U4 much at all. In fact, the poor old Volvo Presidents are still working the U4 on a regular basis, as these E400s are currently being used on the 114 and 222 due to the lack of available Gemini 3's.

 In general, we can infer that Metroline have been quite successful with the 222 takeover, as the service on that route has been decent (bar the first night). However, it's a shame that other routes like the 114 have suffered as a result of Metroline's lack of organisation, and hopefully the 222 VWHs enter service promptly so this debacle can be sorted out.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Random Observations: September 2017

This particular post has been published just after the Summer holiday, so these pictures have been chosen from a batch of over 200 found in my folder. Typically, we have a rather unbalanced selection of photos, with only one contributor from the East, and none from the West! Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the latest edition of a shortened Random Observations, and maybe today will be the lucky day where I moan about your local route....

Tower Transit VH38116 pauses at Swiss Cottage Station on a rare appearance working route 13.
Since Tower Transit took over operation of the new route 13 (replacing route 82 between North Finchley and Victoria), the route only used the allocated MCV EvosSeti B5LH buses, as well as some spare Enviro 400H vehicles normally found on the 23. Since then, there have been two appearances of one of the Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles found at Westbourne Park (X) garage - these normally stick to route 328. However, on the most recent trip VH38116 only lasted for a couple of hours in the evening, but on Wednesday 30th August 2017 this bus managed to stay out for a substantial amount of time. A convenient coincidence ensured that my camera was available for snapping in the Swiss Cottage area, which the 13 passes. The appearance certainly looked rather odd, although this type of bus isn't new to the number 13 route itself, as London Sovereign operated these buses on the old service from Golders Green-Aldwych.

After operating the new service for a few months, Tower Transit are still struggling to provide a reliable service, with almost every bus arriving with a companion. Curtailments and large gaps are also common, and this inability to operate the service is quite surprising, as Metroline managed to run the 82 significantly better. Whilst it is acceptable for an operator to have difficulty in settling in for the first couple of months or two, it's quite surprising that the service levels are still this poor after nearly 6 months of operation. Patronage along the Finchley Road corridor has decreased considerably as a result of the controversial service changes and unreliability of the "compromise" bus provided. Hopefully Tower Transit eventually get used to running the service, as it shouldn't be too challenging for them, especially because their garage is situated in the middle of the route, which is much more convenient and useful than Potters Bar, which is quite some distance from both termini!

Arriva London T64 stands at the rural terminus of Caterham On-The-Hill in between trips on route 466.
The 466 is one of a few routes that run across Croydon Town Centre, rather than terminating there and reaching further in one particular direction. It starts at the rural village of Caterham On-The-Hill, before making its way through residential Coulsdon and the somewhat substantial town centre of Purley. Whilst providing necessary assistance along the demanding Brighton Road corridor, the 466 travels through South Croydon before reaching Croydon Town Centre itself, although the route only serves the South Side before diverting to serve East Croydon Station. Then, the 466 begins its quietest stretch of route, through Shirley Hills to Addington Village Interchange, where the route terminates.

In general, the 466 is a decent route for variety, with a wide mixture of countryside thrash in Addington, scenic hilltop views in Coulsdon, residential running around Purley, and the urban realm of Croydon, with the two ends of the route being my favourite sections. Despite a brief diversion in between Sandilands and East Croydon (which involved running in some traffic), the route was fairly fast-paced, with no regulation or particularly slow sections. Even though the bus wasn't particularly "thrashy", I was satisfied with the overall speed of the journey and it seems that the 466 is one of a few routes left in London with a fairly tight schedule, which seems to work well as the route is generally reliable from my observations.

Various enthusiasts complain about this route frequently, often stating that the double deck vehicles allocated aren't justified, and that the Addington-Croydon section is unnecessary and superfluous. Although the route does often run empty on the latter section of the route, there is no need to withdraw the service and I can't really find any suitable replacement single deck route. Additionally, there are quite a few cross-Croydon trips (e.g from Shirley-Purley), that would require a change of bus without the 466. In terms of double deck justification, one 466 journey undertaken back on a Sunday in May was very busy, with only a few seats left upstairs! A single deck conversion would be brutal for the Brighton Road corridor, which does need another high frequency DD route like the 466 to cope with loadings into and out of Croydon.  Even though the 466 isn't one of my favourite Croydon-based routes, it's definitely worth recommending for anyone wanting to discover the suburbs of Greater South London and there are no real issues I can find.

