Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Busageddon: SD Major Model Change Catch-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Busageddon: Orpington "Roundabout" Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Random Route: The 215

The 215 runs from Walthamstow Central-Lea Valley Campsite, passing through Crooked Billet, Chingford Mount and Yardley Lane, acting as a relief route for the busy 97, but also providing links from the Yardley Lane Estate to Walthamstow Town Centre. It runs every 20 minutes from Monday-Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sunday, running from Stagecoach London's Leyton (T) garage, with existing ADL Enviro 400 vehicles. It can get quite busy if the 97 doesn't show up, but generally the route is fairly quiet along the busy corridors it serves. I rode this route back in April and loved it for the unique experience it provided at the Northern end, but also due to the somewhat interesting external surroundings on the more mainstream section in Walthamstow.

Stagecoach London 10116 stands at Lea Valley Campsite.
I arrived at Walthamstow Bus Station with five minutes until my 13:19 departure was due to leave and a surprisingly low number of people boarded the bus, with only two other travellers making it upstairs. The bus eventually left the busy Walthamstow Bus Station and turned left twice onto Hoe Street, which was thriving with shoppers visiting the various independant retailers, which weren't considered to be upmarket enough for exhibition in The Mall Shopping Centre. A large number of bus services run along this particular stretch of road, so the traffic was fairly heavy, but my bus continued to move at a decent pace through the shopping street. Eventually, the bus crossed Bell Corner, an important junction which leads to Tottenham in the West and Woodford in the East, but the 215 continued straight on into Chingford, where suburbia revealed itself and a seemingly endless array of terraced housing stretched out into the distance, but eventually the road twisted and turned and revealed some charming green space which was aesthetically pleasing, even if it formed a college rather than a recreation ground. A brief array of restaurants and local convenience stores followed shortly, just before a rather daunting roundabout, where the 215 paused at the traffic lights for some time, before embracing Crooked Billet.

The number 34 in front raced down the North Circular Road, but the 215 continued heading North and met an unusually large traffic jam, which appeared to be for the Sainsbury's superstore to the left. However, this gave me more time to admire the stunning view of the former Walthamstow Stadium site, which used to be a greyhound racing track, but unfortunately the builders were present and it seems more flats will magically appear as a replacement for this unique site. Less than a few minutes away from Sainsbury's, a Morrisons appeared in the middle of the next residential segment, before the next cluster of local convenience stores, which seemed to be marooned just outside of the fairly substantial high street of Chingford Mount, consisting of all the local necessities (such as Boots & Shoe Zone), but nothing too fancy, as that requires a trip to Walthamstow!

Chingford Mount seemed to be centred round an obelisk, which is incidentally found in the exact location of the bus stand for routes 158 and W16, which was getting rather overcrowded as my 215 went past. Eventually, the high street came to an abrupt halt when the 215 was forced to negotiate a very steep hill (and we were pretty successful in doing so), before the next residential section of North Chingford, which contained a mixture of detached and semi-detached housing, being slightly more affluent than the previous areas. The next roundabout determined the pathway of my bus, where it finally split off from the 97 into what initially seemed like deciduous woodland, although the iBus announcement revealed that the sudden influx of trees was due to Mansfield Park, which is different to the estate in Chessington and the novel by Jane Austin!

The highlight of the trip was at this moment, where I absorbed a breathtaking view of the William Girling Reservoir and the industrial factories of Brimsdown on the other side of the water; despite the experience only being momentary; I will still treasure that image for many years to come. The 215 then descended down Mansfield Hill at high speed, before joining the traffic queue to join the A110, the first reservoir crossing for some time. However, my bus decided to buck the trend and continue heading out of Greater London, into the depths of Yardley Lane, where the main road divided the residential housing and the valley on my left, where the pylons of North London could be seen in the far distance behind the grass. The bus reached some very high speeds along the A112, in the middle of the deserted area of Sewardstone, until the lay-by of Yardley Lane, where the 215 used to terminate in Winter months, although the route now runs to Lee Valley all year long.

I was surprised to find my fellow companions upstairs still on board, suggesting that the link from Walthamstow to the Campsite is fairly popular, or they might've been fellow enthusiasts. The twists and turns in between the peaceful green fields didn't prevent my driver from thrashing through the countryside and the reservoir revealed itself once more, enabling me to digest the stunning panorama visible from the top deck. The view lasted for much longer this time and the road was completely empty, apart from a couple of ramblers walking below, but the experience ended far too soon, when the 215 turned left into the campsite, terminating just outside the various caravans and cottages located in this part of Rural Britain. This stand is one of the most unusual in London, found in a remote settlement amongst boundless, never-ending green space.

Even if the start was a little repetitive, I loved my experience on the 215; it's certainly one of the most unique double deck routes in London, providing some fabulous views that can only be seen from the top deck of a bus. If you like a mixture of urban settlements and rural countryside, this route is perfect for you and I highly recommend you try it out, preferably sitting upstairs "at the front, on the left", the typical enthusiast seat. This route has been awarded 8/10 and placed at number 51/256 on my revamped route ratings page, which has been converted to a linked spreadsheet, ranking every bus route in London I've ridden in addition to the ratings I previously provided. I've also added a new poll on the main page about Oxford Street buses, please vote!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Note: I apologise for the delay in the Orpington Changes post, my bus trip yesterday was cancelled unexpectedly, but I hope to publish this next week.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Busageddon: Hounslow & Hackney: July 2017

Routes 110, 120, 236, 254 and 394 have gained (mostly) brand new vehicles, as a result of contract changes/renewals that have taken place recently. All five of these routes enter the areas of Hounslow and Hackney and consequently they've been invaded by bus enthusiasts from all over London to take pictures and ride some of the newest buses in this city. Chronologically, the Hackney routes changed first, so we commence in the heart of North-East London, specifically on Hackney Community Transport.

