Saturday, 27 January 2018

Bexleyheath Busageddon

Saturday 20th January 2018 was somewhat significant in the typical calendar of a bus enthusiast, given that four routes changed operator on this day, all in the same area. Go-Ahead London surrendered routes 422 and B14 to Stagecoach, along with the 401 to Arriva. The latter company have also inherited routes 99 and 269 from Stagecoach, with the only notable success for Go-Ahead being the retention of route B16 with its existing Enviro 200s. Five out of the six routes have already undergone their contract renewals or changes, with the B14 set to occur on Saturday 3rd February 2018 - this change will be covered in a separate post. This document will talk about routes 99, 269, 401 and 422 individually, giving comparisons between the operators and my general thoughts on the services on my trip to sample them.

Stagecoach London 12352 represents the old face of the 99.
Given that the terminus points of route 99 are Woolwich and Bexleyheath Shopping Centre, you might initially think that this route is rather short in nature. However, the 99 is probably one of the most indirect double deck routes found in the London bus network. After navigating a lengthy tour of Woolwich Town Centre (this only happens heading towards Bexleyheath), the 99 takes a fairly straight path through the urban high street of Plumstead, before tackling some challenging hills in the fairly rural approach to Erith, completely ignoring the right turns that would take the 99 straight to Bexleyheath. The 99 pauses at Erith Town Centre, before almost heading back on itself down through Barnehurst and Slade Green in order to terminate at Bexleyheath - this section is extremely residential and involves traversing a ridiculous number of side routes in a short amount of time, which can feel relentless towards the end. Nevertheless, the section between Woolwich and Erith is so enjoyable, offering a huge contrast between the major town centres and countryside like feel of the villages around Bostall Heath, with vehicles frequently being put to the test by the demanding nature of the roads around there. Although I found the section between Erith and Bexleyheath rather tedious, I'd still recommend riding the 99 ; it might be wise to ignore this part completely and only ride between Woolwich and Erith if you're short on time.

At the moment, a 12-minute frequency is provided on the 99, requiring 14 buses in rush hour. The end-to-end journey time is typically around 60 minutes and in general this route is fairly busy, having both some crowded and quiet times. Stagecoach London previously operated the service from Plumstead (PD) garage, using a variety of vehicle types as a result of flexible allocations. Rarer appearances came in the form of Trident ALX400s, Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LHs and some of the remaining Scania OmniCity vehicles, although the main diet of the 99 consisted of powerful 64-plate ADL Enviro 400Hs, which suited the route nicely. Coincidentally, these exact vehicles are now being used on the 422, which was also won on Saturday 20th January. Many enthusiasts are upset that Arriva have taken over the 99, presumably because Stagecoach operated the route well and with a capable fleet of buses - some of the Wrightbus Gemini 2 DB300s that Arriva currently use have quite a poor reputation for their lack of power and sluggish nature. Nevertheless, the convenient use of a joint bid and a large pool of existing vehicles on behalf of Arriva managed to undercut Stagecoach's attempt at retaining the service and the contract changeover date, Saturday 20th January, came around pretty quickly after the publication of the tendering results.

Arriva London DW433 is seen at Nuxley Village on route 99.
 Routes 99, 269 and 401 are now all operated from Dartford (DT) garage and a large pool of Wrightbus Gemini 2 DB300 vehicles (numbered DW423-459) are used on all three services, along with a newer DW555 which has randomly transferred there too. The 99 change has also resulted in Dartford (DT) garage claiming every single route in Erith Town Centre, with Go-Ahead and now Stagecoach losing their remaining ones in recent times. I intended to catch the 99 at Nuxley Village on the first day, with a short ride from there to Woolwich. However, my first impressions of the service were lowered significantly when no bus showed up for 18 minutes, typically in this rather rural village during a burst of heavy rain. However, the bus was surprisingly warm on board and it coped with the demanding roads rather well, being fairly quiet considering the large gap in front. It seems that these examples of the DB300s are substantially better than the ones in East London on the 175 and at Tottenham (AR) garage, which is a relief as otherwise they probably wouldn't be able to cope with the tough South-East London services. On the first day, the expected uneven service was omnipresent, with a large number of gaps lasting longer than 20 minutes and lots of buses running close together too - whilst I was waiting in Nuxley Village four passed by heading towards Bexleyheath before mine arrived.

Arriva London DW447 is seen on the 99 to Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre
Since then, the service hasn't shown many signs of improvement, with road closures around Bostall Hill exacerbating the difficulties in developing knowledge of the 99 and how to control it. Ironically, during the week lots of buses have been curtailed to Plumstead Bus Garage, the former home of the 99, something which rarely happened under the contract. There were also some iBus issues with the vehicles for the first few days, resulting in some 'ghost buses' not appearing on LVF. So far, no unallocated vehicles have appeared on the 99, 269 or 401 at Dartford (DT) garage, with the other E400 double deckers that reside there lacking blinds for the three new intakes. Although Arriva have been presented with some difficulties in getting to know the 99, with various service disruptions and a lack of experience in handling the service, I'm pretty confident that there will be an improvement fairly soon, as the garage currently deal with much more challenging routes. Despite the initial scepticism surrounding the ability of the DW-class vehicles, some of them have actually been praised for their good performance up the infamous Bostall Hill and overall it seems that Arriva might be a bearable successor to Stagecoach after all.

Go-Ahead London E207 is seen on route 401 to Thamesmead, under the old contract.
The 401 is much shorter than the other three routes that feature in this post, only taking around 30 minutes to travel between Bexleyheath Shopping Centre and Thamesmead outside of rush hour. It has a 15-minute frequency during the day and soaks uses up to 8 buses at a time. Go-Ahead London previously operated the route from Bexleyheath (BX) garage, with a rather varied allocation consisting of Volvo B7TL President and Gemini buses, along with the newer B9TL Gemini 2s and ADL E400s. Both ends of the 401 are fairly residential, although the middle section is rather interesting and quite enjoyable. After the rural settlement of Nuxley Village, the 401 passes through Belvedere and Picardy Road, which involves a massive hill climb heading towards Bexleyheath, or a stunning view of the River Thames as it nears the estuary and the industrial wasteland at Dagenham and beyond, towards Thamesmead. There's also a quirky little double run into the industrial area at Belvedere, along with a lengthy dual carriageway section until the edge of Abbey Wood. Under the old contract, the running time was fairly tight and I had E207 floored to bits on this section and as the DW-class Gemini's that now run the service seem to have decent potential, it'll be interesting to see how they perform. In general, the 401 is probably the best route out of the four in terms of being consistently entertaining and its variety in surroundings means that there's something for everyone and is perhaps one to check out. Go-Ahead weren't noticeably bad under the old contract, but Bexleyheath (BX) garage have constantly run the 401 since its birth, so the transfer to Arriva was a shock to many, especially as Dartford (DT) garage is so much further than its former home.

Arriva London DW450 is seen at Nuxley Village on the 401 to Bexleyheath.
On Saturday 20th January, I decided to sample the 401 on my back to Woolwich, especially because it conveniently connects with the 99 at Nuxley Village. In terms of reliability, the route was an absolute wreck on the first day, with the service easily being the worst I witnessed out of the four routes, despite it presumably being the easiest one to operate due to its short length and low frequency. My chosen boarding point was the stop at Bexleyheath Clock Tower, which was very popular with enthusiasts as all four changing routes pass there, although on my visit the bus stop was  full with angry 401 passengers instead, who had seemingly been waiting for a very long time - the countdown screen wasn't promising anything better either as it claimed the next bus was 21 minutes away. However, a bunching of two vehicles showed up within a few minutes, with the first one curtailed to Belvedere Police Station, something I find absurd and frankly hilarious as the journey time between Bexleyheath and the aforementioned curtailment point is only around 10 minutes! However, this residential section of the 401 seems to be very popular as almost everyone happily boarded the first bus despite the driver's informative method of communicating the early termination point. I chose to hang back and catch the second one and both of the vehicles certainly weren't hanging around, with both buses being maxed out along the side roads - it would've been interesting to sample them on the dual carriageway. Nevertheless, the quick DWs made my brief 401 journey thoroughly enjoyable, further contradicting the generally negative connotations surrounding these vehicles. After alighting at Belvedere Police Station, I was greeted with more angry passengers intending to catch a bus back to Bexleyheath, who had also been waiting for well over 15 minutes. Another convoy appeared, with no bus afterwards for over 30 minutes, emphasising the shambolic nature of the first afternoon - things seemed to settle down during the evening, much to the relief of regular users.

DW434 represents the curtailment to Belvedere.
 Thankfully, the service has been considerably better throughout the week and Arriva now seem to have good knowledge of the 401 despite the hiccups on the first day. Apart from the fairly lengthy dead runs, the route shouldn't be too challenging for them, especially as the challenging 229 is run very well from Dartford (DT) garage. Although the 15-minute frequency does sound rather low for a route like the 401, it's pretty well-suited to demand, with buses naturally being fairly quiet outside of peak times, although on weekends they seem to carry quite heavy loads. We'll have to hope it avoids a frequency cut from TFL, who have been brutal lately with decreasing routes despite some of them being exceptionally busy at their former frequency. However, the 401 does seem to be pretty successful at shuttling people between Thamesmead and Bexleyheath and hopefully Arriva will be able to match Go-Ahead's standards on the old contract.

Stagecoach London 17857 is seen on the 269 to Bexleyheath Shopping Centre, representing the old look of the route.
 The second route lost by Stagecoach London, from their Bromley (TB) garage, is the 269, although the void at this garage will be partially filled with the arrival of route B14 next week. Running between two major town centres in South East London, the 269 is quite a useful service for locals, almost being a trunk route between Bexleyheath and Bromley. It travels through Bexley, Sidcup, Queen Mary's Hospital and Chislehurst in the process, taking around 45 minutes to complete the journey during the day. It runs every 12 minutes with a peak vehicle requirement of the same number. Out of all the changes, this one was probably the most upsetting for many enthusiasts, as the service under Stagecoach was famous for providing very fast journeys with beastly Trident ALX400s, which are leaving London at a rapid rate. ADL Enviro 400s were also fairly common on the 269 under the old contract and occasionally single deckers had to be used when the route was temporarily diverted under a low bridge at Chislehurst. Unfortunately, my only 269 journey with a Trident was painfully slow, with the driver crawling along throughout the route despite running late. The element of thrash was also probably the only other notable thing about the 269, given that the routeing is rather residential and focussing on that alone simply wasn't enjoyable enough for me. It's a shame I didn't experience one of the faster trips on the 269, especially as the newer DW-class vehicles probably won't be able to reach abnormally high speeds, even if they are above average for their type. Nevertheless, many enthusiasts were forced to bid farewell to the old buses on Friday 19th January 2018, with Arriva taking over the next day.