Hackney Community Transport 1241 stands at Chingford Hall Estate at the beginning of a route W11 journey to Walthamstow Central.
The W11 is one of the shortest routes in Walthamstow, providing a local link between the dense residential areas found within Higham Hill and the aforementioned town centre, in addition to Crooked Billet Sainsbury's. The route terminates at Chingford Hall Estate, which is just a couple of minutes away from Crooked Billet, although this housing area isn't served by any other route, so the W11 acts a lifeline for residents living here. The roads in Chingford Hall are extremely tight and my driver did struggle with maneuvering the E200 MMC around these difficult roads, but thankfully we were successful in reaching the end of the estate. The rest of the route is pretty dull, with a mixture of housing and dense tower blocks to look at. Like the 466, the two ends of the W11 are the most interesting sections, as towards Walthamstow the route provides an interesting view of Walthamstow Market, emphasising its expansive nature. The W11 is also one of the busier Walthamstow routes, constantly filling up as soon as it enters Higham Hill, with my bus being full and standing at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. Although I probably wouldn't recommend the W11 for you guys, as it can feel quite repetitive towards the end of the journey, it's certainly a concrete example of a successful feeder single deck route, which are likely to make up the majority of the bus network as longer service scontinue to be cut back in favour of reliability and saving money.

Arriva London's refurbished HV19 pauses at Streatham Hill Station at the start of a 133 journey to Liverpool Street.
The 133 is one of London's busiest routes, running between Streatham Station and Liverpool Street. It's an extremely popular commuter service, providing a handy link between the residential areas North of Brixton and the City of London. Patronage has decreased significantly on the 133 recently for a variety of reasons, mostly involving some sort of roadwork causing delay and an unreliable service, with more passengers switching to the Northern Line. Despite this, the 133 is still one of my favourite London routes. I love how the route starts in the suburban area of Streatham, with its famously long high street, before taking the direct route through Rush Common and the thriving Brixton town centre. The residential section just after is brief but still provides another contrasting view to the rest of the service, which is always a bonus. Leafy Kennington is always a pleasure to travel through, whilst the nightmare of Elephant & Castle is always amusing to travel through! However, my absolute favourite section of the route lies just after Borough, where the beautiful landscape of the City of London reveals itself.

The 133 takes a unique routeing to reach Liverpool Street from the scenic London Bridge river crossing, opting to travel via Bank Junction and Old Broad Street, which is always brilliant to travel down on a double deck vehicle without tiny windows at the front, due to the somewhat daunting nature of the massive skyscrapers towering over you on this fairly narrow road. With the forthcoming curtailment of route 23 to Aldwych, the 133 will be the only non-LT route to travel down this stretch of route, making it even more special to travel down.

Although straight-line direct routes are usually fairly boring from past experiences, the 133 is completely different, with a change in scenery every few minutes, ensuring that you're entertained throughout the lengthy journey. It's also one of a handful of South/Central London routes that haven't been infected with the disease known as the New Bus For London, which is why it remains in my top 20 favourite routes. It's current allocation consists of a mixture of "rip-off LTs" (officially called the E400 City, which are considerably better in my opinion) and existing Wrightbus Gemini 2 B5LH vehicles, which are in the process of being refurbished and upgraded to Euro 6 specification, making it compatible with the tough emission standards in Central London. In short, the 133 is a brilliant route with fantastic buses, so I definitely recommend you try this one out if you want to explore the depths of inner South London.

Stagecoach London 19782 stops at Barking Station at the end of a 169 trip from Clayhall.
The 169 is part of an experimental scheme in Barkingside involving route branding, which results in 80% of the vehicle allocation receiving advertisement for the service on the bus, including some colour-coded green stripes and route summaries. I wrote about the scheme in more detail here. So far, there has been no indication on whether the trial has been successful or not, although my sceptical views on its effectiveness still haven't changed. Personally, I feel that the attempts at decorating the bus on the exterior are pretty pathetic, with unnecessary random stripes and massive numbers blocking the passenger view and wasting space when the number is clearly shown on the blinds! In my opinion, the route record is the only useful feature found on these vehicles, but there are even discrepancies with this. For example, the 128's route advertisement ignores the termination point at Claybury Broadway and the key interchange point at Gants Hill, although every other Barkingside route passing through the area advertises the aforementioned location.

 In addition, a colour-coded stripe has been added to the flag of every bus stop along each route, which works rather well in Barkingside High Street where every route involved in the experiment has been assigned a colour. However, in further areas such as Romford or Barking, having one random route with a stripe on the flag compared to 15+ other plain stickers looks pretty daft and unprofessional, almost as if it has been placed accidentally! Unless I find that annual patronage for the Barkingside routes has increased considerably, I refuse to call this scheme successful or effective, as at the moment I'm struggling to see how this is going to increase bus awareness, as currently the vehicles running around are in a pitiful state. Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to talk about the 169 itself as this branding experiment has stolen the limelight for now, but hopefully I'll be able to express my opinion on the service in more detail in 2018, when it receives its brand new E40H MMCs for the contract renewal.

