Sunday, 15 April 2018

District Line Strike - 13/04/18

On Friday 13th April 2018, the District Line was faced with severe delays and a reduced train service as staff members based at Acton Town depot were on strike throughout the day. Although trains were running, the timetable was in disarray (I saw an Ealing Broadway train at Edgware Road of all places) and eventually the section between Barking and Upminster was almost abandoned completely. However, as usual with significant industrial action on the transport network, extra buses were provided to bolster some routes which commuters would naturally take as an alternative route to the District Line. Although some additional vehicles ran on routes 93, 156 and 391 in West London, only the former route saw any exotic types, with this being in the form of Volvo/B7TL Presidents and commercial Go-Ahead E400s. Most of the excitement was in East London and this is where most enthusiasts, myself included, decided to spend their time. The additional buses ran between 0530 and 0900 in the morning peak, as well as from 1600-1900 during the evening rush and I decided to head out for the second shift, which was very popular with the enthusiast community - I must've seen well over 50 during my three hours of travelling.

An Ensignbus BCI is seen on route 145X to Ilford.

Routes 62, 145, 248 and 252 had the most amount of additional buses in East London, although some rogue extras include a couple of Scania Olympus vehicles on the 5 and a "Vantage Hybrid" B7TL ALX400 on the 370, which bizarrely ran on a limited stop basis between Upminster and Hornchurch Station, even though the main route doesn't actually serve the latter destination. Although I didn't see any of these oddities on my travels, I managed to observe the four mainstream strike services quite well and chronologically, the 62 is first.

Stagecoach London 18217 is seen in Becontree on one of the less interesting 62X workings.
A substantial chunk of the 62 was given extra buses, with this being the middle section between Barking and Chadwell Heath, serving Upney and Becontree en route. The 62 was chosen because it serves three District Line stations (it is in fact the only bus service to Upney), but it also provides alternative rail links into Central London at both ends (Barking for c2c, Chadwell Heath for TFL Rail). The extra buses on the 62 provided the most even service out of all the routes, with vehicles generally turning up every 12-15 minutes, quite often behind the normal 62s! Out of all the supplementary services, the 62 was definitely the most popular with enthusiasts, presumably because of the large presence of Routemasters on the route, understandably bringing about lots of nostalgia given that these buses formed the main allocation of the service in the late 1970s. In addition to the two or three red "RMs", an RT complete with greenline livery was also out and about during the morning, but unfortunately it mysteriously vanished and was nowhere to be seen in the evening, therefore I have no photograph. Indeed, the 62 is famous for being the last route in London operated with RTs, so I must congratulate anyone who managed to catch it in the morning. A Wrightbus B7TL Gemini was also found on the service, previously found with Go-Ahead London, although I managed to avoid this one too. In addition to the older kit, some almost new Ensignbus BCI Excellence (dual axle) and Enterprise (tri axle) vehicles worked the route in both peaks, also bringing back some memories as the company did run the 62 service for a while, albeit with a very different vehicle allocation! Stagecoach London, the current operator of the 62, also used some spares in the normal allocation to boost the service, like the Trident ALX400 above on a short working to Chadwell Heath, with an unusual running number "901" confirming that it was an extra.

Ensignbus RML2258 is seen at Fair Cross on route 62 to Chadwell Heath
After a brief spotting session at Fair Cross, I was over the moon when I saw a Routemaster in the distance, heading in my preferred direction too. Before the bus had even started moving, I was already loving the enthusiasm of the driver and conductor, who were obviously having the time of their lives on the extras yesterday. The condition of the vehicle was immaculate and it was surprisingly empty too, perhaps because the evening peak hadn't properly kicked in yet, with the whole upper deck being devoid of passengers for most of the journey. Even though my trip only lasted around 15 minutes, it was easily my favourite element of the day, mainly because of the familiar growl of the Routemaster being put to the test along some of the faster sections of the 62, along with the famous double bell ring and service provided by the crew - at every stop they advertised where the bus was going to waiting passengers and urged them to board, even if some of them were suspicious and waited for a normal 62 instead. Even the people who did get on eventually were baffled when the bus first turned up at the stop, perhaps unsurprisingly so given the stark contrast between the Routemasters and the fairly new E400 MMCs which normally work the service. The 62 route was filled with bus spotters throughout the day and my bus was 'snapped' every couple of minutes or so and when my ride came to an end I was almost tempted to stay on and forget the other extras, although I will always treasure this wonderful ride on a Routemaster, which was easily the most enjoyable ride of the year so far, even on a dull route like the 62!

Ensignbus 145 is seen in Becontree on route 62 to Barking.
My snapping session in the middle of a residential road in Becontree was pretty unsuccessful, given that the only bus which showed up in 20 minutes was one I'd already ridden earlier! Nevertheless, my high spirits returned when I saw an Ensignbus BCI Excellence coming around the corner, a type which no operator in London has opted for so far (although a tri-axle example will visit the X68 soon) and until the strike I hadn't sampled this type at all. There seemed to be a lot of these vehicles out and about today, perhaps because the strike coincided with the school holidays and they very much feel like a coach, especially with the high quality interior and extended length on the tri-axle vehicles. Nevertheless, one thing I instantly noticed was the surprisingly quiet pullaway for a diesel bus - the engine isn't very loud at all, although thankfully it is not completely silent especially when travelling at high speeds, which my driver wasn't afraid of achieving. On Valence Avenue, the acceleration provided by the BCI was truly superb and within seconds the bus was travelling incredibly fast for a residential area, but the vehicle was expertly driven and the ride was incredibly smooth. I felt very satisfied upon arrival at Chadwell Heath, having sampled two absolutely brilliant types on the 62 within the space of an hour, with both the Routemaster and BCI having wonderful features of their own to admire, despite the difference of almost 50 years in age!