DW423 is seen at Bexleyheath Library. Interestingly, this is one of only two vehicles in this batch with manual blinds.
The takeover of route 269 has reintroduced Arriva to the area of Bromley, for the first time since last July when they withdrew their commercial 402 service. Like the 99 and 401, the old garage at Bromley (TB) is considerably closer to the route than Dartford (DT), emphasising how significant the joint bid discount and existing vehicles are. Thanks to Southeastern's incompetence (the train left the complicated station at Lewisham early) I wasn't able to sample the 269 on the first day - I simply didn't have time to waste 30 minutes and travel down to Bexley instead. However, I did manage to observe the service running around Bexleyheath and obtain some pictures and in general things are looking promising for Arriva for the 269. This service was easily the best out of the three on the first day in terms of service, with no large gaps at all and the worst problems being a little bit of bunching, which is natural on the first day. The 269 was also heavily affected by the iBus issue on the Saturday, with lots of buses not appearing on LVF or other bus tracking websites, so on the surface it seemed like this route was struggling the most. It seems that this one is quite comfortable already at Arriva and hopefully the locals will appreciate their equally reliable service (Stagecoach were also decent under the old contract), despite the recent frequency reduction, something which isn't ideal for the school rush where this route is hammered with commuting children.

Arriva London DW438 is seen in Bexleyheath on the 269 to Bromley North.
Overall, it's clear that a compromise has occurred with this particular contract change. Most regular users will presumably prefer the newer DW-class vehicles, as the Trident ALX400s did feel a little worn out inside towards the end of the contract, even if their engines were still healthy. However, all the beautiful, thrashy trips that occurred under Stagecoach will probably come to an end, especially if Arriva have followed the trend of increasing the running time with new schedules. Newer buses are often less satisfying to listen to when being driven fast, from an enthusiast's perspective anyway. However, all other aspects of the service are promising and I'd like to wish Arriva good luck in maintaining their excellent start.

Go-Ahead London E238 is seen at Blackheath Royal Standard on the 422 to North Greenwich
Conveniently, Stagecoach have received some sort of compensation after the loss of route 99 from Plumstead (PD) garage, with this site being perfect for the operation of route 422, which they've picked up from Go-Ahead London, who formerly ran the route from Bexleyheath (BX) garage. Having a peak vehicle requirement of 16 buses, the 422 runs every 10 minutes during the day and takes just over an hour from start to finish, being the longest out of the three routes running between North Greenwich and Bexleyheath. The 422 certainly doesn't take the most direct route to Woolwich, serving East Greenwich and Blackheath first, before travelling along the 53-corridor until Woolwich Town Centre. From here, it follows the 96 through Plumstead and to East Wickham, where the 422 turns residential for around 15 minutes until it serves Bexleyheath Station, with the Shopping Centre only being a few minutes beyond. However, this wasn't the original termination point, with buses under the old contract continuing as far as Bexleyheath Bus Garage, owned by Go-Ahead London. Now that Stagecoach run the 422, buses no longer have permission to stand in the depot (although this is very cheeky as Go-Ahead actually use the Stagecoach garage at Catford for route 171!) and this resulted in a cutback, without consultation, to the already overcrowded terminus at Bexleyheath Shopping Centre ; due to space constraints the 422 has to stand on a side road for the time being. 

Under the old contract, Go-Ahead London struggled with running the 422, with the service not being brilliant and often filled with large gaps. Like the 401, it used a mixture of double deck vehicles found at the garage and these came in the form of ADL E400s and Wrightbus Gemini B7TLs and B9TLs, with the former type being the most common from my observations. In terms of my opinion on the route in general, I can't make a proper judgement on the 422 as I haven't actually ridden all of it yet, although the Woolwich-North Greenwich section is most enjoyable with some stunning views of London from Charlton, so hopefully the rest of the route lives up to this standard. This change wasn't particularly upsetting for enthusiasts, with Stagecoach looking more promising in terms of their vehicle fleet and the good reputation Plumstead (PD) garage has for running routes well.

Stagecoach London 12360 is seen at Bexleyheath Shopping Centre, representing the new destination.
In terms of the technical allocation, it's quite a complicated affair. The bulk of vehicles are in the form of 64-reg ADL Enviro 400 E40Hs which have come directly from the 99 and were therefore available from the first day. However, initially Stagecoach London intended to order four brand new Enviro 400 MMCs for the 422 in order to meet the peak vehicle requirement, although this order has been cancelled as there are enough spare buses in the existing fleet. A frequency reduction on route 47 has freed up a few buses at Catford (TL) garage, so two ADL diesel euro 6 Enviro 400s that were formerly allocated to the 136 have transferred down to Plumstead (PD) and now work the 422 on a regular basis, with the 136 using some of the 47s B5LH MMCs in compensation. However, due to the flexible allocations at Plumstead (PD) garage, almost any double decker can appear on any route, although not all of them have been blinded for the 422 yet, so at the moment only E400s and MMCs have worked the route so far, although some Scania OmniCitys and Gemini 3s might sneak onto the route in the future. In terms of their capability, all of the E400s there are wonderful buses, having comfortable seating, a welcoming interior and a powerful engine which is extremely beneficial for tackling this challenging, fast-paced route. It seems that the running time might've been decreased or maintained at the same level as before, as all the buses I sampled were in a hurry to keep to time, despite there being no traffic disruptions. This is quite rare on the London bus network and I'm really glad a tight schedule is still in place on this route, so hopefully when someone completes it from end-to-end they can be presented with a lively journey.

Stagecoach London 12368 is one of the MMCs that has been blinded for the service.
Coincidentally, I ended up on two 422s on my day out, with both of my trips simply happening because the route is useful and it connected to other buses which I needed to snap. My first ride was on an ADL E40H, just between Bexleyheath Station and the Shopping Centre and there was nothing spectacular to report, mostly because the ride was brief and I was busy tracking down one of two E40H MMCs heading the other way. However, this route was also a victim of iBus issues, with the announcements playing "... to Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre", with the absence of a route number. My second ride was much more substantial, on one of the recently transferred ADL E40D vehicles, between Woolwich and Westcombe Park, and I'm pleased to say that the journey was thoroughly enjoyable. Although these buses aren't praised for their power or speed, I found the journey relaxing and it was easily the best bus of the day, having interesting views outside and a quick pace, with the driver putting his foot down where necessary. I also noticed that the service was excellent reliability-wise, with almost perfect headways and no examples of bunching whatsoever, something very rare on a first day, especially with such a difficult route like the 422 - it is arguably much more challenging than the 99, 269 and 401 and perhaps the reason why it didn't struggle is the experience Plumstead (PD) has with challenging and lengthy double deck routes like the 51, 53 and 122. 

Stagecoach London 10205, one of the transfers from Catford, is seen in Westcombe Park.
Throughout the week, the 422 has continued to show off its excellent performance and in general this change can be viewed as the most successful, having a capable fleet of buses which are currently providing a superb service, something which doesn't usually occur in the first week of operation. The only negative aspect is the curtailment from Bexleyheath Bus Garage, with this section occasionally being popular with residents on this side of the town centre, although thankfully there are other frequent routes which they can take. Hopefully, the 99, 269 and 401 can follow the example set by the 422 and become competent under Arriva's operation from Dartford (DT) garage. After all, the first week hasn't been a complete disaster and Saturday 20th January 2018 marked the start of a productive weekend for many enthusiasts, where four operator changes occurred in the same area, something which doesn't happen very often - next week they're scattered all over London, ranging from Cockfosters to Orpington! I'd like to wish Stagecoach and Arriva good luck in operating all four of these routes and perhaps Bexleyheath (BX) garage can pick up some new work after their recent losses. 

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Friday, 19 January 2018

5th Bloggerversary

Somehow, this bus blog still exists five years after its creation, after many developments and an elongated sabbatical. Admittedly, it's very surprising that this site is still here, especially with the demise of many of the other blogs, but I've been stunned by the recent growth and support from all viewers, so I'd like to thank everyone who's visited the page over the five years and made London Buses On The Go somewhat prominent in the bus blogging scene. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write a nostalgic post that goes on for hours about the past, although I'm going on a snapping spree tomorrow which will pave the way for a number of "changes" posts, which you can hopefully enjoy in the future.

Don't forget to visit London Connected too, who coincidentally came into existence on the exact same day that I did and are also celebrating their 5th anniversary.

Thanks for reading and here's to five more years!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Continuing The Green Theme

Two bus routes that sport a green livery have had their operation transferred to different companies recently, although this motif has surprisingly been retained after the change for both examples. Chronologically, the first change that occurred involved First Berkshire surrendering their commercial greenline 702 service, with initial concerns that the route would be withdrawn completely, although Reading Buses thankfully stepped in at the last minute and started running the route on Sunday 24th December 2017, with a slightly revised service on the first day. The 702 isn't actually a TFL service, although it runs to and from Central London, so it arguably deserves documentation here.

A First Berkshire Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL is seen at Victoria.
As I'm not an expert on the history of buses, my knowledge of the former Greenline network is patchy and all I know is that it can be traced back as far as 1930 and there used to be a lot more routes than there are today. They're essentially non-TFL coach services which run beyond London to other urban towns roughly within a 30 mile radius. The 702 is now the only one that runs to the West of the capital, starting at Victoria Coach Station and heading up to Hyde Park Corner with the others. However, here it turns left and follows the routeing of the 9/10 as far as Hammersmith, although the 702 serves different bus stops to the TFL services and they are quite sporadic. After Hammersmith, the 702 runs non-stop all the way to Langley, initially using the dual carriageway and afterwards the elevated section of the M4, which can provide some really fast trips and stunning views. After this, the 702 serves Slough, Windsor, Legoland, Ascot and Bracknell, where all services terminated under the First Berkshire operation. Generally, an hourly frequency is provided throughout the day and the journey to Bracknell takes around 150 minutes from start to finish, with an additional half hour to Reading, where some buses now terminate. A few coaches were used on the 702 until around 2013, where they were all replaced by Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL buses, complete with an appropriate external livery and a high specification interior, with leather high-back seats and a comfortable environment for the long distance trips travellers normally make on the service. It's not too popular with commuters and never seems to be crowded, although buses are generally quite busy throughout the day and the 702 was popular under First, who seemingly provided an adequate service with a luxurious fleet of buses. However, their Slough network has seen masses of cuts recently and unfortunately the 702 wasn't considered to be sustainable anymore, so the service was surrendered. The last day was on Saturday 23rd December 2017, with Reading Buses taking over the next day, albeit with a slightly different vehicle allocation.

RF226 is seen at Royal Albert Hall on the 702.
Reading Buses wanted to make their debut on the 702 an event to remember and this was achieved by organising a running day, using mostly, but not exclusively, vintage buses that ran to a special timetable along the route. Donations to the Red Balloon Learners Centre were welcome, although the route technically ran free of charge. For most of the day, the service was split into two routes, with one between Windsor and Victoria and a shuttle which connected with the London services from Windsor to Bracknell numbered the 701, although a couple of through buses featured towards the end of the day, with one going all the way to Reading Station from Victoria. Drivers and conductors were sourced on a voluntary basis and were mostly enthusiasts themselves, creating a friendly atmosphere and a really successful day on the whole. I had the pleasure of sampling the service for an hour within London and managed to catch two vintage vehicles on my travels.