CT Plus 1279 stands at Homerton Hospital, in between duties on route 394.
The 394 is one of the lesser-known single deck routes in zone 1, heading straight out of Islington Angel to terminate at Homerton Hospital, through an assortment of residential back streets in the areas of Hoxton and Hackney, taking a fairly indirect route between the two town centres, serving Hoxton Street Market, Hoxton Overground Station, Geffrye Museum, Haggerston Park, London Fields, Broadway Market and a large number of housing estates in the process. It runs every 12 minutes for the majority of the week and every 20 minutes on Sundays and it can get pretty busy, ferrying people to the shops from their houses. Due to the extremely narrow roads and tight turns this route negotiates, the 394 used to be allocated narrow Dart Nimbus vehicles that could cope with travelling along the route, nicknamed "Caetano Slimbuses", although these are no longer available and on the most recent contract renewal standard 9.0m single-door MMCs were ordered; these are based at Ash Grove (HK) garage which the route passes. They entered service at the end of April and have strayed onto routes 153 and W5, but they mainly stick to the 394 as it requires a specific allocation. Having said that, I once saw a 9.6m E200 on the route at Islington Angel, whether it made it to Homerton Hospital without a few parts missing is another matter!

CT Plus 1272 at Homerton, displaying the new-style Islington Angel blind, which looks rather ugly.
The 394 is certainly a quirky little route, serving some unique areas that the mainstream DD routes that radiate out of Central London simply can't reach. It's certainly a community route with various residents greeting each other on my trip, perfectly suited to CT Plus (Hackney Community Transport), who run the route pretty well from their Ash Grove base. I rode the route from Homerton-Angel yesterday and I enjoyed the experience: even with a few boring sections of relentless tower blocks, the number of interesting, new areas I passed through was superb, especially around Broadway Market, which was thriving in the Saturday evening sunshine, with London Fields and Regent's Canal just around the corner. The journey was quiet (another 394 was a few minutes in front) and it wasn't too long either, meaning that I wasn't fed up after reaching the terminus, unlike some residential SD routes.  There were also some random quirks, such as the unnecessarily long trip around the entirety of Angel to reach the bus stand, which is always a bonus for me. The wider new bus frequently became stuck in the narrow roads, although some careful and professional driving ensured that I had a safe journey through to Angel, and it's certainly one of the more interesting residential single deck routes out there, equipped with decent brand new MMCs. Hopefully CT Plus can maintain their excellent service for the next five years and I wish them luck in doing so!

Tower Transit WV46212 works route 236 to Hackney Wick.

London gained its first new Streetlite vehicles of the year with the contract renewal of route 236, running between Hackney Wick and Finsbury Park Station, via Homerton, Haggerston, Dalston and Newington Green. It's not particularly direct, but does offer some crucial links for local residents and runs at a high frequency of every 8 minutes to cater for the popularity of this service. Many enthusiasts were hoping for a double deck conversion of the 236 upon contract renewal, but new Streetlite vehicles were ordered instead by Tower Transit, who are running the route from their Lea Interchange garage. The 236 used to be one of a small number of single deck routes that ran 24/7, although this is no longer the case and it now starts early (0355) and finishes late (0141), leaving a mere two hour gap without service. The contract renewal date was Saturday 29th April, although the new Streetlite vehicles only started to enter service at the end of May and yesterday was the first time a full allocation was achieved, which was perfect for snapping the route's brand new buses. The fairly new E200s that used to work the 236 have now returned off-lease and the 17-reg vehicles are occasionally supplemented by one of the older examples at LI, which are allocated to the 444. I've never been a huge fan of Streetlite vehicles, finding them pretty boring, very hot in summer and not ideal for viewing external surroundings with the narrow windows at the rear of the vehicle. However, I enjoyed my brief experience of WV46212 yesterday, especially with my fast driver behind the wheel, who took advantage of this nippy vehicle, eventually overtaking the busy 236 in front. The colour scheme was effective in providing a comfortable, bright atmosphere and I'm now looking forward to riding this route end to end. These are the first Streetlite buses to contain "stop-start technology", but for some reason it's not as noticeable as on ADL Enviro 200 MMCs and doesn't occur as frequently. Even though the service has always been a bit unreliable, hopefully Tower Transit can up their game for the next five years, especially with these wonderful new vehicles.