Stagecoach London 18498 is seen at Ilford working the first Eastbound extra journey of the day.
Route 145 was just as appealing as the 62 to many enthusiasts, mainly because of the scheduled appearance of Metrobuses and DM-class Leyland Fleetlines, along with some BCIs and other types. The 145 itself is a really long route, so even though the extra buses took up to 40 minutes to complete one trip, they were doing less than half of the complete routeing. In essence, the additional vehicles ran between Ilford (for TFL Rail) and Dagenham East (District Line), serving Fair Cross, Martins Corner, Becontree and Dagenham Heathway on route (the last two are also District Line stations), although there was some confusion in regards to the terminating points at both ends, so in reality vehicles ended in the middle of the Heathway and East stations (shown by the Dagenham Village blinds on the Trident ALX400 above), whilst in Ilford buses only started at Hainault Street and stood in a large variety of places, none of which were particularly helpful for giving passengers a link to the railway station! In terms of service consistency, the 145 was by far the worst route out there, with there sometimes being no buses for over 30 minutes, although at the start of the evening peak four turned up to terminate at Ilford within a minute, three of them being Ensignbus BCIs and none of them having more than two or three people on board! The 145 was the first route I covered and although the extras allegedly started at 1530, the first bus didn't turn up for another 25 minutes and by this point I was considering giving up and getting on a normal 145 to Becontree in an attempt to try another service. However, a Trident ALX400 eventually rocked up and even though this is part of the 145 allocation, it had blinds for Dagenham Village, an unusual running number (902) and it was devoid of passengers at Hainault Street, which pretty much never happens on a busy route like this. Although this was rather boring in the sense that it was the normal allocation, I'm honestly glad it turned up as if it wasn't for this I would've left Ilford altogether and missed out on catching one of the truly brilliant vehicles out there.

Ensignbus M1 is seen at Fair Cross on route 145 to Dagenham East.
Before I continue, I must give credit to "londonbuses72" of the London Connected blog, as if it wasn't for their observations I would have missed this bus as it was heading the other way whilst I was on the aforementioned Trident extra. This bus formed the first extra vehicle in service heading to Ilford and even though I only managed to catch this one for two stops, I still loved my time on board. The vehicle was in pristine condition and it seems like a very powerful bus, with the growling engine being so satisfying to listen to even in the congested outskirts of Ilford Town Centre. Thankfully, this bus makes regular appearances at bus garage "open days" or "vintage bus tours" so hopefully I'll be able to sample this one properly again as it does seem like a wonderful vehicle. The other interesting vehicle out and about, DM2646, unfortunately broke down before entering service in the evening peak and as I wasn't aware that it was standing at Pioneer Point, I wasn't able to photograph this one! However, hopefully it is repaired soon and I can see the bus again soon as it looks like a brilliant motor. Even though I was deprived of riding it on Friday, I was delighted with the replacement vehicle, despite it lacking such a great reputation within the enthusiast community.

Ensignbus 116 is seen at Fair Cross on route 145 to Dagenham East.
Even though many enthusiasts despise these buses and they are certainly not vintage (despite their fairly sparse presence in and around London), the Olympus is still my favourite model still in regular service and I don't think any modern double decker will be able to beat it. The massive front windows are just perfect for appreciating the surroundings a route has to offer and the interior feels so spacious and inviting - they also look so sleek for a 10 year old vehicle. Indeed, they are notoriously unreliable and once a bus breaks down it's unlikely you'll see it again for another year, but every single Olympus has character and that's something no brand new double decker will be able to provide. Even though the 145 isn't the most exciting of routes and my ride was brief, it was so nice to be able to have an empty bus and appreciate the genius behind the design of the windows in particular (the side ones at the front even slant downwards for optimal views) and the surprisingly powerful engine - they are slow off the mark but eventually I had some nice speed down South Park Drive. Although all of you are probably questioning my praise of this vehicle when there are other beautiful heritage vehicles out there, I really don't get to ride my favourite type often and especially not from the front seats - the route I use them on regularly, the 297, is really busy and often the bus is too full to have a good seat so I was thrilled when this turned up at Ilford and hopefully I'll be able to catch that lovely DM another day. This concludes the 145 extras - it was definitely the most varied and unreliable extra service, although it also provided two thoroughly enjoyable rides.

Ensignbus 114, another Olympus, is seen in Hornchurch on route 248X to Upminster.
We now move on from the Becontree area, to Romford and Hornchurch where the other two extra services predominantly ran. The first one of these is the 248X, which ran between Upminster Station and Romford Station, only missing out the last couple of stops to Romford Market and the final 10 minutes or so to Cranham, where the stand is coincidentally directly opposite a District Line depot. The 248 was given extras because it serves Upminster Bridge and Upminster stations, although the former is one of the least used on the network and I did question giving this route extras in the first place, as people from Upminster already have an alternative route into Central London courtesy of c2c rail, when they're running properly. Nevertheless, I really like the 248 as a route so I was looking forward to having some exotic types on it during the strike day. The service was pretty consistent, although it was very infrequent, with some 30 minute gaps at times and the vehicles themselves were really empty - I didn't see one with more than three or four people on board. Ironically, this service was selected for a predominant allocation of high capacity tri-axle BCIs, although one of these was missing in the evening. As well as the aforementioned Enterprise vehicles, an Ensignbus Olympus along with a blue Metrobus ran the service.