RMC1510 is seen at Hammersmith on a Bracknell through service.
A wide variety of vehicles were out and about, including single decker RF models, classic Routemasters and an open top RMC, which must've been great fun on the elevated M4 section, although it was pretty cold on my trip between Kensington and Hammersmith! Some more modern traction came in the form of two existing vehicles that have been heavily refurbished for the main 702 service, in the form of a Scania OmniCity single decker and an ADL Enviro 400 with a stunning external greenline livery - images containing both of these types feature later on. I thoroughly enjoyed my trips on the heritage 702s, with a pleasurable vibe and a lovely throwback to travelling down Kensington High Street on Routemasters when the 9H was still around, even if those ones had a roof upstairs. Buses were well loaded and it seems that the day was very popular, giving Reading Buses the opportunity to thrive at the start of their operation on the demanding 702. After a two day break, the normal service started on Wednesday 27th December 2017, with a wide variety of buses out and about.

Reading Buses 1208, the ADL E400 branded for the Greenline 702, is seen at Hammersmith on route to Bracknell.
Reading Buses operate the 702 from their depot at Great Knollys Street in Reading Town Centre, although a new outstation is opening in Slough for their recent gains there and I predict that some 702 buses will eventually be based at this site. At the moment, the timetable is broadly similar to what First Berkshire provided, with roughly the same departure times from Victoria and Bracknell, with only one immediate difference between the two. Some early morning and late evening trips have been extended to Reading Station under the new contract - as these buses are running to/from the depot it costs Reading Buses nothing to operate them in passenger service, even though I suspect they will be lightly used. In addition to this, the very last evening trip from London runs non-stop between Slough and Reading, which must be a very fast ride! In terms of reliability, the operation has been decent so far, with a few minor issues in regards to buses leaving on time, although it's nothing serious and at the moment they don't seem to be any worse than First Berkshire in this department.

Reading Buses 12 represents the one trip that runs non-stop from Slough to Reading, in the form of a Scania OmniCity single decker.
A full allocation of vehicles hasn't been ordered for the 702 yet, as Reading Buses feel that they should get to know the service before making a decision. As a result, a large variety of buses are currently being trialled and the uniform allocation of the future will be based upon driver and passenger feedback. There are two types that are fully branded for the service and these come in the form of an ADL E400 (illustrated further up) and two Scania OmniCity tri-axle single deckers, which have been acquired from Scotland and have received a heavy refurbishment with more comfortable seats and other luxuries. Personally, I'm hoping that this type isn't ordered for the service, along with the coach which will enter service shortly, as the views from the top deck when the 702 travels along the M4 are just incredible and the experience won't be the same on either of these types. I especially wouldn't want coaches because having mainstream buses arguably makes the 702 unique - without them it would just be another average national express style long-distance service and I find them pretty grim. However, there are other types on the horizon, including a blue ADL E400 City demonstrator with leather seating, USB charging and tables upstairs and an Irizar single decker. Although I wouldn't want the latter type being delivered en masse, there aren't any examples of these in the TFL fleet and sampling one of them on the quieter trips would be a pleasure, especially on the demanding M4.

Reading Buses 759 is seen at Victoria Coach Station.
Fleet flexibility at the depot means that some non-branded existing vehicles in the Reading Buses fleet can appear on the 702 from time to time, especially at weekends. These includs ADL E400s normally allocated to the jet black 1 (which contain all over advertising for something completely unrelated) or their younger equivalent, this being the E400 MMC, like the example illustrated above. These buses were also used for driver training, with branded "emerald" ones frequently running along the route in the run up to the changeover. As you can probably tell, the variety on the 702 at the moment is brilliant, with almost every vehicle on the service being a different type. This does mean catching the bus is a bit of a lottery, with the type ranging from a fairly small single decker, to a full-size coach or an average double decker. It'll be interesting to see what is eventually ordered for the service and hopefully Reading Buses can keep up their good start to operating the 702. This rounds off part one of the post ; we'll be moving onto the TFL 142 service now.

Arriva London VLA176 is seen at Watford Junction on route 142.
The 142 runs between Brent Cross and Watford Junction, via Hendon, Edgware, Stanmore and Bushey. It takes around 80 minutes from start to finish in typical road conditions and has a 12-minute frequency from Monday-Saturday, with this reducing to 4bph on Sundays. Arriva The Shires, a subsidiary of Arriva Bus UK have, operated the 142 from their Garston (GR) garage for a while, although towards the end of the contract this division was branded as Arriva London for TFL services. Older vehicles were the norm on route 142, with Volvo B7TL ALX400s and mark 1 Geminis making up most of the allocation in recent times, although occasional appearances of newer Wrightbus Streetdeck vehicles did happen. Controversially, single deckers were used on the 142 fairly regularly, due to a shortage of DDs and extremely loose allocations, where the double deck ALX400s would often find themselves on quieter SD routes whilst the Enviro 200 single deckers ended up on the 142, which really wasn't ideal as it's a busy route! In terms of operation, the route was hit and miss, with some sloppy performance at times, although the demanding nature and lengthy journey time must've contributed to this. Unfortunately, Garston (GR) garage will no longer operate TFL services in a few months time, with most of their existing ones transferring over to RATP London Sovereign or to Arriva's Palmers Green (AD) garage. This move was triggered by the loss of routes 142 and 258, which were the only ones anywhere near the garage itself! Dead mileage was costly and clearly running Edgware routes from somewhere in Hertfordshire wasn't economically viable anymore, so understandably they've all been surrendered. Arriva certainly gave the 142 a lot of character throughout their contract and they will be missed, especially because of the thrash the beastly B7TL Volvos provided. The newer buses that now run the route are pretty decent, but are commonplace in London and the route is now arguably less interesting. However, the service performance is likely to improve and it's very unlikely that single deckers will ever touch the route again, which is a relief!

RATP London Sovereign ADE40428 is seen at Burnt Oak Broadway, bound for Watford Junction
London Sovereign operate the 142 from Edgware (BT) garage, which is situated roughly in the middle of the route, providing a convenient spot for driver changeovers. Due to losses in the Hounslow area, a large number of existing ADL E400s became surplus recently and these were perfect for the 142, which doesn't require hybrid vehicles for this contract. Most of them have been heavily refurbished, even though I would argue they were in a decent state beforehand and are part of a large common user pool shared with route 258 at Edgware (BT) - this route was also lost from Arriva The Shires in September. Some unrefurbished examples are still around though and these will enter the workshop soon. For now, they still have London United logos (Sovereign and United are both divisions of RATP), bar ADE40413 which has randomly had them updated. Coincidentally, both the Arriva and RATP interiors are based on the green colour, so some sense of familiarity has been retained. Arriva's last full day was Friday 5th January 2018, with VLA168 and SW7 both finishing simultaneously in the early hours of the Saturday. Shortly after, London Sovereign began operating the service, with ADE-class E400s only throughout the morning. They're very fast, clean and are some of the best newer examples of E400s out there - a worthy replacement for the VLAs and are definitely capable of reaching high speeds in the countryside. If you're looking for an eventful journey I would recommend one of these for your ride, although the other types which do appear regularly don't stand out as being awful either.

London Sovereign RATP VH45106 is seen at Colindale.
The relaxed allocation system at Edgware (BT) means that two other blinded types have frequently appeared on the 142 since the new contract started. Wrightbus Gemini 2 B5LH vehicles, with a unique red interior, that are officially allocated to the 139, are quite populous on the service, with around three or four every day so far (bar Sundays). Occasionally, one of the few remaining Scania OmniCity vehicles found at the garage appears, although all of them are likely to be leaving fairly soon. This unexpected variety is certainly positive for enthusiasts, who feared that the route would be 100% E400. I had the privilege of sampling the service on the first day and overall, I was pretty satisfied with the buses and the service. Unfortunately, I just missed one after a sprint from Staples Corner to Priestly Way, which meant that I was standing around next to a dual carriageway in the cold for 10 minutes. However, the E400 came quickly and delivered a smooth ride up to Burnt Oak, being spotless inside thanks to the refurbishment. I was faced with a 17 minute wait heading back to Brent Cross, although this was the longest gap I witnessed and is pretty decent for a first day. Both the Gemini 2 and Scania OmniCity (I got off in the middle and switched between these buses which happened to be in a bunching) were in a good condition, with the latter one being very busy with shoppers travelling to Brent Cross. This event was also popular with other enthusiasts, as there hadn't been any contract changes since November, leaving a rather quiet festive period. As a result, many of them were out and about on the first day and I certainly saw a few cameras on my travels.

RATP London Sovereign SP40135 is seen at the last stop in Brent Cross.
Generally, reliability has been excellent so far, with no real issues and London Sovereign trying their upmost to maintain a manageable service, which is mostly successful. The company also took over the operation of route 642, which takes a similar route to the 142 bar a deviation around Colindale and to the school it serves, which is in Stanmore rather than Watford. Bar the first day on Monday, where drivers ended up getting lost and the school buses arriving late, that route seems to be doing fine as well. Overall, the 142 change can be viewed as successful in almost every aspect and it looks like a promising and stable five years for regular users of the route. It seems that both of these 'green' services are in a good place and hopefully this proves to be the case over the next few years.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Squaring Up Sloane's Changes

Go-Ahead London have recently invested in a considerable number of new single deckers for routes running around the Sloane Square area, with the 360 receiving new BYD ADL E200 MMCs as a result of the low emission zone which this route enters, whilst the 170 has recently gained some Wrightbus Streetlite buses for its contract renewal. In addition to the excitement surrounding new buses, roadworks have resulted in a lengthy diversion in the area for the 170 and a temporary route installed for the next few months.

Go-Ahead London WES1 is seen at Elephant & Castle at the start of a journey to Royal Albert Hall.
Route 360 runs from the Royal Albert Hall to Elephant & Castle, via an interesting route that involves travelling through South Kensington, Sloane Square, Pimlico and Vauxhall. It has a 12 minute frequency during the day and is one of my favourite single deck services on offer in London, mainly because of the unique routeing which appreciates so many different areas in such a short space of time. From the bustling bewilderment of Elephant & Castle, the route passes the Imperial War Museum and travels through a run-down housing estate on Black Prince Road. Some stunning riverside views can be appreciated after this short section, before a beautiful Thames crossing which takes you into the upmarket parts of Pimlico. After another section alongside the water, the 360 randomly undertakes a double run to serve Bull Ring Gate, but after this it travels through some of the richest parts of London, around Sloane Square and Kensington. The cobbled Exhibition Road, home to the Science Museum, is very odd to travel down on a London bus, whilst the terminus at Royal Albert Hall is surprisingly quiet, with tall buildings surrounding and overshadowing the bus stand. There's simply nothing else like the 360 in this City, in regards to both its route and its allocation, although the variety might vanish soon with the recent introduction of electric buses.