Abellio London 8332 terminates at Camberwell Green at the end of a route 484 journey.
 Surprisingly, the 484 is one my favourite single deck routes in London. This route didn't look particularly interesting when I first viewed the service, as it has a rather boring allocation of bog-standard E200s, the routeing is mainly residential and the route can get extremely busy with crowds form Lewisham Shopping Centre; unfortunately the 484 is restricted to fairly short single deckers due to the tight turns found on the route. Towards the end of a long trip out on a Summer Sunday, I found myself in Lewisham and was pondering over which route to complete before heading home. I originally decided that the 380 would be fun, although works at Lewisham High Street meant that the first stop was closed and the arrangements in place were a little confusing, so I decided to leave the route for another time. I was also feeling quite tired by this point, so a short route that took me to a fairly convenient location seemed sensible, and the 484 was coming in 3 minutes, so I jumped on board. Abellio have done a fantastic job with the refurbishment of this batch of E200s; the seats are very comfortable and they can get up to some high speeds. My driver was extremely friendly, sometimes pausing a considerable distance from the bus stop to let people on who were struggling to run for the service; a mother with a buggy had almost given up trying to board the bus as she climbed up Vicars Hill, but this lovely driver let her on halfway up instead! He also wasn't afraid to use the accelerator, getting up to some amazing speeds on the back roads, so it was a very enjoyable journey.

Rather foolishly, I chose to board the service just after Lewisham Shopping Centre closed, so my bus was absolutely rammed leaving the high street, with standing room only! Thankfully, the 484 is one of those "short hop" routes, where people tend to only board for a few stops before alighting again, so eventually every passenger left managed to grab a seat. All these positive factors (apart from the overcrowding) contributed to the brilliant experience, but the routeing is what made the 484 stand out for me. The areas it travels through are very affluent, including the heights of Telegraph Hill and Peckham Rye Common, where the beautiful and bustling green space supplements the terraced housing very nicely. The journey was truly fascinating, delving into some areas of London that you simply miss out by only travelling on mainstream double deck routes. As well as the lovely residential areas, some urban areas like Camberwell Green and East Dulwich provide a satisfying contrast, but I didn't find myself bored at any moment on this 40 minute journey, something rare for a single deck route! This brief description can't fully describe how much I loved this journey, and how interesting the areas that it passes through are. This post has contained quite a few decent routes, but if you like travelling through the more expensive part of London, but also like ocassional outbreaks of green spaces or busy shopping streets, then the 484 is for you. You might find it boring, and you probably won't receive such a fast or spritely journey, but if you're a keen London explorer who wants to expand further into the residential part of the city, then try this route out, as I didn't find the houses became relentless or uninteresting at any point. Hats off to the 484, one of the best single deck routes in London!

Metroline Travel TE838 pauses in Barnet Town Centre towards the end of its journey.
The 107 is quite a strange little route, running between Edgware and New Barnet at a 15-minute frequency with ADL E400s. It provides the only direct bus link between the popular North-West London shopping districts of Edgware and Barnet (other than the non-TFL 614, which runs at an unattractive frequency and boasts expensive fares), although it takes a rather indirect route between the two, travelling via Elstree & Borehamwood in the process! It's a rare example of a London bus route that terminates within the Greater London Boundary at both ends, but takes a brief interlude into Hertfordshire towards the middle. It's one of the more exotic TFL bus services, being one of the few DD routes to venture into the depths of the countryside. The 107 is a decent mix of urban high streets and residential areas (namely in Barnet, Edgware and Borehamwood), and some fast rural sections, like in Arkley (situated West of Barnet) and towards Elstree, where some of the roads near the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital feel like they're situated on the outskirts of the woods containing the infamous Blair Witch!

Nevertheless, the 107 is generally quite an enjoyable fast-paced ride, taking you through the outskirts of North West London, sticking to the edge of the London boundary for the majority of the journey. Unfortunately, the once-powerful Enviro 400 vehicles that work the service are starting to deteriorate a little, but there are a few fast examples found at the garage and thankfully I managed to catch one of these buses when I rode the route last year. Being a Saturday morning, the journey was pretty quiet and the "thrashy" trip through rural London was certainly fun, and even if your journey isn't particularly fast, the external surroundings are somewhat interesting, especially as the 107 is a lone wolf for a considerable amount of the journey, which should mean you end up travelling through a large number of new areas.

 Interestingly, the 107 travels through some parts of Hertfordshire where the planned Northern Line extension to Bushey Heath was meant to serve, although this project was cancelled, protecting the picturesque countryside for the forseeable future. If these tube stations were built and became operational, I'm sure you'd all be familiar with "Brockley Hill" and "Elstree South", as these would probably be outer-London residential areas contributing to the vast amount of suburbia found in this City. It would also make the 107 a very different route (if it existed) and perhaps less enjoyable, as travelling through housing for long periods of time doesn't impress me very much. However, the 107 is safe for now and if you like viewing the countryside from the top deck of a bus, but don't want to wait for services with appalling frequencies or extortionate fares, then trying the 107 isn't a bad idea, even if there are some better examples found on the other side of London.