Ensignbus 192 is seen upon arrival into Romford Station.
 I almost missed this vehicle as I was engrossed in conversation across the road, although thankfully the traffic lights worked in my favour and I still managed to bag the front seats despite boarding last. Ensignbus have also kept this vehicle in an impeccable condition, with a stylish blue moquette which is mimetic of the exterior livery. This bus was just as enjoyable as M1 on the 145, having a similar growl and surprisingly powerful engine, which was opened up along the faster section of the 248 between Roneo Corner and Hornchurch. I've come to realise that Metrobuses really are some of my favourite vintage buses out there and I'm now going to make a conscious effort to get them more often if I ever bother with a garage open day or vintage bus tour - I'm not really in the loop for those events and never remember to check until it's too late. Along with the interesting surroundings on this part of the 248, this was another superb bus ride on a brilliant bus, with a surprisingly clear run despite it being the height of the evening peak. Funnily enough, the poor frequency of the 248X was proven by this bus travelling to Upminster and back before anything else turned up on the route at Hornchurch, in either direction.

Ensignbus 401 is seen at Hornchurch Town Centre on route 248 to Romford.
This illustration should demonstrate the use of tri-axle vehicles on the 248 service, such as 401 above. Although I had already sampled a BCI on route 62 earlier, my bus had been a dual axle version and a last minute decision ensured that I caught one of these vehicles on the 248X, which was in fact the penultimate journey of the evening and it seemed that this service was completely finished by 1901. This bus was just as powerful as the last one on the 62 and sitting at the rear upstairs made the extra length noticeable - I was the only person upstairs for the entire journey although I'm sure on busy routes like the 25, 207 and 18 these longer buses would be incredibly useful. Cruising through the quiet streets of Upminster Bridge on this was incredibly relaxing, with the coach-like interior making sure I was comfortable throughout. Alighting at the rail station marked the end of my strike day riding, although I absolutely loved every second of it and it's been really eye-opening in terms of discovering new types and being re-united with lovely old ones. Watching this long vehicle tackle Upminster Station Forecourt was certainly amusing, but after a couple of attempts it managed to get out and head back to Ensignbus in Purfleet, presumably to work some awful school service when term time begins next week. This company also used to run the 248 service, bringing about some nostalgia especially with the Metrobus that worked the route on Friday. Even though the 248X wasn't frequent, it was nice to see lots of blue vehicles on it again and my two rides were just as pleasurable as all the others.

 WVL19 is seen at Hornchurch before working the last inbound 252X journey.

Like the 248, the supplementary 252X service ran along most of the main route, with the missing section being the short stretch from Romford to Collier Row, which probably wouldn't have had any increase in passenger numbers during the strike. Extra buses started at Romford Station like the 248 and terminated at Hornchurch Town Centre, although the difference between these two routes is that the 252 serves much more housing and takes a longer route between the two suburbs, also passing Elm Park and Hornchurch District Line stations and linking their catchment area to the TFL Rail service at Romford. In general, the 252 seemed like one of the more popular extra services, with all the buses carrying decent loads during the evening peak, although it was certainly not the most reliable - in the space of a minute I saw three Volvo B7TL Geminis in a convoy, along with a Routemaster not far in front. No buses appeared for a significant amount of time afterwards. This extra service also finished very early, with no more vehicles leaving Hornchurch after 18:30 and typically during my two snapping sessions along the route it was the exact same vehicles which showed up and some of the more interesting ones avoided me completely! Generally speaking, the selection of buses on the 252X wasn't as interesting as on the other routes, with almost all of them being in the form of ex-Go Ahead London WVLs, which does bring a new type to the 252 although it's not like these aren't still commonplace within the capital.

Ensignbus RML2405 is seen arriving into Romford, closely pursued by the equally iconic Spirit Of London E400
Additional buses which weren't initially advertised as being rostered for the service include an Ensignbus Routemaster and a Metrobus (the company this time) Scania OmniDekka, although the latter vehicle avoided me during my time in Hornchurch. Similarly, the quirky Scania Metropolitan MD60 vehicle, which I would've loved to ride, was nowhere to be seen in the evening, although whether it came out at all is another question as the only photographs of it are during the am peak. However, the B7TL Geminis did dominate after all and due to the lack of vintage buses compared to other routes with a similarly large PVR, I decided not to ride the 252X service given my lack of time during the evening. In addition, most of the route is isolated from other supplementary services and the bit the extras were covering isn't particularly interesting either, with most of it being residential. However, it was still a pleasure to see the extra vehicles around, especially the Routemaster where it seemed like the crew were really enjoying themselves, just like almost everyone who attended this strike day.

"Hire your transport" WVL44 is seen approaching Romford at the rear of a triple bunching on the 252X service.
In conclusion, I'm really glad I decided to attend the District Line strike day - sometimes I find these events quite underwhelming but the relaxed atmosphere and sheer variety of buses meant I was always busy and some of the vehicles I experienced were absolutely brilliant. This event has also encouraged me to attend more events with vintage buses - they can be held at inconvenient locations and it's not always easy to obtain decent photographs when everyone else with their flashy cameras are snapping at the same time as you, but it will give me a chance to discover some more excellent types which I feel I've overlooked recently.  I'd also recommend strike days for everyone here - it might be an absolute pain for regular commuters but the strong presence of fellow enthusiasts and quite iconic vehicles on otherwise mundane routes is really satisfying to be a part of. Unfortunately many recent ones have been during term time so I could not attend, although if there is ever anything else during the holidays I'm definitely going to try and come back, perhaps for both shifts next time as even though I set aside 3 hours and got a considerable amount done it was nowhere near enough time for sampling everything I wanted to. Another bonus with the District Line strike was that a 60% service was still in operation, so even though the extra buses were still running they weren't too busy and the roads were clear too - it was easily one of my most enjoyable bus trips in ages.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Monday, 9 April 2018

Stickers & Stripes

This title pretty much sums up the latest pointless TFL scheme, which has been implemented in an attempt to increase bus usage. You might recall the introduction of route branding in the Barkingside area back in May 2017 and a subsequent outcry from enthusiasts and the public alike, claiming that it looked tacky and quite pathetic. Given that I was pretty disgusted at the earlier attempt at a route branding exercise, I did wonder how the next proposal in Hayes could be any worse. But it is. There's even less money supporting it, almost no consistency and a display which looks like it was designed by the local primary school - there's definitely an absence of a branding professional here.