On paper, the former allocation consisted of Wrightbus Electrocity hybrid single deckers and two batches worked the service, with the first seven buses being four years older than the last six. They have been the only examples in London for some time and I thoroughly enjoyed my travels on them, being considerably different to the plethora of boring E200s which are found on almost every other single deck services. Unfortunately, most of them have been withdrawn, although a couple have found new temporary homes on the 286 in South-East London (more on that later). In addition to the WHY-class Electrocity vehicles, some E200s from the P5 worked the route occasionally and a large number of demonstrator buses in the Go-Ahead London have found themselves on the 360 recently, ranging from a Wrightbus Streetlite to the prototype BYD integral electric single decker. However, the cherry on top is the occasional usage of an electric Wrightbus StreetAir vehicle, which is illustrated above. It's the only example of the type in service on the London network after more than a year of dummy runs. Its motor sounds very similar to a New Routemaster, although the bus feels very nippy and has really large windows which are perfect for viewing the fascinating surroundings on the 360. Despite the severe lack of seats, I really enjoyed my experience on the StreetAir and I do hope this type is ordered in substantial numbers for future orders. The two electric demonstrators are still in (intermittent) use on the 360 at the moment, along with the main allocation of BYD ADL E200 MMCs, which have recently entered service at Camberwell (Q) garage.

Go-Ahead London SEe57 is seen at the Royal Albert Hall.
This batch of 13 vehicles started to enter service towards the end of November, although a couple still haven't made it onto the route yet and another has temporarily migrated to North London in order to train route 153 drivers before its conversion to electric operation in February. Unusually, one of the 12m versions normally allocated the red arrow 507/521 services appeared on the 360 just before this batch entered service, without blinds too! These buses are much shorter than the previous examples found on the red arrow routes and do not have open boarding, so the traditional "board at the front, alight at the back" rule still applies. Unlike the red arrow vehicles, they do not have the upgraded iBus screen, although USB ports are conveniently still present and I strongly advise you remember to pack your phone charger when travelling on the 360! There seem to be plenty of seats and are almost like a completely different bus type to its predecessors, with the engine also sounding substantially different and being much quieter. My overall impression is that these vehicles are an adequate replacement for the old guard, being smooth and stylish as well as offering excellent on-board facilities. They are also still fairly unique in London, being only the second batch to hit the streets here, which follows the trend of having non-standard buses for the 360. I find them pleasant to travel on and in my opinion, the 360 is still as brilliant as it was before. There seems to be a positive response from drivers at Camberwell (Q) garage and hopefully this conversion can be viewed as successful by everyone.

Go-Ahead London WHY13 is seen in Blackheath on route 286.
 Due to the unreliability of the ADL Enviro 200s currently allocated to the 286, two of the ex-360 Wrightbus Electrocity vehicles have temporarily transferred to Morden Wharf (MG) garage whilst the 286 buses receive modifications. WHY8 and WHY13 won't be around for long, but if you want to say farewell to this lovely type an opportunity has unexpectedly risen. The route runs from Greenwich-Queen Mary's Hospital via Blackheath and Sidcup and the two buses often run together, which can be advantageous if you happen to miss one of them, but a real pain if your previous bus is so slow you end up not making both and have to wait 2 hours for them to return! Be pessimistic with your planning and hopefully you're successful in catching one.

Go-Ahead London DP200 is seen in Clapham Junction on route 170.
One of the busiest single deck services in London is numbered the 170, running from Roehampton to Victoria, via Putney Heath, Wandsworth, Clapham Junction and Sloane Square. Unfortunately, the residential section in Battersea prevents double deckers from running along the full route, resulting in buses that are consistently busy throughout the day and severely overcrowded during rush hour - Stockwell (SW) garage even occasionally put out E400 MMC DDs as short workings between Roehampton and Clapham Junction only. The former allocation consisted of ageing Dart Pointer vehicles and some newer ADL Enviro 200s, although unusually the latter type seem to have disappeared after the introduction of a partial allocation of new buses and the DP-class vehicles still soldier on.

Go-Ahead London WS106 is seen at London Victoria. It was lovely to see some Chelsea Pensioners using the bus, you can just make out their uniform towards the rear of the photo.
Thirteen Wrightbus Streetlites entered service in time for the contract renewal, which started on Saturday 9th December 2017. They are slightly longer than previous models ordered for route 491, which is crucial for the high loadings that this service receives and were initially meant to replace the Dart Pointer vehicles. Overall, they seem better than your average Streetlite, having a decent ride quality and the ability to reach decent speeds, proved by WS106 in the Sloane Square area. As a route, the 170 seems to be fairly interesting in terms of external surroundings, although riding it during quieter times will make a huge difference in the enjoyment of your ride, as being surrounded by a swarm of standees isn't really ideal. However, if you're fussy (like me) about only completing routes when it follows its allocated path, make sure to ride the 170 towards Victoria as the Roehampton-bound service is currently undertaking two lengthy diversions, with the second not finishing until March. One of them is in the Battersea area, where a safety issue on Lombard Road is sending buses away from the residential area there, whilst the second is as a result of gas works on Chelsea Embankment. This means that Roehampton buses are diverting via the King's Road instead, which is some distance away from the area around Royal Hospital Chelsea which the 170 serves alone. As a result, a temporary service has been set up until March to ensure that the bus stops along Royal Hospital Road are still served in both directions.

Go-Ahead London SEN34 is seen near Sloane Square, working temporary route 570, contrary to the destination display!
The temporary 570 service runs in an anti-clockwise loop, starting at the top of Royal Hospital Road, situated near Sloane Square. A bus stop here has been given the honour of allowing the 570s to stand here and after this they continue down the road until the junction of Chelsea Embankment, where buses turn left (instead of right which the 170 normally undertakes) and travel down a stretch of road not normally served by a London bus. This manoeuvre ensures the stop at Bull Ring Gate still has a bus service, as route 360 is unable to serve its double run here for some reason. It then follows the aforementioned service up to Sloane Square, via Chelsea Bridge Road, where it circumnavigates the square and travels back down to the stop at Royal Hospital Road, completing the circuit, which takes around 15 minutes in total. Generally, the route runs every 20 minutes, although occasionally a 40-minute gap becomes apparent due to the driver's compulsory meal relief. A peak vehicle requirement of 1 vehicle usually comes in the form of SEN34, an ADL E200 which used to live at Merton (AL) garage. However, it can now be found on the 570 almost every day, with a Wrightbus Streetlite form the 170 occasionally stepping in. Like most temporary services, the route is sparsely used, with drivers claiming to only pick up around 9 passengers, on average, for the entire day. Driving the 570 must be a pretty lonely duty and travelling in circles all day can't be particularly appealing, although this is what has to happen in order to serve a few quiet stops which simply can't be left unless they are physically closed. Its routeing is actually pretty fascinating, offering an intriguing insight into the Royal Hospital, Chelsea Physic Garden and the National Army Museum, before serving the Chelsea Embankment which has some breathtaking riverside views. Viewing the "posh" outlets around Sloane Square is always fun and the great news is that the bus is pretty much guaranteed to be empty, with the likelihood of having another passenger on board being small. Therefore, if you feel the need to kill 20 minutes around Sloane Square, why not try the 570? It won't cost you a penny either.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Introducing: Reading Buses

Since the introduction of the Reading Vehicle Finder, a growing fascination for their network has resulted in a trip out of London, to sample various routes over there. As an operator, I'm a big fan of their approach to running services, applying different colours for different corridors, having (generally) high frequencies and luxury features like free WiFi, high back seats and USB ports, along with audio-visual next stop information. There are also a wide range of bus types to try out, which can result in a very busy day. I shall certainly be returning to the town at some point, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip there and most of the routes radiate from the main shopping area and stay within the town itself, although there are services provided by other operators that generally travel much further, to places like Oxford and Henley.

This post should give you an introduction into the town and its network, although I'm still no expert yet and if some key information is missed please point it out in the comments box. For specific details I recommend using the Reading Buses website, which has timetables, maps and even a fleet list which can help in tracking specific buses on RVF. Their depot is based at Great Knollys Street, which is close to the town centre and there is even a Reading Buses shop located in the Broad Street Mall, where services include the provision of timetables, along with purchasing tickets and general enquiries. By taking you through each set of routes, a large variety of types will be documented and my views on each of them will be present too. Hopefully, you are able to enjoy this interlude from the London service changes and are tempted to try out their network yourself. In terms of fares, I would recommend using plusbus, by attaching a "simply reading" day ticket to your train ones, this not only helps save money, but also makes sure you can complete most of the routes in urban Reading for just £4 or maybe less. For more details, click here to investigate which ticket is best for you, although if you want to sample those that travel further afield, a more expensive "simply network" ticket might be better for you.

Reading Buses 1202 is seen on the 1 at St Mary's Butts.
Route 1 is labelled "jet black" and runs between Reading Station and Newbury, via Calcot, Theale and Midgham. It's one of the only routes to leave the "simply Reading" boundary and can be regarded as rural to some degree, taking up to 90 minutes from end-to-end. During the day, it runs every 30 minutes, with an hourly evening and Sunday service. The fleet consists of diesel E400s that are complete with a (sort of) black exterior repaint, with some being based at the Newbury depot rather than at Great Knollys Street. They contain high back seats and have free WiFi, although they should receive a refurbishment soon as some are looking a little tired.There are occasional odd workings on this service, with E400 MMCs that usually work the Newbury Vodaphone services sometimes appearing on the 1. It seems to be quite popular, with a mixture of residents and long distance travellers between the two towns, essentially acting as a trunk route. There haven't been too many complaints about reliability, although the lower frequency naturally helps this. Although I didn't sample the 1 on my trip, it looks like one of the more interesting routes found on the network, especially because it travels through the countryside and uses double deckers - it's probably the only example on the Reading network with this combination. So, if you decide to venture outside of the urban "simply Reading" boundary, perhaps starting you day with the 1 from Newbury is a good idea.