Go-Ahead London WVN30 stands at Concert Hall Approach, between trips on the extra 77 services.
 The infamous "Waterloo Blockade" caused chaos and some significantly longer trips for South West Trains commuters, as platforms 1-9 were closed between Saturday 5th August and Monday 28th August 2017, although the former "Waterloo International" Eurostar terminal was reopened temporarily during this period to help accommodate some of the train services. As well as the reduced services, some stations were partially or fully closed (e.g Earlsfield and Queenstown Road) whilst some train services were replaced by a bus service (e.g between Chessington South and Malden Manor). In order to partially compensate some passengers, extra buses were drafted into service on routes that closely mirror the South Western network, such as the 77. As well as being the fastest route between Waterloo and Clapham Junction, a popular journey by train, the 77 also serves Earlsfield Station, which was closed during rush hour throughout the works. So, this bus service received a significant PVR boost, with these rush-hour only extras running between Tooting Broadway and Waterloo, rather than continuing to the Station where the normal service terminates. The extra buses came in the form of some ADL E40H MMCs, which were transferred from Putney (AF) garage following the substantial PVR reduction on route 14. However, the other buses didn't contain blinds and were simply banditised with sheets of paper displaying the route number, and the destination in some cases, in the windscreen. These Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles were unrefurbished WVN-class buses, which were transferred from Northumberland Park (NP) garage following the loss of routes 259 and 476. These buses should hopefully be working route 131 from Saturday 30th September 2017, although in recent months they've been used for a wide range of last minute duties, such as covering for late MMCs on route 5, or providing extra buses on route 161 during the Southeastern blockade at the end of August. The unrefurbished examples still contain the First London moquette from when they used to operate these vehicles, so the sighting of the WVNs  on Go-Ahead routes can look a little odd. Despite being a little worn out, they've certainly been useful over the past few months, and maybe Go-Ahead wouldn't have been able to step in so easily for all this cover work, especially as making the 77 one of the most frequent routes in Waterloo isn't an easy task!

I must apologise for the short formation today. As you may have noticed, this post only contains 8 picture reviews instead of the usual 10, which is due to time constraints on my part; this post was meant to be published last weekend! Unfortunately, I can guarantee that there won't be any updates on the blog until Saturday 14th October 2017, and after that there should be regular posts for a decent amount of time. I'm sorry to disappoint you all, especially with the rather erratic postings recently and the almost incomplete post today. I also haven't had a chance to update my sliding "latest news" information recently; although the idea of regularly keeping all of you aware of what's going on in the bus scene, unfortunately this blog simply isn't the place to do it. I don't have the time to check my sources on a regular basis now, and this doesn't work anymore like it used to in the Summer holidays. This cut back is a shame as I do enjoy writing, but hopefully my postings on here won't disappear completely for a while and the London Buses On The Go blog can maintain it's recent boost in popularity!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Busageddon: Croydon Edition

The London Borough Of Croydon has seen a number of interesting bus changes in the past month, with two contract changes and a new temporary bus service, covering for another mode of transport unique to the area. Chronologically, the contract changes took place first, so that's going to be our first focus, involving a single deck route which just misses the bustling hubbub of the town centre, that recently passed to Abellio London, on Saturday 26th August 2017.

Go-Ahead London LDP259 is seen at New Addington Tram Stop on route 130 to Thornton Heath.
Previously, the 130 ran from Croydon (C) garage, with an eclectic mix of older vehicles in a wide range of conditions, although some of them have been withdrawn following this change. The eldest vehicles that appeared on the route were some Dart Pointers that still carried the traditional Go-Ahead grey skirt, although these were often supplemented by average ADL E200s, and these mainstream vehicles often made up the majority of the allocation. However, some unique buses also worked the 130 on a regular basis, including the only batch of MAN Evolution buses that remain in London (they have been split up and some can be found at Orpington garage), and the 3 MAN E200s also worked the route on a regular basis. Since the contract changeover, some of the Evolution's have been withdrawn, although route 359 is the place to find them at Croydon (C) garage, whilst a solitary MAN E200 still remains at Orpington (MB) garage, usually on routes 126, 181 or 284. Although the variety found on the 130 was interesting, almost guaranteeing a fascinating journey, the service wasn't always brilliant and towards the end of the contract Croydon (C) garage were struggling with the 130.

The route itself is somewhat interesting, starting in the vast estate of New Addington. After taking a convoluted route through the housing, the 130 suddenly becomes quite fast as it speeds through the countryside of Shirley Hills. There's more housing in Woodside before the next major town, Norwood Junction, where the route used to terminate. However, a recent extension to Thornton Heath, Parchmore Road has been very popular with locals, who have always demanded this handy round-the-corner link, which also allows the 130 to pass Crystal Palace Football Stadium, which does result in curtailments on match days! The huge variety found on the 130 would definitely be missed for the new contract, but perhaps a better service was approaching, that would certainly be more convenient for the regular users of the route.