A colourful flag in Hayes Town Centre, whilst a branded vehicle on the 350 pokes out from underneath.
Initially, this trial was expected to commence in the summer of 2017, but everything went rather quiet and people started to speculate that it wasn't going ahead at all, which is hardly surprising given the current TFL buses budget. However, a rather surprising entry of a yellow Enviro 200 on route U7 confirmed that the branding exercise had started and in the following few weeks more and more vehicles gradually appeared on routes in the Hayes area. There are many overlapping themes with the Barkingside example, such as advertising the frequency and points of interest, as well as colour-coding individual routes to give them a unique identity. However, the stripes on buses have disappeared and have been replaced with a bunch of stickers, along with a coloured ring around the blind display on single deckers. There is nothing on the offside of the double deck vehicles at all, so advertisements are still displayed, which pretty much defeats the point of making you more aware of the offerings of the bus rather than an expensive piece of jewellery hardly anyone can afford.

Maps are included inside the vehicles showing every bus stop en route and further connections from them, along with a generic map of the entire branded network. Bus stop flags have been given a colour-coded stripe for every route, which looks quite pretty with an almost full selection, but becomes very confusing at the outer ends of routes. If a route is the only example serving Hayes along a busy high street, all the other buses will have plain tiles whilst the said service has a coloured sticker on it, which looks very odd and makes the bus service seem unnecessarily different - people may assume it's a non-TFL service and will be put off from boarding.

A map of route 607, inside VW1570.

All in all, one can infer that the scheme isn't looking promising so far - it's nothing more than a load of laughable publicity which isn't even effective because of how little effort has gone into the design or overall package. Additionally, instead of having three-quarters of the allocation branded like in Barkingside, TFL have decided to cut some costs and only brand 25% of the vehicles per route, although there is naturally some variation given that not every route has a PVR which is divisible by four. There are also grammatical errors and inconsistencies with the places advertised, along with incomplete branding in lots of cases and many examples of buses straying off their allocated route. Lots of the colours clash and the stickers on double deckers obstruct the view outside. Nevertheless, TFL chose the Hayes area because of its declining bus usage and the arrival of Crossrail next year, although it seems that nobody is making much effort with the branding process much at all.

The routes that have received branding are the 90, 140, 195, 350, 427, 607, A10, E6, H98, U4, U5 & U7 and now we will look at the flaws of each one individually, in numerical order.

Metroline Travel VW1175 is seen in Hayes on route 90 to Northolt.
The 90 is a fairly busy service between Feltham and Northolt, running every 10 minutes with Scania Olympus and Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles, with the latter type being chosen for the branding. There are deviations with the frequency on Sunday which are displayed on the branding underneath the sticker, but you can't read it even with the pictures on "X-large" setting, something I don't normally use. Grammatically, there aren't any issues with the destinations on the 90, but I question advertising Northolt and Northala Fields when they are five minutes away from each other. However, there is nothing at all to promote the large housing area in Yeading this route serves, nor the busy interchange at Harlington Corner - it seems to the travelling public that it takes the most direct route between Hayes and Northolt, although the 140 is considerably quicker and doesn't advertise this at all! So far, only two buses have been branded for the 90, which is less than 25%, although due to the branding scheme coinciding with a refurbishment programme for the VW-class buses, it makes sense to wait before applying branding and removing it again (which did happen to one bus). Consistency is on point and my main problems with the 90 are the stickers which obscure the front window and the awful pink colour which very much clashes with the red London livery, as well as the aforementioned discrepancy with via points. Overall though, the 90 is one of the better examples of branding out there.

Metroline Travel VWH2237 is seen on route 140 to Heathrow Central.
My word, that green colour looks awful. Thankfully the via points have been displayed in black so they're actually legible. The 140 is the most substantial route involved in the branding process, being the sixth busiest in London and having seven buses branded for this service, which is roughly 25% of its PVR. Colours aside, the frequency advertised is incorrect - buses run up to every 6-7 minutes during rush hour. There is also a grammatical error with the via points, in regards to "Heathrow Central Bus station", where the last word should have a capital letter and there is also a lack of a tube or rail logo despite the possible interchange to both modes of transport there. Another concerning factor is that only four places have been advertised for what is possibly the longest route in the scheme. These four destinations are all valuable via points, but can be shortened to "Wealdstone - Harrow - Hayes & Harlington - Heathrow Central" and then the noteworthy town centres of Northolt and South Harrow can be recorded, where the 140 is very popular already. Indeed, there is a gap of over 8 miles without a single point of interest. Metroline have also put these buses out onto the partially overlapping 182 on several occasions, undoubtedly causing confusion in the Harrow area. In conclusion, the 140 is probably one of the worst liveries yet, with a horrible colour, discrepancies with the places advertised, interchange points and basic grammar, as well as an incorrect frequency and the infuriating stickers. Thumbs down.