Arriva London VLW153 on route 254 to Holloway, Nags Head.
The 254 is one of London's busiest bus routes and has been operated by Arriva since its creation, when the 253 was split into two routes, with the 254 taking the Southern section between Hackney and Aldgate and sharing the busiest middle part between Holloway and Clapton. It runs at a high frequency of every 6 minutes and its previous allocation was a dedicated batch of Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini B7TL vehicles and other types rarely strayed onto the route. (Un)fortunately, many routes in Central London destined for New Routemaster operation contained restrictions, meaning that some LTs essentially had to be dumped on other routes and the 254 was one of the victims, despite it barely reaching zone 1, terminating at Aldgate Bus Station which is just outside Central London. Its sister route, the 253, converted last year, so it made sense to standardise the whole corridor and dedicate another 33 of the three-door vehicles to the 254. The contract was retained by Arriva London and even more LTs arrived at Ash Grove (AE) garage, in addition to the examples currently taking over route 48. Shortly after Saturday 3rd June, they debuted on the 254 and the Wrightbus B7TL Gemini's are disappearing quickly, so make the most of penultimate examples of them in the Arriva fleet before it's too late!

Arriva London LT467 works the 254 at Hackney.
However, the LTs allocated to route 137 (running from Oxford Circus-Streatham) were inadequate for the Streatham Hill Low Emission Corridor, so the 254's new buses were diverted to Brixton (BN) garage and can now be found roaming around South London. As a result, the older New Routemasters are slowly transferring to Ash Grove (AE) garage and are the main allocation of the 254, along with some extra buses drafted in from the curtailment of route 73 to make up the numbers. I'm not a fan of these buses and I haven't sampled the vehicles on the route yet, but hopefully some residents will be happy with their new allocation, especially as they have now gained the option of free bus trips with open boarding in place!

London United DLE30047 on route 110 to Hounslow Bus Station
The 110 has always been one of the quieter, more indirect routes in Hounslow Town Centre, that has undergone multiple route changes in recent times to try and boost patronage. The successful part of the route runs between Hounslow Bus Station and Twickenham, offering relief for the 111 and linking residents of Powder Mill Lane and Hanworth to Twickenham Town Centre. However, TFL seem to obsessed with terminating this route at West Middlesex Hospital and a few years ago the 110 was extended there from Hounslow Bus Station, through Isleworth and Busch Corner, but it was very unpopular and TFL made the right decision and removed the route from the London Road corridor. However, TFL thought it would be a good idea to extend the route from Twickenham to "relieve" the 267 and terminate at, you guessed it, West Middlesex Hospital! This extension has also been a failiure, with buses rarely seeing more than 2 or 3 passengers on this superfluous section of route. Having said that, the route has always been very reliable and this extension hasn't had an impact on the popular part of the 110, who have been blessed with brand new Enviro 200 MMC vehicles. These arrived much later than the scheduled contract date of Saturday 29th April and finally debuted at the end of May, but this small batch of 8 vehicles entered service quickly and all of the dedicated Dart Pointer vehicles have gone. The buses are decent and will provide a sufficient new allocation for this local U-shaped route, even if they occasionally stray onto the more prolific H37 and H98.

London United "lowheight" SP40014 on route 120 to Hounslow Bus Station.
The 120 is an extremely busy trunk route, running between Hounslow and Northolt, via Heston and Southall. It runs every 10 minutes (which isn't frequent enough) and London United lost the route to Metroline, to the disappointment of many enthusiasts, with a batch of brand new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles. The combination of crowds and congestion make this route very difficult to run and it's never been particularly reliable, although London United provided a decent service for such a challenging route. There was always a wide variety of vehicle types on offer, sourced from the common user pool at Hounslow (AV) garage, which included ALX 400s, Enviro 400s and Scania OmniCity vehicles, with both common N230UD examples and the much rarer "low-height" N94 vehicles, with only 9 of them left in service in London following the 120 loss. I always loved the mix of types found on the 120 and I was saddened by the loss of this route, especially with such boring buses taking over.

Metroline VWH2266 at Southall Station on route 120 to Northolt. Unfortunately, this bus has been involved in an accident since I took this photograph.
The Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles arrived prematurely and started to enter service at the end of May on other routes at Perivale West (PA) garage, including the 297 and 90, which aimed to iron out any "teething" troubles prior to their introduction into service on route 120. The contract change took place on Saturday 24th June and the service quality simply deteriorated throughout the day. The decent service I encountered in the morning disappeared by mid-afternoon, partially due to the heavy traffic in Southall Town Centre, that the service controllers perhaps weren't expecting. Some rare curtailments were pulled out very early on, with sightings of buses curtailed to "Northolt, Target Roundabout" and "Norwood Green", and since then the service hasn't improved much, with very large gaps and bunching being concerningly common. Having said that, Metroline do operate other routes in the Southall area, such as the 105, so hopefully these reliability issues are temporary and I'm sure they will be able to provide an adequate service in due course. There has only been one rare working under Metroline, which took place on Thursday in the form of VW1188, a Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL currently allocated to the 90.

Metroline VWH2272 departs Ealing Broadway on route 297.
Appearances of these vehicles on other routes has rapidly decreased since the 120 takeover, although that didn't stop VWH2272 from sneaking out onto route 297 last Saturday. The buses themselves are decent for Gemini 3 vehicles, being very smooth and quiet and containing a decent amount of power for the Norwood Green "thrash" section. The blind specification has also changed following the contract change, with the new vehicles displaying "Northolt Station" rather than "Northolt", the destination shown under London United. The 120 is a very interesting route, running through a wide variety of areas, including the thriving town centre of Southall and rural Heston and I strongly recommend you take a ride on it soon, but make sure that traffic conditions in Southall aren't too bad, as that will definitely hold up your journey. I wish Metroline good luck for the next five years, and hopefully all of these issues will be sorted within the next couple of months to maintain it's strong passenger growth rate.