Reading Buses 434 is seen at St Mary's Butts on one of the occasional 2a trips to Tadley.
The lime 2 runs between Reading Station and Mortimer, with some deviations around Burghfield Common being labelled as the 2a. Some trips also extend beyond Mortimer to AWE Tadley, although this only occurs in peak hours, whilst others terminate at Mortimer Station rather than at Glennarp Grange. This route is also more rural in nature, spending a considerable amount of time outside the "Simply Reading" boundary and passing green fields, which blend in rather well with the lime colour scheme, which is applied to three gas-powered Scania Enviro 300 single deckers that are the mainstay of the lime 2 service. It takes around 45 minutes from end-to-end and both the 2 and 2a are coordinated to provide a half hourly service between them, which results in 4bph along the Bath Road corridor which is shared with the jet black 1. On Sundays and during the evening, an hourly frequency is provided. Although I didn't sample the lime 2, it seems to be quite decent for reaching high speed and travelling through the countryside, although there is no alternative for travelling back from Tadley or Mortimer other than using the same bus, unless you happen to catch one of the two trips per day that are extended to the station. The route is pretty busy in rush hour although loadings seem to be controlled during the day, with the 30-minute frequency matching demand well. Therefore, the lime 2 looks like a nice route if you have lots of time for travelling and the appropriate tickets for travelling further out.

Reading Buses 426 is seen on stand at Reading Station.
The leopard corridor now consists of five routes, all of which serve the Shinfield area South of the town centre. The main flow is along Shinfield Road, where 6 buses per hour are provided as a combination of all the services. Half of those are variations of route 3, which runs from Reading Station to Royal Berkshire Hospital, Shinfield and Aborfield Garrison, where some trips terminate. The others continue to either Wokingham or Bracknell (3b), with both of these towns receiving 1 bus per hour. On Sundays, only the 3b and 10 operate at an hourly frequency. These longer trips take around 60 minutes from end-to-end and this route also ventures out of the "Simply Reading" boundary (I can assure you, there really aren't as many as you might initially think). The allocation of gas-powered Scania Enviro 300s with the leopard livery is shared with the 10, which has one bus per hour to Spencers Wood, which is just South of Ducketts Farm and is also outside the boundary. This means that there is a 15-minute service along the Shinfield Road corridor provided by these Enviro 300s, with the number 3 buses also serving some rural areas. From my observations, all of these services load heavily, with the Bracknell and Wokingham 3s being particularly busy. Overall, these services seem like decent trunk routes, although I sampled one of the more anomalous routes along this corridor so personal experience can't confirm whether the sections beyond Ducketts Farm are interesting or not.

Reading Buses 185 is seen along Friar Street.
Reading Buses recently introduced the 10a route to supplement the existing services along the Shinfield Road corridor and provide a bus to the newly opened Thames Valley Science Park, which is close to Ducketts Farm. However, the latter destination has been the terminus of the 10a until recently, because the buses couldn't access the Park at the time. The route operates at a half hourly frequency (Monday-Saturday only) and seems to run a couple of minutes behind the number 3, meaning that it doesn't load very well (mine was empty despite it departing in the evening peak), although I suspect patronage will increase now that the Science Park is open. In terms of routeing, the service is quite interesting, passing through a mixture of shops and houses, although the main reason why I enjoyed the 10a is because of the gas-powered Optare Solo vehicles that operate the route. They are some of the quirkiest buses in the fleet, with the engine producing some amusing and questionable sounds throughout the journey - it's immediately obvious that these buses have been artificially modified. Even though they do operate on other services, an appearance on the 10a is almost guaranteed and it also runs within the "simply Reading" boundary as far as Ducketts Farm Roundabout with Thames Valley Science Park only being two minutes away.

Another oddity that runs locally is the weekday only X3 service, providing three return trips between Central Reading and Shinfield Park Foster Wheeler, running non-stop between these destinations and using the dual carriageway rather than Shinfield Road, with an allocation of double deck vehicles. Although this route should be brilliant for fast running theoretically, it only runs during rush hour so I suspect the X3 is full of traffic rather than speedy buses, although it might be worth giving the service a try just in case. I'm not too sure on loadings for this one as I didn't see the bus at all during my visit, but it seems like one of the stranger routes found in Reading. In conclusion, the Leopard corridor is one of the more varied examples out there, containing gas E300s that go to the countryside, double deckers that run at peak times to offices and nutty gas Solo's that stop within the boundary. Pretty good, I'd say.

Reading Buses 211 is seen on Friar Street working the X4 to Bracknell.
A recent acquisition for Reading Buses is the 4 and X4 services, previously operated by First Berkshire. Both "lion" routes run together from Reading to Wokingham, travelling via Earley and Winnersh, however after this they separate, with the 4 taking a much longer and indirect route to Bracknell, travelling via the Southern industrial and residential areas. The quicker X4 travels straight to Bracknell via the John Nike Ski Centre, which makes it the preferred option for travelling between the two towns - the 4 is mainly used by local residents. Both routes have two buses per hour, providing a combined 15-minute frequency along the shared section, from Monday to Saturday, with each route running hourly on Sundays and in the evening. The X4 is approximately 20 minutes faster, although traffic conditions often slow both routes down - unfortunately for the "lion" routes reliability isn't great. They run with a batch of ADL Enviro 400 hybrid buses that contain free WiFi and USB charging, although the interior seating is fairly basic for now - these vehicles used to run on the claret 21. Two diesel E400s also run the service and are identical in terms of their exterior branding. Odd workings are commonplace, with single deckers appearing from time to time. Both of these routes run outside of the "simply Reading" boundary, which ends at Earley. I haven't had the opportunity to sample these routes yet, although my preference would be to ride the X4 between Bracknell and Reading, especially if you wish to return to the town centre after riding the 3b. However, some people love residential routes that weave in and out of back roads, which does make the 4 service more appealing for this crowd. It seems that Reading Buses made the right decision in obtaining these routes when First surrendered, they seem to load fairly well and the new company have certainly undertaken improvements to make the routes more attractive to users.

Reading Buses 760 is seen at Station Road on the 5 to Northumberland Avenue.
Some of the busiest and more prolific routes in Reading are under the "emerald" brand. They run to and from dense housing areas South of the Reading Town Centre, travelling along urban corridors en route. The 5 originates at Northumberland Avenue and essentially travels in a straight line (bar one deviation in the middle) until Reading, where a one way system results in a massive loop around the town centre. It only takes 23 minutes from start to finish, with an 8 minute frequency at peak times. The 5 is one of a handful of 24-hour routes in Reading, with 1 bus per hour during the night. On Sunday, the frequency varies throughout the day, ranging from three buses per hour in the afternoon, to hourly in the mid-morning. Its batch of MMCs are fairly new and are built to a high specification, containing a smart black/green interior with USB charging, free WiFi and comfortable seating, along with the wood-effect flooring. They seem quite fast and are very nice to travel on - they would be some of my favourites if it wasn't for the massive screen which has been plastered over the front window. Couldn't the next stop info be placed anywhere else? With a window seat the view isn't obstructed too much, but it's a real pain when the bus is busy, which is often the case on the 5. Reliability seems bearable, with a very frequent service to cater for the high demand. Although the 5 seems like a nice urban route, it has a very loose schedule which means buses are regulating at almost every stop, something which I find extremely irritating when riding routes. Therefore, I suggest completing the 6 over this one.

Reading Buses 527 is seen on the 6 to Whitley Wood.
 Although the illustration may confuse you, the 6 is also an "emerald" service, running slightly to the West of where the 5 terminates at Northumberland Avenue. Although branded vehicles do make up most of the allocation, there are a fleet of spare buses that are painted in a generic "grey" livery and can turn up on any route. The example above is a DAF DB250 Gemini, which was purchased from Arriva London recently. They run on school services under the "silver stars" brand, although in rush hour they can turn up on anything where gaps are present in the branded vehicles. However, the 6 normally shares the same batch of lovely MMCs as the 5. It runs between Central Reading and Whitley Wood, along the Basingstoke Road corridor and the edge of Kennet Island. It is also an hourly 24 hour service, although during the day a 10 minute service is provided. The 6 has 3 buses per hour on Sundays. It's another short route, only taking around 30 minutes from start to finish, although the schedule is less relaxed and a fast-paced journey is more likely. This also means that reliability isn't always on point, with bunching being the most significant and apparent issue, although the high frequency means that gaps are usually bearable, even if the buses are heaving afterwards.  However, I do hope the tight schedule remains in use as otherwise the enjoyment of this route might be affected. Although I did travel on the entirety of the 6, the service I rode was actually a variation with a double run in the middle, which only runs a few times a day.

Reading Buses 765 is seen on the 6a to Tesco Depot.
Reading is also home to a huge Tesco Distribution Centre, located near Whitley Wood and the Madejski Stadium. The site operates on a three-shift basis and the 6a operates when changes occur, providing a few trips a day either transporting workers to or from this complex. Some trips only run between Reading Station and the Depot, whilst others simply undertake a double run in the middle of a 6 trip to or from Whitley Wood. The midday shift changes are the most accessible and I decided to take a ride then, on one of two departures to travel to Whitley Wood first, before travelling back to Reading via the Tesco Depot. Typically, the two buses bunched and leapfrogged each other for the entire journey, but thankfully the large crowd at Tesco were evenly distributed within the two buses that turned up simultaneously. In terms of routeing, the 6/6a are great for passing urban areas, with some housing towards the end. However, there are always other sights to see (like the Kennett Island retail area) and I found my journey very relaxing on the E400 MMC. The industrial interlude into Tesco was also interesting, making the difficulty in catching this journey feel rewarding. However, the normal 6 is arguably just as enjoyable and I would recommend riding this emerald service regardless of whether you catch one of the Tesco runs.

Admittedly, I only found out that Reading Buses runs a number 7 service a few days ago, after my trip there. It's one of the most elusive routes on the network, with no advertising and no colour-coded branding either. The 7 only runs during the evening (one or two trips in each direction) and on Sundays, where four return trips are provided. The route runs to Riseley, a small village located outside of the town centre and the "simply Reading" boundary, further South than Spencers Wood. In order to travel between Riseley and the Central Reading, the 7 goes to Kendrick Students Village and then uses Basingstoke Road like the 6, although instead of serving Whitley Wood it continues in a straight line further South than the M4. This service only runs at these quieter times because Stagecoach number 7 service stops before the evening and doesn't run on Sunday - it actually continues all the way to Aldershot. Presumably, they withdrew these short trips and Reading Buses stepped in to save them, so Riseley continues to have a (sort of) accessible bus service. The route is operated by single deck gas-powered Scania Enviro 300s and I would love to be able to try the 7, but unfortunately I wasn't in Reading late enough to be able to snap one. It looks like a somewhat interesting route, becoming rural after leaving the boundary and if you are committed enough to intercept one of these rare trips, you might be in for a treat.

Reading Buses 167 is seen on the 9 to Whitley Wood, using a bus that's colour-coded for the 12 but actually turns up on any of the Earley Gate routes.
Three infrequent single deck routes serve the Earley Gate (back entrance) of Reading University, along with the Royal Berkshire Hospital. After running along this corridor and providing a combined 20-minute frequency at times, each of them all set off on extremely indirect and tedious residential routes until reaching their respective termini. None of them run on Sundays. All three services use the same vehicles, which is a pool of white E200s branded as the "nineteens" and a solitary orange Wrightbus Streetlite, which should be used on the 12 (as it serves the orange Woodley area), although in reality it turns up on any of the three routes.