Abellio London 8879 is seen along Uxbridge Road on route 195. Unfortunately conditions weren't ideal for taking photos so I've provided an additional snapshot of the place locations below. You can also attempt to read the Sunday frequency.

The 195 is probably the most overcrowded route in the branding scheme, using single deckers despite it being busier than most of the DD routes involved. It runs at a 12 minute frequency and also has a green ring around the blinds, along with a tiny sticker advertising the frequency which you need an electron microscope for if you want to read everything on it. In terms of the places advertised, almost everywhere is documented, although I would replace "Botwell Green Sports & Leisure Centre" with Charville Lane Estate and Bulls Bridge Tesco respectively, two much more well-used destinations en route. All four buses are fully branded for the service, which is a good start and generally their appearances on the 195 are regular, not venturing onto any other route. Therefore, even though the mint green colour might not be aesthetically pleasing, it is one of the more successful examples out there, with relatively few things to moan about.

A rear view shot this time, because this is the only spot with complete branding and I'm sure you know what an orange ring looks like.

In terms of progression, the 350 isn't doing particularly well, with its low PVR of 5 not contributing to the situation at all. A 20 minute frequency means that it isn't the most prominent route in Hayes Town Centre and there is only one bus branded for the service (Abellio chose to round down), which is also incomplete. Initially, the vehicle had a full livery, but the advertised frequency was completely wrong - the stickers claimed that it was still a high frequency route at every twelve minutes, but following cutbacks it now only has three buses per hour. This resulted in another makeover with the addition of the correct frequency, although mysteriously the via points were removed on both sides. Nevertheless, the destinations are still displayed at the rear and there are no interchange symbols for Heathrow Terminal 5. I'd also question advertising Lake Farm Country Park as the bus goes nowhere near, whilst the intermediate destination of Stockley Park (where the 350 picks up a lot of people) seems blindingly obvious but isn't included. I'd also get rid of the "Moor" after Harmondsworth - there are houses there! Aside from the lack of complete branding and place names, I think the orange colour is pretty ugly, clashing with the red London livery, but I guess TFL ran out of colours to use. Altogether, the 350 isn't the worst example of branding out there, but it's certainly not commendable either, especially with the false advertising at the beginning and the lack of completeness.

Abellio London 2556 is seen on Uxbridge Road with incomplete 427 branding.
Even though there are six branded 427 buses, one is off-road after an accident whilst the other five all have incomplete branding. Interestingly, the first bus to receive the treatment did actually have place names on the side, but since then they have been replaced with TFL inspired adverts. I wonder why. Nevertheless, there are still the awful burgundy stickers to look at - as a regular user of the 427 I find it so irritating whenever I sit upstairs on one of these vehicles. This bus route doesn't actually serve Hayes Town Centre, along with four others that are part of the scheme, but instead goes to the retail parks towards the Northern part of Hayes, in the middle of the Uxbridge Road corridor which the 427 follows for its entirety. After the 140, the 427 is the second busiest route that's part of the scheme and the branded buses are definitely apparent from my observations - they also stick out like a sore thumb in Ealing where there is only one other route involved in the scheme. There are discrepancies with the destinations displayed at the rear - although factually everything is correct is there really a need to include "Uxbridge" and "Intu Uxbridge", but miss out the important urban realms of Southall and Hayes North, with the latter point of interest being the only reason why this route is part of the exercise in the first place! Even though the via points bring up so many errors, the buses do look even more daft without them - it's literally just two stickers from a frontal view.

Metroline West VW1567 is seen on route 607, again devoid of side destination points.
The 607 is an express variant of the 427 which extends to White City and four buses are branded for this service, in the form of the older element of the allocation - Wrightbus Gemini 1 B7TL vehicles. Like the 350 bus, these ones had to be re-branded as roadworks have resulted in a temporary frequency decrease to every 11 minutes. The place names disappeared on all but one of the vehicles, although like the 427 Hayes and Southall weren't acknowledged at all and the final destination was just described as "Westfield", emphasising how the shopping centre has led to a neglect of the
surrounding area of Shepherd's Bush. Additionally, there is a grammatical error in regards to "Uxbridge station" missing a capital letter and there is also a discrepancy here - why has the latter noun been included here but not at Ealing Broadway or Ealing Common?There isn't much else to say in regards to the livery, but thankfully I have a personal example of the general public being baffled by the horrid stickers to make up for the lack of moaning. I was waiting at Ealing Broadway Station and a branded 607 rocked up, but the bunch of teenagers next to me were hesitant to board - "is that a 607 - or no, 11? - wait, what?" was the resultant conversation after the bus emerged. They decided to take the slower 207 bus instead and this just shows that the attempt at promoting the bus service really hasn't worked - it's actually taking people away from the routes in question!

Metroline West DE1585 is seen at Heathrow Central on route A10.
Oh my! Complete branding! When the livery first emerged on route A10, I questioned why this route is involved in the process at all, given that it barely serves Hayes and doesn't connect to any Crossrail station bar Heathrow Central, which is hardly a direct way to get to London from where the A10 serves. Nevertheless, the two vehicles possess the full livery and have a classier dark blue colour, which is much more satisfying to view than the buses on the 140. The A10 is actually an express service, running non-stop between Stockley Park and Heathrow Central, using the M4 spur, so why the former destination has been omitted in the route description completely baffles me, given that the route was created to give the business park a direct link to Uxbridge and the airport. Besides, the substitute point of interest, Lake Farm Country Park, is hardly attractive even for people who enjoy nature and is barely accessible by bus. However, the modest frequency of every 15 minutes is correct and despite a couple of appearances on the U1 and U3, the buses are dedicated to the A10 and generally this is one of the best examples of branding out there, even if it isn't strictly based around Hayes.