Abellio London 8187 on route 130 to Thornton Heath Parchmore Road.
Abellio London ordered a full allocation of ADL E200 MMCs for the service, which all entered service on time. Some enthusiasts found this surprising as they had only left the factory a few days before, although there weren't any widespread complaints of buses being rushed into service. These buses are based at Beddington Cross (BC) garage, which is literally next door to the previous home at Croydon! The first day, Saturday 26th August 2017, produced a large number of the new buses, and odd workings have been minimal, with only a few appearances of standard E200s that are normally allocated to route 433. In terms of service, the start was questionable with an unusually high amount of bunching, even for the first day. Gaps were common and the customary match-day curtailment at Norwood Junction didn't help, with some drivers surprised at this common manoeuvre. Since the first day, there has been a small amount of bunching and large gaps, although Abellio are starting to settle and some decent operation has been seen over the past couple of weeks. The buses themselves are just average Enviro 200 MMCs, with nothing special to report, negatively or positively. Overall, it seems that the change has been pretty successful, with a promising future ahead for the 130. Although the quirkiness of the previous contract will be missed, at least the route hasn't deteriorated with the new operator; this can happen! The 130 probably isn't one of my favourite single deck routes, although if you're considering riding it then I suggest you go ahead, although the dubious Sunday frequency is one to avoid; an every-30 minute service on a relatively busy route like this is unacceptable!

Arriva London SLS30 on route 410 to Wallington.
You might remember another "Busageddon" post documenting the ADL E200s transferred for route 410 prematurely in May, although this allocation of existing single deckers only made up half of the buses required for the new contract. Arriva London ordered a small batch of new Wrightbus Streetlite vehicles for the 410, and these 9.6m vehicles are based at Thornton Heath (TH) garage. These buses entered service on time for the contract date, Saturday 26th August 2017, allowing the old Dart Pointers to leave London for good. The 410 is an extremely overcrowded route in South London, running between Crystal Palace and Wallington, serving a lot of housing and shopping districts on its lengthy journey. The 410 still struggles with its 9-minute frequency, partly due to the tight turns on the route, which limits longer buses from working it. However, the new Wrightbus Streetlite vehicles are certainly an upgrade from the worn out old Dart Pointers, which must be pretty knackered after so many years of traversing such a difficult route.

A Go-Coach Plaxton President circles Addington Village en route to East Croydon on Tram Replacement duties.
 Due to track resurfacing works at Gravel Hill, the Croydon Tramlink network was closed between Lloyd Park and New Addington for six days, between Saturday 26th August and Friday 1st September, meaning that the expansive residential estate of New Addington was left without a direct link to Croydon, as the 64 bus takes ages and goes through Selsdon to get there, which effectively involves travelling in the wrong direction first. As a result, a temporary Tram Replacement Service was set up, running between East Croydon and New Addington, serving all stops between the two places apart from Sandilands and Lebanon Road, where trams were running regardless. Although interchange between tram and bus was convenient at Lloyd Park, the bus service ran to East Croydon, allowing the majority of passengers to take one mode of transport to reach their ultimate destination instead of two, but I suspect this move wasn't entirely altruistic in nature, as East Croydon is probably the first sensible place to turn around this service. As the replacement service ran during the week, there were essentially no TFL vehicles available, so the route was contracted to commercial operators Go-Coach and Bus2, who often have a large number of double deck vehicles spare during school holidays. Normally, I don't pay attention to these rail replacement services, but this particular one ran through parts of London which TFL buses don't normally serve, so I decided to investigate and ride the important part of this service.

"Bus 2" 9739, a Trident ALX400, pauses at Addington Village Interchange before heading to West Croydon.
Normally, London Bus services don't serve the areas of Coombe Lane and Lloyd Park, as the Tramlink covers the minimal attractions there at a relatively low cost. However, as the Tram wasn't running at the end of the Summer holiday, buses were permitted to revisit these forgotten parts of London. The routeing itself is very interesting, tackling some steep hills and narrow roads in the depths of the quiet, peaceful countryside, just minutes away from the bustling hubbub of Croydon Town Centre. Apart from the tram stop and a Premier Inn, there wasn't anything noteworthy in these areas apart from trees and empty grassland, although the experience of travelling through a new part of London was wonderful, especially as this might not happen again for several years. Although no passengers warranted the forgotten stops at Coombe Lane and Lloyd Park, I'm sure the inhabitants there were grateful for their alternative to the Tram service, even if the buses themselves weren't exactly in pristine condition. 

My Go-Coach Plaxton President towards New Addington was extremely sluggish, with worn out seats and no power whatsoever, and the bus was struggling to keep up with the fast nature of the route. After feeling disappointed with that example, I was hoping that the Trident ALX400 vehicles would be better, especially after hearing reports on other bus websites that thrashy trips were possible with these buses. However, my particular bus was even worse than the previous vehicle, achieving a whopping 2mph on the fairly steep incline at Gravel Hill. Even though a sufficient service was provided, the vehicles themselves were in a poorly condition, emphasising the negative connotations associated with rail replacement bus services. Additionally, the frequency was inadequate, with buses only running every 10-15 minutes, resulting in some packed trips and uncomfortable buses, a stark contrast to the high capacity Trams. Although the routeing was lovely and this rail replacement service provided a unique insight into the rural parts of Croydon, some aspects could be improved, and hopefully Go-Coach and "Bus 2" can modernise their fleet before their next big rail replacement contract!