Routes 9 and 19 both serve similar areas and are often grouped together, although this wasn't always the case. The 9 actually had its own brand before, it had an allocation of gas-powered Scania E300s and was labelled the scarlet, running at a civilised 30-minute frequency - it was quite a substantial service in the Reading network. However, it seems that all of these scarlet buses have disappeared and are now found in different liveries on other routes, like the leopard services, presumably because the 9 wasn't used much. It now uses a neglected batch of E200s that trundle back and forth between Reading and the large one-way loop at Whitley Wood. The 9 takes considerably longer than the 6 to reach Central Reading, but it serves more housing and delves deeper into the estates at Whitley Wood and the edge of Shinfield Park. After running past the Royal Berkshire Hospital and University Of Reading, it serves side roads in a horizontal direction until ending up at the edge of Kennett Island, where the 9 runs along Basingstoke Road Southbound only, until Whitley Wood, where it curves around and joins the outbound routeing again at the edge of Shinfield Park, allowing the bus to travel back into Central Reading. Confusing, isn't it. The 9 generally runs at a dismal hourly frequency, with no buses at all during the morning and evening rush hour, bar two trips that run between 7 and 8pm, after a three hour service gap. The downfall of this service is unfortunate to see, especially with the frequency cut and unappealing bunch of buses.

One of the E200s is seen on route 19 to Lower Earley.
The 19 follows the 9 along the University corridor, until Earley where all three routes separate. This one continues straight down, past Chatton Close Asda, to serve the sprawling residential area of Lower Earley and specifically the part which the more substantial double deck Claret 21 doesn't reach. After navigating this, it completes a modest loop within Shinfield Park, which is self-contained within the baffling 9 circuit. The 19 then goes back to Lower Earley and makes its way up to Reading. It also has an hourly frequency, but unlike the 9 it actually runs in rush hour, with some more frequent intervals too. A full circuit can take well over 90 minutes and this route looks pretty tedious too, after the Earley Gate anyway. This route is very residential and indirect and not my cup of tea, but it serves a large part of the town I've never been to so I feel obliged to sample it at some point.

The final route along the corridor at the back of the University is the 12, which was introduced fairly recently to replace routes 19a and 19c. After the Earley separation point, the 12 crosses Wokingham Road and heads up to Woodley, where it serves a few inner roads which the substantial 13/14 circuit routes can't reach.  It then terminates fairly close to the town centre. It takes 55 minutes from start to finish, which is 30 minutes longer than the 13/14, but this route isn't meant to be a fast link into Central Reading, but rather a lifeline where mainstream routes are inaccessible. It runs at an hourly frequency, although in rush hour the bus terminates at Chequers rather than running all the way to Culver Drive in Woodley. The route is technically allocated the solitary orange Streetlite, although this isn't always the case and one of the "nineteens" branded E200s is often seen on the route. Like the other two, this one doesn't seem particularly interesting and spends 80% of its time going past houses, although the actual Earley Gate corridor itself could be fascinating, especially if there are glimpses of the university. Therefore, even though these routes may not seem appealing on the surface, being very residential and not running very often, they might be fun to ride on some degree and I'd definitely be inclined to try them out, even if they're not a top priority for exploring the town.

Reading Buses 419 is seen on route 11 to Coley Park.
 One of the shortest routes found in Reading is the 11, shuttling between the town centre and Coley Park, an inner-suburban housing settlement marooned between the A33 dual carriageway and the sprawling Southcote estates. The 11 has a peak vehicle requirement (PVR) of 2 gas-powered Enviro 300s, which satisfy the 20-minute frequency, in operation from Monday-Saturday. On Sundays, the route runs every 30 minutes, whilst the evening frequency is hourly seven days a week. There are two buses that are painted in the bronze livery, although other vehicles like the gas Optare Solo buses do appear occasionally. Overall, I can't find anything particularly interesting about the 11 in terms of its routeing, although if you need to kill time for 30 minutes I would recommend trying this out, purely to explore another area of the town. Most of the journey is spent travelling around the town centre anyway.

Reading Buses 903 is seen outside the Station.
In addition to the infrequent single deck service 12, two much more significant double deck routes serve the majority of the sprawling Woodley estate. Both of them follow each other until Cemetery Junction, although from here the 13 navigates the estate by travelling in an anti-clockwise loop, whilst the 14 heads in a clockwise direction, with the latter route serving Shepherds Hill, Chequers, Woodley Airfield, Earley and Bulmershe in this order. These routes are kept well-hidden from the town centre, terminating at the Station rather than negotiating the tedious loop involving St Mary's Butts and Friar Street. From Monday-Saturday, both routes run every 30 minutes, although this is reduced to hourly during evenings and Sundays. On Friday & Saturday nights some extra trips run until 3am on route 13 only. A fleet of six Wrightbus Streetdeck vehicles satisfy the PVR, although a generic grey DAF DB250 can often be found roaming around on the Woodley routes and is allocated as a spare. The main allocation is complete with an orange livery, with high back seats, WiFi and USB charging all present, along with the usual wood effect flooring. A few images of oranges (the fruit) have been plastered over the tables and ceiling and these buses even have a sofa upstairs, which is rather difficult to remain comfortable in as the bus navigates the tight corners of Woodley.

Admittedly, I did find route 13 a little tiresome, as much of the scenery in Woodley is identical, consisting of low-density housing with nothing much else to see, bar the occasional school or green space. The full circuit takes around 70 minutes to complete and there are certainly more fascinating parts of the town to admire. However, for residential route lovers this route is probably perfect and the fleet of high-specification Streetdecks are unique in the Reading fleet and I enjoyed my experience on them. So, perhaps the Woodley circular routes are some to try, perhaps for the bus type rather than the surroundings.

Reading Buses 840 is seen on route 15 to Calcot IKEA.
 Two routes are found under the sky blue brand, numbered the 15 and 16. The former route runs between Central Reading and Calcot IKEA, travelling through Oxford Road, Dee Park and Tilehurst Triangle in the process, with this journey taking around 35 minutes from start to finish. Some trips, numbered the 15a, only run as far as Dee Park, giving 4 buses per hour between this housing area and the Central Reading, as both services run half hourly, although the 15a doesn't run during evenings and Sundays. Both sky blue services are officially allocated a batch of Scania Olympus vehicles, although they are very worn out now and are proving troublesome in terms of reliability, so two ADL E400H vehicles are also branded for the 15/16 and the generic Scania OmniCity vehicles are frequent visitors to the services. Both routes have been affected by the closure of Cow Lane in recent times, which has resulted in congestion around Oxford Road and a deterioration in the reliability of these services, although controlled traffic is starting to return to the area now.

I sampled the 15 on my trip to Reading, taking an Olympus to Calcot, which sounded a little clapped out - the engine was screaming its head off and the bus struggled to maintain any kind of speed above 15mph on both the dual carriageway and the massive hills that this route has to undertake. This amusing bus helped to make the experience even more fun and the 15 is one of my favourite routes run by Reading Buses. Some of the via points are rather quaint and the sheer variety of areas this route passes through in such a short time period makes it constantly intriguing, with no boring parts at all. Although the approach out of Reading is urban, along the bustling Oxford Road, the route all of sudden becomes extremely hilly and serves Dee Park, a relatively new housing area that's surrounded by a power station and what appears to be the side of a valley, creating a rural atmosphere. After some fast running, the 15 briefly becomes residential, before passing the urban part of Tilehurst and the stunning water tower. Some sensational views of the Berkshire countryside can be found as the 15 curves its way downhill through green forest, until the final stretch of dual carriageway which leads it to Ikea and Sainsbury's, the terminus of the route. The 15 certainly isn't your average route and hopefully you can understand why I love it so much, it's definitely one to try out!

Reading Buses 843 is seen on route 16.
The other sky blue service runs much further North-West, terminating at Purley Chestnut Grove and serving a plethora of housing after abandoning the Oxford Road in Tilehurst. It seems heavily residential and serves a lot of homes alone, resulting in the service being fairly busy all the way through to Reading. A quarter-hourly service is provided from Monday-Friday, although this reduces to every 20 minutes on Saturday and becomes half hourly on Sunday - during the evenings there is generally a 60 minute frequency. The journey takes around 30 minutes to complete and Purley is a dead end in terms of having other services - the only option is to take the 16 back into town. The mixed allocation is shared with the 15 and both routes use the same vehicles, although the 16 does have a higher PVR. In terms of preference, the 15 seems more appealing than this route - largely residential routes like the 16 tend to have a lack of variety in terms of surroundings and this often makes rides boring, although as I haven't sampled the service yet I could be in for a surprise. However, riding the 15 (almost) guarantees a good experience in my opinion and if you had to choose one sky blue service to sample, it seems like a safer bet.

Reading Buses 220 is seen on route 17 to Tilehurst Water Tower.
The purple 17 can be seen as the flagship route of the company, remaining virtually unchanged since the trolleybus era. It is the only substantial cross-town service and doesn't terminate within Central Reading, originating at Tilehurst Water Tower and travelling to Wokingham Road Three Tuns, located near Earley. Intermediate destinations include the residential area of Norcot, the hubbub of Oxford Road and town centre (where buses operate in one-way sections), along with the exotic Cemetery Junction and the revolutionary contraflow bus lane on Wokingham Road. It's a rather urban service and I certainly find the route attractive - the company clearly take great pride in the service and it's a shame I didn't have the opportunity to sample the 17 on my trip. Regular users claim that it's the "backbone of the Reading network" and I would still recommend trying it out as it gives a great introduction to the town without venturing too far out. The 17 is another 24-hour service (running half hourly throughout the night) and has a 7-8 minute peak frequency, with 6bph on Sundays and a 15-20 minute service during the evening, with some trips curtailing at the town centre for operational convenience. Up to 17 buses are required for peak time operation, which is the highest example on the Reading network.

Reading Buses 1101 is seen on the 17.
Generic spare vehicles frequently find themselves on the 17, especially because the route has donated two of its E40Hs to the sky blue 15/16 prematurely, allowing some of the unreliable Scania Olympus buses to undertake an early withdrawal. The main allocation of the route has consisted of ADL Enviro 400 hybrid vehicles for a few years, being rather basic in terms of their interior, with no wood effect or high back seats. However, these vehicles should be receiving a heavy refurbishment soon and conversion to diesel, along with a transfer to the pink/sky blue services, as a brand new batch of vehicles have started to enter service on the purple 17 very recently, typically only two days after my visit to the town! After extensive summer trials on the route, which involved a New Routemaster, hybrid Plaxton President and an ADL E40H MMC City, the latter vehicle has been chosen as the worthy replacement of the old guard, albeit in the form of gas-powered Scania N280UD models.  They are also the first buses on the network to feature dual doors, something which will be particularly beneficial to the 17 route - as it crosses the town centre there is a lot of simultaneous boarding and alighting and hopefully the second exit will help speed up the journey. The City vehicles have been built to a high specification, with a purple livery containing all the interior luxuries, or necessities, found on other new vehicles on the network. So far, the feedback has been positive and hopefully they settle into the 17 comfortably and continue to provide for one of the most successful and popular routes in Reading.