Metroline West DE1911 is seen on route E6 to Bull's Bridge
Inevitably, TFL ran out of suitable colours and the shade of blue shown on this E6 is almost indistinguishable from the example on the A10 buses. There are also no stickers advertising the frequency of the E6, because once again TFL applied them incorrectly - the E6 runs every 12 minutes, not every 10. However, this time the "via points" remained after the removal of the stickers, contrary to the incidents with the 350, 607 and U4 (see later). Clearly they couldn't be bothered with the 140, as every 8 minutes and every 7 minutes are undoubtedly the same frequency, plus seven whole buses would have to receive an overhaul. Again, I question the use of "Botwell Green Sports & Leisure Centre", given that most routes which serve the facility don't mention it and it's not exactly significant compared to Greenford Broadway, Yeading Tesco or Grand Union Village, which have all been omitted from the destination advertisement. The only positive thing about the E6 branding is that the blue colour isn't too ugly, but other than that there isn't really much to praise. At least they remembered that Greenford (just about) has a national rail service.

London United DLE30003 is seen near Hayes Asda on route H98 to Hounslow Bus Station
In terms of aesthetics, the H98 branding is definitely one of the better examples, with the orange colour blending surprisingly well with the coating of red beneath. As usual, the original frequency applied was incorrect, with the H98 running every 10 minutes rather than every 8, although like the E6 the via points returned. However, consistency doesn't really exist with this branding and some of the buses returned without an orange ring or frequency sticker around the front blindbox. I also question the places of interest displayed - I'm sceptical Hayes Town Medical Centre generates more usage than the massive Asda down the road, and what's so special about the H98 over the other eight branded routes which stop nearby? The terminus of Hayes End has been completely ignored despite it being the only place the H98 serves alone, whilst the grammatical error of "Bus station" appears again. There is also no mention of Harlington Corner, despite it being an important interchange. Interestingly, the H98 is the only branded route operated by London United and there are no other routes involved in the exercise that serve Hounslow Town Centre, so the orange single deckers certainly stand out over there. Whilst they look reasonable, technical accuracy is once again lacking with the H98 branding.

Metroline West TE1574 is seen in Hayes on route U4 to Hayes Prologis Park

This is the third shade of blue we've seen recently, although it is much lighter than the examples used on the single deckers. The U4 runs from Hayes Prologis Park-Uxbridge and the vehicles used to display the points of interest en route, but these were removed since the buses had to have new stickers applied, since the route runs every 10 minutes, not every 8. When the via points were around, the terminus at Prologis Park and the surrounding residential area were completely ignored, whilst Lake Farm Country Park was used again, although the U4 is probably the closest route to the somewhat glorified attraction. There is no mention of Brunel University either, which I'm sure generates significant patronage for the U4 service and would make the service attractive for students. The picture above also shows that the offside of double deckers just carry regular adverts rather than ones catered towards promoting the service. Occasionally, the U4 buses strayed onto other routes, although generally they've remained dedicated to the service and like the H98, the colour isn't that bad to look at. It's just a shame that the branding is incomplete, the original frequency was wrong and the points of interest which were displayed didn't show off the usefulness of the route much at all.

Abellio London 2578 is seen in Hayes working route U5.
Here we have another example of incomplete branding, with just the stickers adding any splashes of colour from the front view. However, what's strange is that the original frequency applied of every 12 minutes was correct, but the via points are missing on this bus. Only two vehicles have had the livery applied, despite the peak vehicle requirement being for 12 buses, so that's one less than 25% this time. Personally, I think that the purple colour shown on the U5 buses is easily the best looking, although this is subjective. The other vehicle did carry via points for a bit and there were the usual problems with the Lake Farm Country Park and the omission of Brunel University, but the shopping centre on the U5 bus was advertised as "intu Uxbridge", whilst on the U4 a capital letter was placed - "Intu Uxbridge", which adds another discrepancy to the spectrum. However, despite the problems with a lack of via points, I still argue that the U5 is the most aesthetically pleasing and when the bus turned up for photography I wasn't too horrified by the livery, which is a start.

Abellio London 8570 is seen on the U7 along Uxbridge Road.
Whilst the U7 is last numerically, the first branded vehicle appeared on this route and amazingly both buses carry complete branding, something which seven out of the twelve routes failed to produce. The yellow colour shown isn't exactly attractive, but I still think anything is better than the 140 branding. Even though the dismal frequency of every 30 minutes isn't exactly attractive for potential bus users, at least TFL were honest this time and applied it correctly from the start. Along with the blindbox ring and stickers, there are place names too - can you bear the excitement? Like the 427, 607 and A10, the U7 doesn't serve Hayes Town Centre, choosing to terminate at the retail park towards the Northern extremities of the district. I'm not too familiar with the U7 route itself, but I know that it serves Brunel University (which has been omitted) and provides the only bus service for some parts of Charville Lane Estate, so why Colham Green Recreation Ground has been chosen instead despite it being served by half a dozen other routes is anyone's guess. Despite the absence of points of interest, TFL decided that it was necessary to add the words "Shopping Centre" after "intu Uxbridge", without a capital letter this time. Two buses are branded for the U7 service, which is 50% of the allocation, but having a solitary vehicle with the livery just makes the scheme look even more half-hearted than it already is. Overall though, the U7 is definitely one of the best examples out there for consistency and the route will remain famous for starting this diabolical exercise. 