I must apologise for rushing this post, especially as the one scheduled for last week was cancelled at short notice. Unfortunately, my workload has increased massively this month and the previous weekly posts will be something of a rarity from now on, with 3-4 week intervals being a common occurence. However, I do plan to publish one more post next week, where I'll give more details on the future of the posting pattern for London Buses On The Go. 

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Five Changes For The Corresponding Corridor

When TFL attempt to conduct improvements to services, they don't simply work with individual routes and identify the problems from there. TFL analyse corridors, viewing the number of buses per hour and the number of passengers who use them. Then, they can work out whether the corridor is over-resourced or under-provided. An example of this is the "5 corridor", stretching from Romford Market to Oxford Circus. It consists of four routes, the 5, 15, 115 and N15, and the first three all overlap to make one long chain across Central and East London, whilst the N15 is a combination of all of them and can get extremely busy due to the large catchment area in East London it serves. Previously, Stagecoach London operated these four routes, but a rather surprising tender result confirmed that Go-Ahead London had taken them all, from their massive River Road garage.

Stagecoach London 17885 pauses at Barking Station in the middle of a route 5 journey to Romford. This Trident ALX400 could be seen regularly on the 5 under the previous contract.
Being the 11th busiest route in London, the 5 is certainly one of the more well-known buses in the enthusiast community. It runs from Canning Town-Romford Market, via East Ham, Barking and Becontree Heath, taking up to 90 minutes to complete in rush hour. Due to its crowding issues, the EL2 was diverted away from Ilford Station to follow the 5 up to Becontree Heath, in order to relieve this oversubscribed corridor. Running at a six minute frequency at times, the Peak Vehicle Requirement is for 30 buses, which mostly consisted of Trident ALX400 vehicles found at Barking (BK) garage under the old contract. However, there were also daily appearances of "classic" Enviro 400s and the MMC variant, making it the most varied route out of the four in terms of allocation. Some of the late night/early morning trips were covered by Bow (BW) garage due to the crosslinks with route N15, which allowed Enviro 400 E40H hybrids to sneak onto the route at times. It was certainly one of Stagecoach's flagship routes and they were gutted when they lost this major service to the rival company down the road. As the 5 is an incredibly difficult route to run, reliability wasn't always perfect, but Stagecoach certainly made a good effort and complaints about the service have been few and far between. The 5 is well-suited to enthusiasts who like a little bit of everything, with an urban high street environment towards the Western end of the route, a residential section between Barking and Becontree Heath, and a rural fast-paced interlude on the outskirts of Romford. Even though I find the middle section a little boring, the 5 has always been one of the more interesting routes in East London and I was intrigued to see how Go-Ahead London would get on with operating such a difficult service.

Stagecoach London 18206 is seen at East Ham, Central Park at the last stop of a route 115 journey.
The 115 runs between Aldgate and East Ham Central Park, via Limehouse, Poplar and Canning Town. Unlike the 5, this route is pretty short and is covered by the other two routes for most of the journey, apart from one section between Blackwall and Canning Town, where there is a lot of demand. The 115 is also well-used, but is nowhere near as busy as the 5, providing some much needed relief between East Ham and Canning Town. Its allocation at West Ham (WH) garage was very strict, with Trident ALX400 buses making up the full Peak Vehicle Requirement 95% of the time. Occasionally, a Scania OmniCity would stray from the 262/473, but appearances remained rare and I didn't manage to catch one on my travels. The 115 is also a fairly interesting route, remaining urban throughout its modest journey, with the view of the Olympic Park from East India Dock Road being particularly scenic. Due to the close proximity to the Blackwall Tunnel, the 115 route is often traffic-filled when the (almost) daily closure takes place as its roads are often part of the diversionary route, which resulted in a fairly unreliable service under the previous contract, with frequent gaps and common curtailments. Having said that, the route was still popular under Stagecoach London and lots of enthusiasts were disappointed to find that another batch of fast Trident ALX400 buses would be leaving the city, although this would've happened regardless of the outcome, as the 115 contract required a full allocation of brand new Hybrid buses. I was sceptical that Go-Ahead would be able to control this unpredictable service, especially as the former garage was in a much more advantageous position for running the route, but my prediction can only come true until Go-Ahead had settled in on the route.

A rare appearance of a Scania OmniCity on the 15 back in 2015. Embarrassingly, I don't have any adequate pictures of the former allocation of E40H MMCs...
The 15 is one of the most famous London bus routes, having an interesting history and a heritage counterpart using AEC Routemaster vehicles. Seven years ago, it was the full package, running between Paddington Basin and Blackwall, passing various tourist attractions at an appealing frequency. The 15 was extremely popular with sightseers and it certainly fulfilled the almost quintessential task of viewing the city from the top deck of a London bus. However, due to the ever-growing reliability problems this route was facing, in 2010 the 15 was cut back to Regent Street, missing out some key destinations such as Oxford Circus and Marble Arch. Due to roadworks in the Regent Street area, the 15 was "temporarily" curtailed to Trafalgar Square in 2013, although the route still hasn't returned and the cut back was officially made permanent on Saturday 26th August 2017, the same date Go-Ahead London took over the route. The routeing certainly isn't as interesting anymore, with the only significant tourist attractions being the Tower Of London and St Paul's Cathedral, with the former generating most of the current patronage due to its poor connectivity to the rest of the bus network.