An E400 MMC navigates Friar Street on route 21.

The claret 21 runs between Reading Station and the residential part of Lower Earley, via Reading University. It's another main trunk route radiating out of the town centre and is one of the busiest on the network, having a quarter-hourly service between Lower Earley and Central Reading, with additional trips during term time boosting the frequency to 8bph between the town centre and Reading University. The Sunday frequency consists of 3bph, whilst evenings and Friday/Saturday nights have a half-hourly service, with this reducing to hourly on Monday-Thursday nights ; the 21 is another 24-hour service running to the South-East of the town centre. A full circuit takes around 65 minutes and despite the residential nature of the service, I really enjoyed my trip on the 21. There's a wide range of different housing areas, from the large mansion-style homes near the university, to the typical outer-suburban settlement of Earley, although there are frequent breaks including green spaces and retail areas, making the route both balanced and a relaxing experience.
Reading Buses 807 is seen on the 21.
Two bus types are officially allocated to the 21. The five claret branded ADL E400 MMCs are some of the first examples of this populous type found in the UK, with Reading Buses receiving them before London's first batch. They contain all the usual specifications and seem like decent vehicles, with the Lower Earley service sometimes operated with these vehicles alone during term time. However, I sampled the service by using the more interesting part of the allocation. Four Scania OmniDekka vehicles, which are rather old compared to the rest of the modern fleet,
have been heavily refurbished and work the 21a shuttle between the town centre and Reading University during term time. These vehicles are called  Claret spritzers and on the surface they might look like typical branded Reading buses. However, the upstairs interior has a rather radical design, which is meant to be appropriate for the university students who are the regular users of the 21a. Towards the rear seating is in a social style, with tables and a U-shaped booth. There are three zones, with the front portion of the bus being dubbed the "study zone", where people can simply sit down and enjoy the view (like I did) or get on with work - unusually on the right hand side the seats are isolated rather than being in a pair. There is also a lamp for anyone wishing to study, although unfortunately the light bulb has been stolen on 807. In the middle there's the spritzer library, where people can exchange different novels by placing them on the bookcase and collecting another, but on my trip it was empty. The play zone contains tables which should have tablets embedded into them, along with board games and lego, although none of these luxuries were present on my bus. At the rear there is the lounge zone, with the seating booth, contactless phone chargers and an mp3 jukebox, which can be connected to electronic devices in order to play music on the bus, although this seemed to be dead too. Even though students seem to have taken advantage of these spritzer vehicles and almost nothing works, the interior is quirky and they're still a pleasure to travel on. They don't just run during term time either, they are frequently found on the Earley service and other Reading routes during holidays. The revamped OmniDekka's are certainly some of my favourite vehicles in the fleet and I definitely recommend you take a ride on one.

Reading Buses 201 is seen on the yellow 26 at Calcot IKEA
Route 26 runs between Calcot IKEA and Reading Station, via an assortment of housing areas just South of the Bath Road, including Southcote and Kennet Valley. It runs every 10 minutes during the week, every 12 minutes on Saturdays and every 20 minutes on Sundays, with the evening frequency being half hourly. An hourly night service is provided, making this the last 24 hour route found on the network and another one of the busiest. I sampled the service after travelling on the 15 and felt pretty disappointed after alighting in Reading town centre. Apart from the superstores and high street at either end, the whole route is just constant housing with nothing else to look at and a rather daunting continuous array of side streets, which the 26 serves in great detail, taking a rather indirect route in comparison to the jet black 1, although end-to-end journey time is only 30 minutes. Even though I recommend travelling to Calcot IKEA via the 15, your return journey will be much more fun by taking the number 1 service from Sainsbury's, a 2 minute walk away. However, it is half-hourly and if you are pushed for time and that bus isn't coming for a while, it's fine to endure the 26 - just don't expect it to be anything interesting!

Reading Buses 803 is seen on stand at IKEA.
The yellow 26 is allocated six ADL E40Hs and are the first examples of this type in the fleet. Unfortunately, one of them caught fire recently so the sequence is incomplete. They are feeling very worn out now, with a basic interior and frequent breakdowns. Spare, generic buses are found on the 26 regularly and it's a shame to see the allocation in such a sorry state. Thankfully, a major refurbishment programme is planned and hopefully they can be restored to an acceptable condition, perhaps with a more appealing interior and some modifications to make them more reliable and regular on the yellow 26. It seems to be a very popular route already and extremely useful for the large number of residents living along the line of route, so it can be viewed as successful even if it's not enjoyable.

Reading Buses 704 is seen on route 33.
The royal blue 33 runs between Central Reading and the Turnham's Farm estate, via Tilehurst Road and Tilehurst Triangle. A supplementary 33a service terminates here rather than continuing to complete the loop at Turnham's Farm, although this service picks up some passengers of its own by using exclusive roads just before the terminus. It then returns via the main 33 line of route. From Monday-Saturday, both routes run every 20 minutes, providing 6bph along the core Tilehurst Road corridor, with three of these continuing to Turnham's Farm. The 33a doesn't run during the evenings and on Sundays, with the 33 running hourly and half-hourly respectively at these times. Reliability isn't great, with buses frequently running in a convoy - mine was part of a triple bunching heading into Reading.

Personally, I feel that the route could be a candidate for 24-hour operation, as it serves a large chunk of residential housing that's isolated from the rest of the night network and the route seems to be quite busy overall, with lots of demand for both services. Nevertheless, I sampled the 33a service on my trip (due to time constraints I couldn't continue all the way to Turnham's Farm) and the route was decent. I was entertained throughout the journey, even though much of it is residential in nature. There are occasional green spaces or unique buildings to look at, although the Turnham's Farm section does look pretty tedious with pure housing and a couple of schools. However, the most interesting element of the 33, in my opinion, is its allocation. Two ex-Claret diesel MMCs are branded for the service, but the five gas powered versions are what appeals to me. They are some of the first double deck examples of gas powered buses in the UK and are in the form of five ADL Enviro 400 MMC-bodied Scania N280UD vehicles. In terms of engine, they sound pretty similar to a regular OmniCity, except that the tone is more refined and the build quality is superb, offering a smooth ride and a motor which is satisfying to listen to. They have comfortable seating and all the Reading Buses extras, making them some of my favourite modern buses in the fleet. Therefore, I recommend catching a 33 to Tilehurst purely because of these buses ; you don't usually find them elsewhere. 

Reading Buses 431 is seen on Friar Street.
All Reading Buses routes running North of the River Thames, to the various settlements in Caversham, are branded in a striking pink livery. These routes have been struggling recently after the disruptive Cow Lane closure, causing horrible traffic queues all along the approach into Central Reading - as a result I saved sampling these pink services for another trip to avoid the mayhem.  There are two major single deck routes, numbered the 22 and 25. The former service serves the Westernmost area North of the Thames, called Caversham Heights. It completes an extensive one-way loop around the settlement, before returning quickly to the town centre and using the Western bridge and completing another circuit around Central Reading, involving the use of Friar Street and the Northern forecourt of Reading Station. Monday-Saturday daytime frequencies are set at every 30 minutes, with an hourly service provided during the evenings and on Sunday. However, patronage on this route has been falling rapidly and future cuts can be expected, which is a real shame as the 22 is the only bus serving Caversham Heights, which seems like a potentially profitable area. It uses two gas-powered Scania E300s which are completed in a pink livery, although the generic gas buses also make regular appearances, along with the occasional double deckers. The 22 seems like quite an interesting route and I'd like to sample the service once the works are over.

The pink 25 is the only service to leave the "simply Reading" boundary on the Northern side of the town and is the last example to talk about that does this. It undertakes a loop in Central Reading and uses the Eastern crossing to leave the town centre. Instead of faffing around in the housing settlement, the 25 takes the most direct route through Caversham, being significantly quicker than the 24 or 23 in reaching Emmer Green, the end of the "simply Reading" zone. After this, the 25 becomes somewhat rural, serving the small villages of Sonning Common and Peppard Common, where it terminates. Route 25 fascinates me, not only because it goes to a large chunk of Berkshire on its own, but because of the isolated settlements and villages in the middle of the countryisde that it serves in detail- it's one of the only routes on the Reading network to do this, and if you invest in the more expensive "simply Network" ticket I'm sure using the 25 will be interesting, if you like looking at nature. A modest frequency of every 30 minutes is in place from Monday-Saturday, with this reducing to hourly on Sundays. Surprisingly, this route doesn't run late in the evenings, with the whole service packing up by 20:45. Its allocation is shared with the 22, using the pink gas-powered E300s and only two of these are required to run the service at peak times, due to tight timetabling. Overall, the pink single deckers seem to be largely interesting, with the 25 being particularly unusual.

Reading Buses 1104 is seen on the 24 to Emmer Green.
One of the double deck Caversham pink routes is the 24, taking a somewhat direct route to the terminus at Emmer Green, although the 25 is quicker by around 4 minutes. The 24 takes the Western crossing out of Central Reading and serves Caversham Library before continuing on its twisty route to Emmer Green, although it doesn't deviate to serve any separate estates throughout its journey. In terms of routeing, the 24 doesn't stand out as being particularly interesting, being very short in nature and serving nothing but houses and shops in the town centre. However, viewing the River Thames from the top deck does sound pleasant and if you don't fancy taking the 25 all the way to Peppard Common and back, bailing at Emmer Green on the return and taking the 24 instead might make the journey more varied. Three buses satisfy a 20-minute frequency, which reduces to half-hourly and hourly on Sundays and during the evening, with what appears to be some generous stand time at Reading Friar Street. The 24 runs with pink Scania OmniCity vehicles, although these will be replaced next year with existing E400s which are currently in the process of being removed from the purple 17 and converted back to diesel. Therefore, the 24 seems like a fairly popular short and useful commuter service linking Caversham residents with the town centre very efficiently.

One of the generic OmniCity vehicles is seen on Friar Street. The blind clarity isn't great on these vehicles - the destination is Caversham Park.
The other double deck pink service is numbered the 23, using Reading Bridge to serve the Eastern parts of Caversham, before undertaking a large one-way anti-clockwise loop around Caversham Park, with the Emmer Green interchange point situated roughly in the middle. During the week three buses are used at peak times, allowing a 20-minute frequency throughout the 35 minute journey time for one complete rounder, although this reduces to half-hourly on Sundays and the typical 60-minute evening frequency applies for this route. One large batch of Scania OmniCity vehicles is shared with the 24, although occasionally generic grey vehicles can appear, including the example illustrated above. The 23 is one of the busiest Caversham services, serving a rather dense area and its frequency wasn't affected by the recent Caversham consultation, which proposed reductions and changes to many routes in this loss-making area, however most of these aren't going ahead, bar some cuts on route 22 and restructuring of routes 27 and 29 (see below). Overall, there doesn't seem to be anything outstanding about the 23, but it has double deckers and serves one of the residential areas further than most from the town centre, so there might be a few rural elements too. Like the 24, ex-17 E400s will displace the current Scania vehicles after their conversion to diesel.