In conclusion, the Hayes Branding was a promising concept ruined by the lack of a branding professional and the pathetic, avoidable errors and countless discrepancies which could've been resolved by simply researching the frequency or looking at where the route serves in the first place - it really isn't that hard. I'm also quite concerned about the lack of capital letters at times. The livery looks naff and makes the buses look tacky, which is hardly going to improve bus usage. Hopefully, if TFL choose to adopt branding to all services, they either choose the style of the Barkingside scheme or get their act together as quite honestly what's happened in Hayes is an embarrassment to the bus network.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Random Observations: April 2018

There hasn't been one of these for a while, so perhaps this edition can be viewed as a reprieve from the somewhat relentless chain of "changes" posts that will be documented over the next few weeks. Other than that, you probably know the drill by now, ten pictures with my thoughts underneath them, along with a compulsory rant.

Stagecoach London 23113 is seen at Crystal Palace at the end of a route 227 journey.
After opening this photo, the first thing that became apparent was the glorious sunshine which we haven't witnessed for some time during this rather miserable Easter weekend, in terms of the weather anyway. The 227 is quite well-respected for what is a fairly mainstream single deck bus route, trundling along the main roads of South London usefully linking town centres and housing. It has some decent views and passes through a variety of different environments in a fairly short space of time, so in terms of external surroundings it's generally a thumbs up, although the main point of interest about this route is the batch of Mercedes Citaro buses, a rarity within London and the only batch ordered by Stagecoach for the capital. I suspect that these models were chosen as the 227 is a very busy route, running at an intensive 8-minute frequency, linking bustling areas like Crystal Palace, Penge, Beckenham and Bromley and they do a pretty good job at providing extra capacity, although occasionally regular E200s found at the garage step in.

Unfortunately the timetable is pretty loose, which is a shame because there are rare occasions where the power of these buses are revealed and they are easily some of the best in London - with a good driver the growling engine hurtling up the hill at Crystal Palace must be so satisfying to listen to. I wasn't successful in finding much "thrash" or "kickdown" during my trip, although the potential of this Citaro was certainly noticeable and it still provided an enjoyable journey on a more exotic type of bus. My only criticism of these vehicles is the pathetic blinds which have been installed - why can't a normal font be used? It looks naff. However, this is only a small matter and the 227 is certainly above average for a single deck route ; I was entertained throughout the journey and there are almost always points of interest to admire outside the bus. In addition to this, the main allocation of the service is in the form of a truly wonderful batch of vehicles, which certainly won't disappoint with a good driver. Make sure to ride it towards Bromley if you want to hear the engine maxed out though, as this is the uphill direction.

Abellio London 9462 is seen in West Ealing on the E1 to Greenford Broadway.
Coincidentally, this photo was taken on the same day as when single deckers invaded the E1 during an evening peak, where Hayes (WS) garage were particularly short of buses. Over the past couple of years it's become apparent that the batch of 14-reg ADL Enviro 400H vehicles allocated to the E1 aren't the most reliable of buses and you can often find almost half of them off-road at any one time, which means that other vehicles found often have to be substituted onto the service. This is usually in the form of an MMC from the 350 or 427, although sometimes the 2009-plate diesel E400s which work the E9 are used, like the example illustrated above. Even though the hybrids never fail to offer a comfortable and relaxing journey, my limited usage of the E9 has proven that 09-reg diesels are very fast vehicles, with satisfying acceleration and an ability to maintain high speed. The buses themselves aren't in a great condition and their refurbishment was evidently rushed - lots of seat padding was applied but there are also lots of smaller issues like grubby poles or squeaky doors which weren't attended to. Some of the buses do make, let's call it interesting, noises from the engine and I've been on two that have broken down in service, although despite the neglect shown by the operator they still seem to be doing a sterling job on my local E-routes and without them I suspect the E1 would've seen a much larger number of single deckers, which would've been abysmal in rush hour.

 Contrary to popular belief that short routes are always quiet, the E1 is easily one of the most overcrowded services at Ealing Broadway during the evening peak. Although buses are naturally empty in the daytime, it's the most popular and efficient way of travelling between Ealing and Greenford (the E10 is fastest but uses 1-door E200s at a dismal frequency, so isn't particularly attractive for anyone),  but it also serves some dense residential areas and in the evening peak people swarm out of the station and usually buses leave Haven Green full and standing with commuters. It's one of those routes which often has a constant stream of people running, although the issue of being looked down upon for leaving them behind is often resolved because the bus reaches capacity very quickly. This can teach us to not judge a book by its cover - the number of people who've proclaimed the E1 can revert to single deck operation drives me crazy - but also to appreciate these brilliant Enviro 400s which have been incredibly useful at covering for the 14-reg hybrids, which spend so much time in the garage!