 In 2015, the 15 was converted to New Routemaster operation, with this batch in particular reaching some absurd temperatures, and the incredibly small windows meant that sightseeing from this route became even more difficult. The 15 used to triumphantly soldier through so much of Central London, now it merely runs between Trafalgar Square and Blackwall, providing some relief to the Commercial Road corridor and ferrying tourists to and from the Tower Of London. Once the 23 is diverted to Wembley, the once inseparable pair of routes will run in completely different areas of London, with the 15 being pretty irrelevant in Central London. Stagecoach London have also operated this route for a long time, but I suspect this loss was fairly insignificant to them due to the downfall of the 15 over the years. The service at Bow (BW) garage was pretty reliable, even if the New Routemasters allocated to the route were quite the opposite! If the 15 was still such a tremendous route, running with brilliant buses, I'm sure the tender result would've upset me. However, I was pretty emotionless when they were published, further emphasising how this service is no longer one of Central London's prized possessions, it's now one that I deliberately avoid! 

Go-Ahead London WVL454 on route 5 to Romford Market.
The new contract for the 5 warranted a mixture of new and existing vehicles, with E40H MMCs and Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs being selected for the service. However, three different batches of existing Gemini's have been drafted in to cover the service, which made snapping them on the first day quite difficult! The latest existing vehicles (WVL483-495)  have been drafted in from Northumberland Park (NP) garage, where they used to work the challenging route 19. They will be receiving a refurbishment in due course, but thankfully this batch are in a presentable condition for the time being. WVL451-454 were built in the same year, although these buses previously worked the East London Transit routes, so they are still found on familiar turf! Unlike the ex-19 vehicles, these have received a refurbishment and the seats have gained a substantial amount of padding, which is comfortable enough for the long distance trips often made on the 5.

Go-Ahead London EH144 is seen at Rush Green towards the end of a journey to Romford Market.
The 5 has also received a partial allocation of brand new buses and these are shared with the 115, in the form of Enviro 400 E40H MMC Hybrids. A limited number have appeared on the route since the contract change, but these buses are undergoing a leisurely introduction into service, which means  they're not as common as expected for the time being. As the 115 (just about) enters Central London, these buses mainly appear on the aforementioned route, although the 100% Hybrid operation achieved on the first day has been broken, with some Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles straying from the 5. As there are still a number of new buses missing, some loan vehicles have been transferred from other garages temporarily, although they were expected to have returned to their homes earlier than this!

Go-Ahead London WVN28 is seen at Rush Green on route 5 to Romford Market.
Since the loss of route 259, the WVN-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles formerly allocated to the route have been travelling around London, covering any last-minute replacement services or loans, such as the Waterloo-related 77 extras and the temporary route 563 in North London. A small number of these buses have been transferred onto the 5 from Northumberland Park (NP) garage and some of them have received a deep refurbishment. However, buses such as WVN28 (illustrated above) are still carrying around their First London seat moquette from when they were owned by the company, which almost brings them back to the Barking area! The unrefurbished buses are incredibly worn out and some members of the public certainly weren't impressed when they boarded the bus last Saturday, so hopefully these vehicles won't be around for too long. All of these loans have significantly increased the number of different seat moquettes found on the service, with 5 unique examples currently roaming around on the route. Some other loaned vehicles include E137 (an E40D E400) and WVL345 (a former East London Transit Gemini 2 that's still fully branded).

Go-Ahead London E137 pauses at Romford Station on the last leg of its journey to Romford Market, making a rather pompous appearance on the first day of the new contract, emphasising that a new company have taken over.
E137 has transferred North of the River from Bexleyheath (BX) garage to cover for the missing E40H MMCs and is an oddball because it still contains the traditional Go-Ahead London grey skirt (this was banned from all new vehicles shortly after this one entered service) and is the only example proudly displaying the full GAL livery on the 5. However, this type of bus could be seen regularly on the 5 under the previous contract, so some particularly observant members of the public might notice that the engine and body are fairly similar, with the only distinct differences being the livery and extremely uncomfortable seats found inside, a stark contrast to the Lazzerini type found on Stagecoach's examples. The other loaned vehicle, WVL345, has migrated from Croydon (C) garage after a brief stint on route X26 and is still fully branded for the East London Transit network, which is centred around the Barking area. Coincidentally, the 5 covers a lot of ELT territory, so the sighting of a branded vehicle is nothing unusual for residents of the Barking area, but I'm sure they'd be rather unhappy if they ended up at the wrong destination by relying on the branding alone. Additionally, some 59-reg Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles (WVL346-349) are now officially allocated to the 5 after seven years on the East London Transit network, although these have received an intense refurbishment and no longer contain the ELT branding. Like the previous contract, the 5 has some vehicle crosslinks with the N15 (which is now allocated New Routemaster vehicles), so some early morning and late evening trips are worked with these controversial buses that are normally found in Central London. However, Barking (RR) garage managed to sneak one into service last Saturday from 10am-1pm, which will probably have some harsh consequences! Unfortunately, these vehicles have escaped my camera and are the only type of bus on the 5 I haven't snapped yet.