Reading Buses 654 is seen on Friar Street working route 29.
Two of the shortest routes on the network are routes 27 and 29, which both originate or terminate at the residential part of Lower Caversham, which is fairly close to Central Reading. Buses that take the more direct routeing to and from the settlement are numbered the 29 and this route runs every 30 minutes during the day, with a total circuit taking 22 minutes, however the frequency returning to the town centre is only hourly, as the one vehicle flips its blind to become the hourly 27, which only runs to Central Reading, although after 7pm this is not the case. The 27 serves shops located on Church Street in Caversham and takes a much longer route into Reading - after its single journey the bus flips its blind again to become a 29. However, changes will occur from next year, which sees both services becoming circular routes, enabling a more direct return routeing from Caversham Church Street, rather than enduring a cumbersome one-way loop which involves travelling through the town centre and going through the process of changing number. The usual allocation consists of a pink Wrightbus Streetlite, although a grey E200 is sometimes used instead. Overall, these routes seem to be popular, even if the allocation isn't attractive for me.

 The community link services 18, 28 and 28a are funded by the council and travel down roads that can't be served by the main bus corridors, with all three following a rather complicated service pattern. Route 28 is the most apparent of all three and has lots of different short trips that take place throughout the day, but three services seem to serve every destination. The 28 originates at Kentwood and travels through Tilehurst, before using some more side roads and following the main Bath Road corridor into Central Reading. Whilst some trips either terminate or start here, others continue undertake a double run in order to serve King's Meadow Tesco and then another one to serve Rivermead Leisure Centre - buses can terminate at both of these places. After this, three trips per day carry on in order to reach Caversham and its Park Village, which is also served by the pink 23. The routeing is extremely indirect and there are so many different variants of the 28 service, although hopefully this should give you a general idea of where the route runs. A 28a service serves some additional roads in Southcote, with one trip in the morning which extends to Caversham and three in the evening, starting at either Tesco or Reading Station and continuing to Kentwood. An 18 service also runs one trip between Tesco and Kentwood in the morning and three in the evening back to the town centre. These routes usually run with the gas-powered Optare Solo vehicles and there isn't really a general frequency, with passengers relying on specific times instead. There is no service on weekends. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding from Reading Borough Council, these community link services will be withdrawn from April 2018, as Reading Buses won't be taking on these routes commercially, which is a real shame as some large areas of the town will be unserved as a result. However, these buses often run empty and it seems that they are no longer economically viable. Despite these cuts, the other community link service, numbered the 42, will continue to run.

Reading Buses 381 is seen on the 42a to Central Reading.
Although it's advertised as a bus service, van-like vehicles are the allocation of this service, with no recent appearances of anything longer in terms of length. The buzz 42 runs between Rivermead and Kenavon Drive, two settlements located a few minutes East or West from the town centre that don't have a mainstream bus service. Through services are numbered the 42, although in the morning and evening peak the Rivermead element doens't run, with the short Kenavon Drive-Central Reading trips called the 42a. The one vehicle can provide a 40 minute frequency when running to both areas, although in rush hour a bus arrives/departs at Kenavon Drive every 25 minutes. On Saturdays, the Rivermead service runs all day apart from one 42a trip in the evening and there is no service on Sundays. The previous allocation consisted of a Mercedes Sprinter minibus vehicle, which I sampled on my trip to Reading. It's a dinky little thing, seating roughly 18 people (which was plenty of space for the six passengers on board) and has a rather grim interior, with dark blue seating and some dim lighting, although it was good enough and certainly made for an interesting journey, with nothing like this in London being classified as a bus service. Although the Kenavon Drive area is mainly residential with a retail park next door, I found my 42 experience both amusing and enjoyable, with the tiny van and basic facilities making the service seem even more crazy. Surprisingly, this route is evidently a success as I believe this one has escaped withdrawal despite it also being a community link service - it must be a lifeline to both Kenavon Drive and Rivermead residents. This service has also received a recent upgrade, with a brand new Mellor Strata vehicle entering service recently on the buzz 42, which features bright lighting and an upgraded interior, with high back seats, headrests and a better ride quality - it is apparently much smoother and less rattly than its predecessor. Hopefully, regular users of the 42 appreciate their new bus and I would actually recommend you give this one a try, especially if you need to waste time, as a full rounder to and from Kenavon Drive only takes around 15 minutes.

Reading Buses 402 is seen on the Greenwave service 53 in Central Reading.
The final group of routes in Reading are the Greenwave services, which all run South of the town centre and serve a variety of destinations there, including the Tesco Distribution Centre (limited service), Reading International Business Park, Mereoak Park & Ride, Madejski Stadium, Green Park and Kennett Island. In my opinion, some of their routes are quite easily the best on the network, although understanding the timetable is virtually impossible with an extremely complicated layout and service pattern, so my advice would be to either simply rely on this page as the mainstream routes run fairly regularly, unless you want to catch a specific journey. In that case, I would recommend using the Traveline South East website and simply typing in Reading Buses into the operator search box - that way every service operated by them is shown and this includes all of the Greenwave variants and these are all shown individually here. There are actually 22 different routes which come under the Greenwave brand, with some running all day and others only having one or two trips at unsociable hours, although each general area is served at all times when there is demand. The easiest time to travel is during the middle of the day on Monday-Friday or on a Sunday if you want to trvael through most of the areas, although I will provide information about routes running during other times too.

Personally, I wouldn't bother trying to use a bus that serves the Tesco Depot, there's nothing much to see bar a massive warehouse and the timings are extremely inconvenient - you can probably catch a  glimpse of it on the 60 service anyway. If you travel on a weekday, I would recommend using the Greenwave services between 9:45 and 13:00, before and after all the other messy route variants kick in. To start, take the 53 from Reading Town Centre to Madejski Stadium (this takes you via Green Park) and then take the 50a service from the Stadium back to Central Reading, this route takes you through Kennet Island. After this, use any route 60 variant that turns up apart from the 60X and this covers both Reading International Business Park and Mereoak Park & Ride - you'll probably end up using the same bus to head back into town. The total journey time for travelling on all three routes is around 135 minutes, which does sound like a lot, although this does cover pretty much everywhere on the Greenwave network and you might be inclined to skip out a route or two once I give details about where they go.

Reading Buses 409 is seen on route 50a at the Madejski Stadium.
Travelling on a Saturday isn't brilliant for using Greenwave, with Reading International Business Park being inaccessible and all the services being cut off from each other. I'd suggest taking route 52b from Central Reading as this takes you through Kennet Island and terminates in Green Park. After taking the same bus back into town, take any route 60 variant (apart from the 60X) to Mereoak Park &  Ride and back into Central Reading. This should also take around 2 hours and does cover a decent amount of the areas served, although I'd check football match times before travelling as this can cause lots of traffic around the Greenwave areas.

Sunday is surprisingly a really good day for using Greenwave, although travelling on the rest of the Reading network can be a pain. There's a service called the 62a which runs hourly from Central Reading and serves Kennet Island, Green Park and Mereoak all in one journey, with the other areas all visible from the bus. Travelling there and back takes around an hour and you can cover a decent amount of this industrial area, although checking for football/rugby matches is always a good idea.

A generic gas-powered E300 is seen in Reading Town Centre.
You're probably wondering why I've made the effort to try and understand this complex affair. It's because the Greenwave services are my favourite routes on the network and I absolutely love everything about them. All routes use the A33 dual carriageway at some point, enabling some fast running with these gas-powered Scania Enviro 300s, which are actually really fast buses. Route 63 to Mereoak is especially good for this, with a 10-15 minute non-stop section between Central Reading and the Business Park and that's the main reason why I suggest you try out this service, although it doesn't cover many new areas and if thrash isn't really your thing then perhaps it's one to leave. The other two services, which conveniently go hand in hand, the 50a and 53, take you through some of the weird yet wonderful parts of this town (the Saturday 52b and Sunday 62a also do this).

Kennet Island used to be really industrial and there is still evidence of old warehouses and factories, some of which are abandoned, although a bunch of new homes have been built near the dual carriageway, along with a retail park. The contrast between the modern residential architecture and the abandoned, derelict and forgotten factories which lie so close by make this area strange yet satisfying to travel through, as if you've so many different sides of the town all in around 5 minutes. The nearby A33 also provides the constant noise of various vehicles roaring by at high speed and it was definitely one of my favourite places to travel through on my trip.

When there are no matches, the terminus at the Madejski Stadium feels desolate and lonely - a bunch of parked cars and a massive, daunting sporting venue essentially in the middle of nowhere, with not many people walking around and the sight of factories in the distance. From here, the 53 takes you through Green Park, which is essentially a business park not dissimilar to Stockley Park and Chiswick Business Park in London. Although there are so many tall and metallic offices, green space surrounds the sole through road, Longwater Avenue, and there are lakes and patches of water everywhere. The whole area feels quiet and is almost always deserted, with the nature outside being quite the opposite to the thriving technology inside the buildings. Beyond the offices, a housing development is being built opposite the lake with some of the homes next to the dual carriageway - seeing a construction site in action is always intriguing and it will be nice to see the finished product in a few years. A railway station along the GWR Reading-Basingstoke line will open here in 2020. I hope my description gives you a vague idea of why I loved travelling through Green Park and the justification for route 53 being my favourite on the Reading network, having both fast running and some interesting sights to pass through too, with the quiet terminus being the cherry on top.

There is another service operated by Reading Buses that goes to Winnersh Park & Ride, but it uses a bog-standard E200 and runs outside of the boundary, so personally I wouldn't bother. They seem to be quite elusive anyway and I was unsuccessful in snapping one during my trip.

Reading Buses 526 is seen on the 33 to Turnham's Farm.
I hope this post has given you working knowledge of the network now, being rather legnthy in nature and hopefully not having too many misleading facts - a month ago I couldn't name a single route in the area so I've had to learn all of this quite quickly! Remember to use Reading Vehicle Finder to track specific vehicles, consult timetables if necessary, give the exact fare on the bus (as drivers don't give change) and either buy a simply reading or simply network ticket if travelling for the whole day, but I'm still not sure if the latter fare is valid on all rural routes, so please double check beforehand! If you have any further questions for planning (like if you're struggling to sequence all your preferred routes together) or about the network itself, please don't hesitate to drop a comment in the box below, I'm more than happy to help.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and hopefully you enjoy the Reading network if you go there, just like I did.