I hope you enjoyed this post summarising some of the more recent contract changes- next week we'll be evaluating the success of the controversial Orpington route changes that took place in April. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Richmond Town Centre: Evaluating The Bus Network

Unfortunately I've been so busy recently that there simply hasn't been enough time to post about the ongoing changes of the bus scene, although I'm now aware of the events of the past month and ready to provide news and views for you guys. As I haven't been out for a while, there aren't any changes I can talk about, so this post will contain a brief summary of what's happened over the past couple of weeks and then talk about something different, based on my popular Ealing Broadway links post I created last year. Enjoy!

  • In terms of tenders, there have been quite a few announcements recently, as a result of purdah finishing two weeks ago. More detail can be found on the tenders page, but the significant upcoming changes are the 153/214 being lost to Go-Ahead London with electrics (contracts starting in Feb 2018 and August 2019 respectively), the 274 will gain a full allocation of new double deckers from June 2018 and the 138, 284 and 161 have all been lost to Stagecoach with new MMCs from March 2018.
  • TFL have consulted on diverting routes 53 and 363 over the Bricklayers Arms flyover in order to speed up journey times, click here for more detail. 
  • Route 7 will receive new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles soon, sending the current allocation to the 4/17.
  • Route 320 has gained a partial allocation of Enviro 400 Hybrid vehicles displaced from the 436. After a shaky start they are seeing daily usage and will be supplemented by Gemini 2 vehicles from August.
  • Route 258 will see a partial allocation of 4 Enviro 400H MMCs for the new contract next year, being the first examples of the type for RATP.
  • As a result of the Central London Bus Consultation, last week the 6 was re-routed to serve Park Lane and Piccadilly, the 242 was cut back to St Paul's with the 172 being re-routed to Clerkenwell Green as a result, the 390 was re-routed to serve Victoria with the 73 being cut back to Oxford Circus. The next set of changes will take place on 15th July, more detail on tenders page.
  • Existing LTs are starting to takeover routes 48 and 254 and route 137 has seen new examples enter service.
  • The first Enviro 200 MMC has entered service for route 411, coinciding with the merging of Quality Line and London United from today. Identical vehicles have entered service at Shepherd's Bush (S) garage for the temporary allocation of route 70, before electric vehicles arrive.
  • New Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles have entered service for the 120 contract change and these have already strayed onto other routes at Perivale (PA) garage including the 90, 105 and 297. Similar examples are slowly starting to debut at Willesden (AC) garage for routes 260 and 302, sticking to the latter for the time being, as well as other local routes.
  • Since the end of May new MMCs have entered service at Sullivan Buses for route 217 and at Tower Transit the 236 has almost converted to Wrightbus Streetlite operation.
  • It's been confirmed that the 5, 115 and 176 will receive ADL E40H MMCs upon contract their new contracts, the 188 will receive Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH buses and the 22 will receive MCV EvoSeti vehicles.
Quite a lot has happened recently, but now we move on to my analysis of how successful the Richmond bus network is in terms of linking other areas and capacity available. Richmond has quite a large variety of train lines, with the London Overground and District Line both terminating there and taking people to North London and Central London respectively, even if the tube takes quite a while. For those who want a faster option into Central London, South West Trains operate fast direct rail services to London Waterloo as well as longer trips to Reading and Windsor. The bus network is unusual because a lot of the routes follow each other and most of them are single deck, some of them being incredibly busy, with the two daytime exceptions providing valuable links elsewhere. Some routes also see "uncommon" appearances of double deck vehicles, ironically on some of the less busy routes! Unfortunately I don't have pictures of all the routes serving Richmond and some of them might not be of a high quality, but a quick google search should give you a rough idea of what each route looks like if visual representation particularly interests you.

London United DE126 on route 33 to Hammersmith.
The 33 runs from Fulwell, Stanley Road-Hammersmith, via Twickenham, Richmond, East Sheen and Barnes. It's one of four routes running to Hammersmith from Richmond (which is quite excessive) and is the quickest option in most cases, taking a fairly direct route. It's certainly one of the busier single deck routes serving the town centre, running at a decent 8 minute frequency throughout the day and it's also one of the rare SD routes that run 24/7. It doesn't provide many new links, apart from Richmond-Barnes and to some parts of Fulwell, but it's certainly valuable for many people by linking multiple town centres and providing a frequent alternative to other routes.

VH45186 works route 65 on a curtailed journey to Ham. Unfortunately the picture looks blurry on this page for some reason, however if you click on it you should be able to find a clearer version.
The 65 is undoubtedly the most useful route in Richmond and also the busiest by a considerable amount, being one of the two double deck daytime routes serving the area. It also runs 24/7 at an every 6 minute frequency during the day, from Ealing Broadway-Kingston via South Ealing, Brentford, Kew Gardens and Ham. It's popular because it's essentially a North-South trunk route and Richmond is the middle point; there are also no other routes like this serving the town centre. It encounters lots of long distance riders from the town centres of Ealing and Kingston as well as residents who only have this route as a local. It's very direct and without it Richmond would be isolated from much of West London and is in need of some additional support, even with the current high frequency.

Metroline DM969 is curtailed at Hammersmith, before starting a 190 trip back to Richmond. The 190 is the only route that uses this type of bus in London.