Go-Ahead London WVL346 is seen at Barking Station working a short journey towards Canning Town.
After many months of campaigning, the 5 has also been re-routed in the Romford area, to serve Queen's Hospital rather than the residential area of South Street. This will undoubtedly be extremely popular in the future, as a large number of residents living on the Eastern side of the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham previously didn't have a link to their local hospital, with the 5 covering the majority of these homes now. The section along South Street wasn't very well-used before the contract change and that area will still have the 248 and 252 to pick up the remaining residents and give them a link to Romford Town Centre. On the first day (Saturday 26th August 2017) some drivers were confused about stopping arrangements at Queen's Hospital, with some having to circle the Bus Station there until they figured out where the correct stop was! However, I'm sure the drivers are used to the new routeing by now and hopefully visitors to Queen's Hospital can enjoy their brand new bus service.

Go-Ahead London WVL454 is seen at Romford Station en route to Canning Town Station.
Surprisingly, reliability has been decent since the first day, with no real nasty gaps and only a small handful of complaints from other enthusiasts, although these teething issues should be ironed out over the next few years. Although bunching is quite regular, the high frequency of this service ensures that a good level of service can be maintained, which is very important as this route is still exceptionally busy. Curtailments are few and far between (I was lucky to catch one last Saturday) and it seems that Go-Ahead London have embraced this challenge very well, even if the E40H MMCs are taking an unusually long time to hit the road! The level of service has exceeded my low expectations and I'd like to wish Go-Ahead London good luck for the next 5-7 years, and hopefully they can keep up their promising start!

Go-Ahead London EH151 is seen at Canning Town Bus Station on route 115.
Since the contract date, route 115 has seen a large number of its E40H MMCs, sometimes achieving 100% Hybrid operation, which should occur all the time on paper, although the relaxed allocation system at Barking (RR) garage means that some Wrightbus Gemini 2s (including the loans) from the 5 have appeared, as well as the solitary E400. I was blessed with the opportunity to sample these new vehicles on Monday 28th August 2017 and I'm pretty impressed with them, having lots of power and a comfortable and welcoming interior. I'm hoping that these brilliant buses are maintained well, but I'm slightly worried as Barking (RR) garage certainly don't have the best reputation in the enthusiast community for keeping buses healthy! The air conditioning was extremely helpful on the incredibly warm day and hopefully 115 users are happy with their massive upgrade from the worn out ALX 400s. 

Go-Ahead London EH150 is seen at Aldgate.
Service levels have been questionable since the new contract and I've noticed a worryingly high number of curtailments recently, suggesting that Go-Ahead London are struggling with running this shorter route. I've seen some nasty gaps on my travels and this confirms that short routes aren't always easy to run, with Stagecoach London also struggling on this service. Perhaps the close proximity to the Blackwall Tunnel has some bearing on the service quality, or maybe this route has been neglected with the much more prolific 5 and 15 service changes also taking place. I also noticed that the route has been given lots of running time, with buses regulating at stops every few minutes, resulting in some painfully slow trips and a lot of irritated bus users. These loose schedules are becoming much more common on the network and longer journey's might partially contribute to the recent falling bus patronage, which has affected lots of services particularly in the Central London area. Hopefully these service issues are only temporary and Go-Ahead can prove that this service can be operated well, but it seems that the 115 can be a surprising challenge for anyone who attempts to operate the service.

A panoramic shot of LT407 opposite Charing Cross Station.
These existing New Routemasters have settled in at Barking (RR) garage quite nicely, especially as the depot currently has some similar examples running around on the ELT network. The two batches can intermingle, resulting in some East London Transit branded buses roaming around Trafalagr Square on the 15, but there have been no conventional vehicles on the service since the new contract, apart from a couple of trips that crosslink with the N15. The night variant of this service has converted to NRM operation since the new contract, using any vehicle found at the garage. However, some E40H MMCs have strayed onto the service, similar to the ones found at Bow (BW) garage that worked the route under the previous contract. The N15 has also been extended to Oxford Circus in order to try and serve the Soho area, which will be popular with late night travellers. So far, the service on both of these routes has been decent, with no identifiable issues so far, which is quite surprising as the distance between the termini and the garage is quite concerning, especially as it involves using one of London's most traffic-prone roads in the process! At the moment, buses are running around without any logo's, Stagecoach's ones were removed around two weeks ago whilst the Go-Ahead London ones are yet to appear. Hopefully, Go-Ahead London can keep up the excellent work produced so far on the 5 and 15, and maybe they'll improve the questionable service on the 115. 

Thanks for reading and stay safe!