The 190 is mostly a single decker route, but occasionally Metroline send out one of their various Gemini 2 vehicles out for the day. It doesn't get particularly busy, partially due to its low frequency of 4 buses per hour. It runs to West Brompton via Chiswick Riverside and Hammersmith and mostly follows other routes, providing one unique section near the infamous Hogarth Roundabout, which causes the route to be frequently delayed, making the 391 more attractive for trips to Hammersmith or West Brompton. Some residents around Chiswick use the service, but for the rest of the public, this service is slow and pretty useless, having quicker alternatives for the majority of the places it serves. The 190, 337, 391 and 419 are the only routes that terminate inside Richmond Town Centre, because there's no stand space elsewhere and routes coming from the West would have to negotiate a complicated one way loop to serve both the shops and the bus station, so only these four routes have gained this privilege, which is why so many routes run empty East of Richmond (more on that later).

A rare working showcasing PVL232 on the 337 to Clapham Junction.
The 337 is the only other full-time DD route in Richmond, providing a few unique links to other town centres in SW London. It only runs every 12 minutes and doesn't get particularly busy, partially because the 33 and 493 follow the route between Richmond and Barnes Common, but afterwards the 337 serves the major transport and shopping hubs of Putney, Wandsworth and Clapham Junction. If South West Trains didn't offer such a frequent, fast and attractive service, I suspect the 337 would be much more popular than it currently is, but it's certainly a useful addition to the Richmond bus network, and I'm sure it can become very busy if the parallel rail line experiences delays. It also terminates at the bus station, avoiding any unnecessary running to the West of the town centre.

An Enviro 200 works the 371 on a rainy day in Kingston.
The 371 is a very indirect route running from Richmond Manor Circus-Kingston, serving all the side roads in Petersham and Ham that are outside of the 65 catchment area, running every 9 minutes. It's a very interesting little route running through some leafy, posh areas and taking a very convoluted route to Kingston, significantly longer than the 65. However, it gets pretty busy due to the large amount of residents who use this service to transport themselves to Richmond and also boasts an eclectic mix of bus types, ranging from the bog standard E200s and Dart Pointers, to the more obscure Hybrid E200s (the only batch in London) and some double deck appearances in the form of ALX400s, Scania OmniCity buses and OmniDekka vehicles. Due to insufficient stand space in Richmond Town Centre, the 371 is forced to run for an extra few minutes to Manor Circus Retail Park, which is essentially a dumping ground for all the Richmond routes that can't terminate in the bus station (the 371, 493, H22, H37 and R70 all do this) as there are multiple stands near Sainsbury's and Homebase. All of these routes hardly pick up any passengers here and shoppers could easily fit onto the 190, 419 and R68 which all serve the retail park. Nevertheless, the 371 is certainly one of the more interesting routes in Richmond and I highly recommend you try it on a DD.

This working only happened once and it shouldn't happen again, whilst the E3 allocation was temporarily used on the 391 whilst its Optare Versas transferred to Fulwell (FW) garage.
The 391 uses a wide variety of single and double deck types, the same ones commonly found on the 371, but the main allocation consists of Optare Versa buses, which are also diminishing in London and I believe these are some of the last examples in London (bar the 283 batch), with the 411/465 buses departing soon. It runs every 8 minutes, from Richmond-Fulham Sands End (Imperial Wharf) via Kew Gardens, Chiswick, Hammersmith and Fulham Broadway. It serves a decent amount of housing close to Richmond before linking the town centre with Chiswick, which is the main purpose of the 391 for the Western end of the route and it's quite a popular link too, with lots of people wanting to travel between the two upmarket town centres. It takes a while to reach Hammersmith and not many people want to get to North End Road from Richmond, but the Chiswick Town Centre link makes the route quite popular and a nice addition to the Richmond network.

Unfortunately, all of my 419 pictures are terrible, but click here for an accurate representation of the current allocation of the 419's current allocation, which is currently full of Dart Pointer vehicles. It's one of the shortest routes in Richmond, terminating at Hammersmith and running through Mortlake and Castelnau, Lonsdale Road. It's not very frequent, running every 15 minutes throughout the day, but it's one of the faster options into Hammersmith and it also provides a handy link to Mortlake and Barnes Bridge, as well as the residential area around Lonsdale Road. Even though I've never used it, I'm sure it has a valuable purpose in Richmond Town Centre for the locals and perhaps it's one of the most suitable routes for extending to create new links, or for swapping to improve reliability. (more on that later).

Abellio London 8512 works route 490 to Heathrow Terminal 5.
The 490 is one of the busiest (and most useful) single decker routes in the area, running from Heathrow Terminal 5 via Feltham, Hanworth and Twickenham, before terminating at Pools On The Park, which is just a couple of minutes away from the town centre, as an alternative to sending the route to Manor Circus. The link to residential Hanworth and the busy broadway of Feltham makes this route very popular and it runs every 10 minutes, which is an attractive frequency that should probably be increased, as this route is currently pretty crowded. A decent number of people use the route to reach Heathrow, especially because there is currently no direct train service. With a frequency increase, the crowding issues should be sorted, so this is certainly one of the most successful routes in Richmond Town Centre for long distance travellers.

An Enviro 200 serves Richmond Bus Station, nearing completion of a lengthy 493 journey.
The 493 has the potential to be one of the most useful routes in Richmond, but unfortunately it seems to be overlooked by the locals, partially due to the single decker buses and lack of advertising of other popular locations. It's quite busy at the moment, but it copes well with an every 12 minute frequency, but I suspect if people knew about the links this service provides, it could be much more popular. After the quiet run from Manor Circus, the 493 follows the 33 and 337 to East Sheen, but after that the routeing is unique, running through Roehampton, Southfields and Wimbledon before terminating at Tooting, St George's Hospital. With the number of useful links that can't be made by train, theoretically this route should be at bursting point in terms of loadings, however it seems that most people prefer taking the car, perhaps due to unreliability or lack of awareness of the route, or maybe I've misjudged the amount of demand from Richmond-Wimbledon and Roehampton. If it was given a full allocation of double deckers, it would certainly encourage me to use the service more and it would have an immediate effect on locals, who would instantly notice the change and (hopefully) research where the route goes. I think this route has so much potential that isn't quite being fulfilled, so hopefully TFL can upgrade the route and make it as popular as it could be, ideally with DDs!

The 969 is the most elusive bus in the Richmond area, only running twice a week, providing one return trip on each day. As a result, I don't have any pictures of the service, but click here for an accurate picture of the current allocation of the service (I've highlighted the most relevant one). It doesn't provide any new links, apart from to the residential area in Whitton and to Roehampton Vale Asda (after taking a roundabout route through Barnes) and it doesn't run frequently enough for anyone else to take notice of it, but it's a unique addition to the Richmond area and I'm sure some elderly residents along the route greatly appreciate the minimal amount of service.

The H22 is another route that has escaped my camera and is also one of my most hated routes in London, for being a particularly tedious residential route running between Hounslow and Richmond, via a seemingly endless assortment of side roads in Whitton and Twickenham Town Centre, using neglected Dart Pointer vehicles. It's definitely worth avoiding and the only useful link it provides is to the area of Whitton, which is only used by local residents. It does terminate at Hounslow, but using the H37 is much more sensible. It can get pretty busy and it runs every 12 minutes, but I tend to just ignore the route in Richmond.

London United OT2 pauses at West Thames College en route to Richmond, Manor Circus.
The H37 is probably the busiest single decker route in Richmond and is one of the shortest ones too. It takes the most direct route possible between Hounslow Blenheim Centre and Richmond Manor Circus, through Isleworth and St Margaret's and some dense residential areas, in which the H37 is the sole bus route, running every 6 minutes throughout the day and all night on Friday and Saturday. It uses unique Optare Tempo buses, the only ones in London, partially to cope with the immense number of passengers that use this route. Even with the high frequency, buses are frequently packed and finding an empty one is a rare treat (apart from at Manor Circus), with the combination of (basically) e2e riders and local users. It's in need of support urgently and I think another route from Richmond should be extended to cover part of this wonderful and unique, yet terrible at the same time route!

Abellio London 8511 works route R68 to Hampton Court.
There are only two routes with an "R for Richmond" prefix, both starting vaguely near the town centre and ending up somewhere in Hampton. The first route is much more useful in terms of links, serving Kew Retail Park and The National Archives, before running down to the popular tourist attraction of Hampton Court via Richmond, Twickenham, Teddington and Hampton. The route gets pretty busy as it serves a decent amount of housing and is faster than the 33 for reaching Teddington, and the unique Richmond-Hampton Court link means that the bus is often filled with long distance travellers. It's certainly useful and if the demand continues to grow it may receive a frequency increase to every 8 minutes.

An Enviro 200 works the R70 to Hampton, The Avenue.

 The R70 runs from Richmond, Manor Circus-Hampton, The Avenue (which is in Nurserylands) via Twickenham, Fulwell and Hampton, taking a reasonably direct route to the residential area. The loadings are inconsistent but sometimes it can get incredibly busy, notably on Saturdays, where residents in the R70-only area come out to Richmond for shopping. It's also the fastest route to Fulwell and Hampton which is why buses can turn up packed if you're waiting in Twickenham. It runs with bog standard E200s at a bog standard 10 minute frequency, but instead of having a fixed turning point in Nurserylands, buses run in a massive clockwise loop around the housing area, providing an efficient method of quickly serving everyone in the catchment area. It can be considered useful and this concludes the somewhat detailed analysis of each route in the town centre.

On the whole, we can infer that each route in Richmond has some sort of functional purpose, from constantly transporting large numbers of people to town centres (65), to serving a few houses and a gridlocked roundabout only (the 190), or only running twice a week for the benefit of a few people in Whitton (the 969). Generally, the bus network in Richmond should be commended, even if some routes are in need of a capacity boost, it proves that the routes are successful and people are recognising the bus as a method of transport for shopping/commuting purposes, even with the high quality train service on offer. Buses often parallel this (four buses go to Hammersmith despite it being on the District Line), although many bus routes cater for where the rail lines don't reach and at an adequate "replacement" frequency. However, there are a couple of missing links and this is what I propose to sort it:

  • Extending the 337 from Richmond-West Middlesex Hospital, via the H37 routeing through St Margaret's and South Street and then up Twickenham Road for a couple of stops to WMH. The route isn't particularly long at the moment and this 20-25 minute extension would effectively cease overcrowding on the H37 and you could possibly cut the frequency on the H37 with this new extension. The link to the hospital would also be greatly appreciated by locals.
  • Double deck route 493 (provided that there are no restrictions, there aren't any low bridges I think) to make members of the public aware of this potentially useful cross-London route.
  • There currently isn't a link from Westfield to South West London, so I suggest modifying the following routes to solve this issue: re-routing route 391 so it runs from Richmond-Chiswick and then runs via the 237 to White City, giving that overcrowded route some well-deserved support. There is also room for an extension further into South West London, although there are multiple options to consider and I don't have time to make a substantiated judgement, so I'm just going to leave it as the core section for now. Then, I would extend route 283 to Fulham, Sands End from Hammersmith (it's very short now and has a similar frequency to the 391) and extend the 419 to West Brompton to Hammersmith, providing a more reliable service on this section than the traffic prone 190, which I would curtail to Hammersmith to improve the quality of service in Chiswick Riverside and ideally make the service more attractive. Even though a number of links are broken, some valuable new ones are created here (North End Road-White City, White City-Richmond etc etc) and I feel that overall, it would improve travel patterns in West London.
My views might be controversial and I have no doubts that I will receive negative feedback on these, but go ahead and comment on one of my flickr page to express your views and see if you can persuade me to change my mind. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Busageddon: Misfits All Over London

Unfortunately this will be the last post until the 25th June on the blog, due to other commitments that will be taking priority over the next month. However, I hope you treasure this one and I will be back on form for the rest of the summer months. This post is essentially a small catch-up of the changes that occurred in the earlier months of 2017, which I covered in the stormy weather on May Day Bank Holiday.

Go-Ahead London SOE33 on route 455 to Wallington Station, not immediately obvious in the picture.
 The 455 is one of the longest, most indirect routes in London (seriously, go and look at a map of this route and you should marvel at the knowledge these drivers must have), running from Purley Old Lodge Lane-Wallington, via South Croydon, Croydon Town Centre and Ampere Way Retail Park. The route used neglected Dart Nimbi under the previous contract with Abellio London and the route didn't really receive much attention. Unfortunately the low frequencies remained for the new contract under Go-Ahead London, and the route also avoided gaining new buses. Instead, existing E200s were drafted in, following the loss of route 413 to Quality Line, topped up by a few Esteem vehicles, from Croydon (C) garage. So far, the operation has been hit and miss, but the presentation of vehicles has been poor. For me, first impressions definitely count and I wasn't exactly pleased when a banditised vehicle showed up after standing in the rain for 20 minutes, I'm sure these have blinds! Hopefully Go-Ahead can iron out any issues over the coming months and create a better service for the residents living on this torturous route.

Arriva London ENS25 leaves East Croydon on route 410, bound for Crystal Palace.
The 410 has earned a reputation of being one of the most overcrowded single deck routes in South London, running at a very high frequency, but also being restricted to short single deckers. The mixture of dense residential areas and populated high streets meant that the old Cadet vehicles simply couldn't handle the demand, so some existing Enviro 200 buses have been drafted in as a partial allocation, following the losses of routes W11 and 397 earlier this year. They originally ran around banditised, but thankfully they have gained proper blinds now. For a period of time in April, Croydon was home to many blindless buses and I suspect the residents weren't too happy with their temporary downgrade of not being able to tell where the bus is going; at least civilians rarely refer to blinds anyway! In August, new Streetlite vehicles of a similar length will completely replace the older buses on this route, fully modernising this difficult route.

Tower Transit MV38238 on route 308 to Wanstead.
The 308 has grown significantly over the past few years, gaining an extension from Millfields Estate-Clapton Pond, and a completely different routeing in Stratford through the Olympic Park, omitting Leyton. It has gained lots of frequency increases to coincide with the opening of Westfield, but demand has continued to grow so much that a double decker conversion was required and the route finally received the capacity boost that it rightly deserved in April. Tower Transit have been throwing out deckers on the route for many years now (I was successful in catching one in 2015), although a full allocation was never possible until now. Brand new Volvo B5LH EvoSeti's have been introduced on the route and they are lovely vehicles, much better than the horrid examples at GAL with the uncomfortable seating. Even on a Bank Holiday afternoon the bus was very busy with shoppers, suggesting that even the DD conversion isn't enough on Sundays - I didn't even begin to imagine how horrible my journey would've been on an E200. I strongly recommend you ride this route if you want to go through some unique urban/rural areas, especially that the route has gained an extra deck for viewing purposes. It takes you through the Wanstead Flats, thriving Stratford, alongside railway tracks in Maryland, the Olympic Park and Chatsworth Road Market, alongside plenty of other sights along the way. However, on some weekends the route is on diversion between Stratford and Forest Gate, so check TFL Status Updates before you plan this journey!

What's different about this one?
TFL are short of money at the moment and the latest project to increase bus patronage involves route branding in the Barkingside area, where usage is pretty low. Routes 128 (purple), 150 (sky blue), 167 (dark blue), 169 (green), 247 (yellow), 275 (pink) and 462 (orange) are currently undergoing a trial which involves 75% of the current allocation receiving route branding, advertising points of interest, frequency & fares on the exterior, as well as some pointless lines plastered over the windows, which annoyingly obscures the view from the front. Each route is colour coded, which aims to increase awareness of where buses go for first-time users living along the route. Inside, there are two route diagrams on each deck displaying every stop the route serves (confusingly in both directions) and the routes which you can use same-stop interchange with. Most of the 128 and 150 vehicles are complete and I suspect the 167 buses will be next in line.

A brightly coloured bus stop in Fulwell Crossm displaying 6/7 routes involved in the process.
In my opinion, the concept is a very good idea, although the poor execution has made me question if this trial was necessary, given the low budget TFL has. Whilst the tiles look very neat when the majority of routes are colour coded, in populated areas with only one Barkingside route (such as Walthamstow) having one tile with a sticker on top looks very peculiar indeed and may cause some confusion! I think the exterior branding is naff, with the massive route number sign and stripes on the top being completely unnecessary and negatively affecting passenger experience. The place names on the side of the bus are very inconsistent, with certain buses missing out key interchange points such as Gants Hill (the 128), even though other buses proudly advertise the place! I think that a project such as this will only work if the routes are easily differentiated from the rest of the network, or if every route in the city is branded. Having well over 600 routes in London, this isn't going to work and an area such as Barkingside isn't exclusive enough in order to not cause confusion outside of there. Personally, I would trial the route branding on Orpington R-routes, which operate local services around the town centre of Orpington. The prefix makes them easily separable from the rest of the network, the buses don't travel too far out of Orpington, and the only routes there that don't have an R-prefix are long distance double deck and/or trunk routes, making the branding seem much more localised. Additionally, lots of the routes in Orpington have undergone significant changes from April 1st (a post should've been out by now, but the new buses were delayed. Click here for a summary), allowing the route branding to emphasise the changes to residents, making the new services more attractive for them to use. Unfortunately, I can't see this Barkingside trial being successful, although I wish TFL the best for future bus usage increase strategies.

Stagecoach London 36151 waits at the new stand at Leamouth Orchard Place.

Less than a week before the scheduled start date, TFL announced that the D3 would be receiving a new routeing in Leamouth, via housing on Blackwall Way. It wouldn't terminate outside Tower Hamlets Council Offices, serving the new London City Island development instead. This change interested me because no consultation was published on the matter, and TFL gave no clue as to where the D3 would terminate and why they were changing the route. Near Leamouth is the desolate Trinity Buoy Wharf, which has been isolated from any accessible public transport for over a century, despite being a (sort of) well-known tourist attraction. There are also some schools nearby, which would benefit greatly from a bus service; as a result I anticipated that the D3 would be sent through to the end of Orchard Place (yes, TFL only gave a street name). TFL didn't make any changes to the countdown map beforehand, meaning that travellers may have thought that they could still reach Leamouth by bus! The iBus stops weren't recorded or uploaded, meaning that buses would simply "vanish" off LVF just before the extension and live bus apps wouldn't work for the new section. I wanted to test out this farce as soon as possible, so I went out to cover the extension on the third day of operation.

The glamorous new bus stop at Leamouth.

I arrived at Canary Wharf and eventually my D3 rocked up, still displaying "Leamouth" on the blinds and iBus, not advertising that it was taking a completely new routeing at all. TFL quickly wrote up a
half-hearted scrolling iBus message, although they didn't mention exactly where the new D3 was going. I was surprised to find that two other passengers stayed on beyond Billingsgate Market, which suggests that the new extension will be very popular. After diverting from the previous route the bus thought it was on diversion and the first dolly stop could be seen, placed conspicuously in the middle of nowhere. East India Station now has a bus service and this was where my two fellow passengers alighted on the first trip. At what seemed like the penultimate stop, the driver announced that the bus terminated there and then proceeded to drive off to the garage. I was puzzled at this point as advertising that the bus went to Orchard Place would be a tad pointless if the bus wasn't actually allowing passengers to get off there. I had to walk there in the torrential rain and wait for another 15 minutes before another D3 showed up in this isolated area. The stand is in the middle of nowhere and the route doesn't serve Trinity Buoy Wharf, nor London City Island, suggesting that the route will be extended further into the development in the future, as this new bus stop isn't visible or in an attractive location. I asked the driver if he was meant to pick up passengers and he simply shrugged his shoulders, suggesting that no one really knew what was going on and the drivers were just following the temporary signs put in place for the weekend.
Someone stuck a tile in the wrong place and didn't even remove it properly!
 On the return trip I realised that the driver may have used the confusion to his advantage, by dropping us off early he could save a couple of minutes and get back to the garage and his home sooner. A few more people boarded on the return trip to Canary Wharf, with East India being the primary focus with this re-routing. Now, the new stops have been uploaded onto iBus and the countdown map has been updated today, four weeks after the service changes, although I'm not sure if announcements have been recorded and uploaded yet for the new stops. I think that this service change could be somewhat useful in the future, if the route was to be extended further into London City Island, or even to Canning Town, but the last-minute nature of this change only reinforces TFL's recent disorganisation. The fact that a D3 tile was placed in Blackwall (which the route has never served before and won't for the forseeable future) and they didn't even bother to remove it properly, instead using some childish squiggles, really shows that this change was literally thought and introduced on the spot, without much planning at all. Nevertheless, I hope that TFL are successful with these new changes to the D3 and the residents of Blackwall Way are happy with their new bus service.

Thanks for reading and stay safe during my absence, the news slider icon will still be updated for another week or so.