Tower Transit BH36102 is seen at the Covent Garden stand on route RV1.
Congratulations to the RV1, for becoming the first route to appear in two consecutive editions of Random Observations. This can be explained by the recent changes to the service, in regards to the timetabling and its fleet, which means that I've been taking lots of pictures of the service and there is a higher chance of one being selected, although the long-term diversions which ultimately caused the downfall of the service are still in place. Those of you with a good memory might notice that the bus illustrated above looks very different to the RV1 you saw last time and that's because it's a brand new type, a development in hydrogen technology by VanHool. These buses arrived in the capital during the summer, but didn't actually enter service until January 2018, so there certainly was a sense of excitement when they finally made it out onto the road. Unlike the Wrightbus hydrogen vehicles, the interior is in a Tower Transit livery and contains decent lighting which doesn't give you a headache. The layout is rather unconventional with lots of "social seating" and an almost 50/50 split in those facing forwards and backwards. They are very boxy and sound quite similar to a New Routemaster, particularly upon acceleration, although Waterloo Bridge is probably the only time you'll notice this as the rest of the route usually doesn't exceed 5mph. After two failed attempts at catching the vehicles (don't let this put you off, there's almost always one out and about, I had pretty rotten luck), one turned up conveniently when I needed to get to Covent Garden on a Saturday afternoon and generally I think these buses are decent vehicles - nothing particularly special but they're still pleasant to travel on. My only criticism is of Tower Transit for not maintaining the poor buses properly - given that I was sitting at the rear of the vehicle my view of the beautiful riverside was spoiled by the sheer amount of disgusting filth on the windows - are they too scared to send it through the bus wash because of the technology? It needs to be sorted as soon as possible and the company need to learn to show some respect for these brand new vehicles!

One thing which became apparent on my journey was how busy the bus was - at one point along Upper Ground it was standing room only with all the tourists heading towards Covent Garden. Perhaps the drastic cut back to 3 buses per hour from the previous 12 minute frequency was a bit much - yes the RV1 does run empty a lot of the time but there are instances where a surge of tourists will use the bus to get to the various attractions en route and this is the second time I've used an RV1 that's been well-loaded in the past few months. Once the diversions are over I'm hoping that general patronage picks up considerably, to show TFL that they can't scrap the route just yet.  I'm almost certain that's the plan as drastic cutbacks like this are almost always early signs of future withdrawal - to think that this route was so crowded it warranted DDs a few years ago...

Metroline West VW1757 is seen on the 483 to Harrow.
Eighteen months ago, TFL modified route 83 so now it only runs between Alperton and Golders Green. A brand new service, called the 483, picks up the slack between Ealing Hospital and Alperton, before following the 83 until Wembley Stadium. From here, it turns left and serves North Wembley and subsequently terminates at Harrow Bus Station, providing some nice links to this previously under-served part of North West London. Originally, I was upset about the loss of a direct link to Golders Green and Hendon, but thankfully I've now become accustomed to my new service and have grown to realise that I really didn't use the links the former 83 provided much at all. The number change hasn't scared anyone away around here and the Ealing Hospital-Wembley section is just as busy as under the old route, with the last bit from Ealing Broadway to the Hospital being particularly crowded in rush hour, so who knows how it will cope with the loss of route 427 from next year. Unfortunately, it seems that usage levels at the Northern end of the route have been disappointing apart from in the school runs, with residents of North Wembley not taking advantage of their brand new links to the local town centres of Harrow and Wembley Central, perhaps because the car is still more attractive for them, although hopefully this service will pick up in popularity over the next few years as it really does have the potential to be useful up there. Understandably, not many people use the service all the way from Ealing-Harrow, because it's very indirect and although a link between the two hubs would be useful, it's considerably quicker to change in Wembley for a 182 bus rather than deal with the tedious traffic along the high road. Despite the awful road conditions which prompted the split of the 83, the reliability of the 483 has been truly superb ever since the start date and I must give credit to Alperton (ON) garage for running such a difficult route so well. The refurbishment of the 59-reg VW-class Gemini 2s is top-notch too, providing some much needed nourishment to a worn out batch of vehicles. In general the 483 seems to be doing well and I hope it stays this way for the future.

Metroline Travel VPL596 is seen on route 17 to London Bridge, part of an endangered batch of Volvo B7TLs.
Nowadays, this is a rare sight, since the 17 converted to Gemini 3 operation last summer. The population of these Volvo B7TL Presidents is declining rapidly in fact, with only a handful remaining in South-West London under Go-Ahead and at Metroline's Willesden (AC) and Holloway (HT) garages. What I find particularly saddening is that a couple of years ago, this generation of double deckers were still very much noticeable in the London fleet, but by next year I don't there will be any more ALX400s and Plaxton Presidents and they were the buses I grew up with through childhood. These older vehicles also tend to have much more character than the modern equivalents, yes they hardly produce any emissions but they're all far too quiet and don't have any quirks or differentiation between models - they all look and sound the same. When I was younger I didn't particularly like the older buses, mostly because of the excitement surrounding hybrid technology and the somewhat undesirable state of the vehicles before refurbishment, but now I honestly regret constantly letting go these older, endangered types for another batch of hybrids which are pretty much identical to the batch before etc etc.

As the London bus fleet is modernised, within the next couple of years Enviro 400s will be the most modern double deckers in the fleet and it just emphasises how time flies and frankly how boring the bus scene will be. My advice to all you viewers is to make the most of the old things before its too late and honestly that will be the case very very soon. You'll be hearing stories of the long-gone "Tridents" and "B7TLs", feeling regret that you didn't manage to bag a proper farewell ride. It's these buses that persuaded lots of people to become enthusiasts in the first place. I can't give overly-specific advice on how to catch them as this is only meant to be one paragraph, but if you need any further assistance in catching one of the endangered types this Easter please leave a comment below, I'm more than happy to help. For Trident ALX400s, Stagecoach still have quite a few in East London, with routes like the 158 and 472 seeing a decent number every day. London United are down to single figures with their batch and I expect them to be gone within a fortnight - the TA-class buses are usually found on the H32, 71 and 281 in West London. DAF DB250 Geminis are also endangered, with a small number running around the Croydon area under Arriva, usually on routes like the 194, 197, 264, 403 and 466. B7TL Geminis are still found in fairly large numbers, although this engine on a President body is much rarer - the Go-Ahead ones are found on the 77 mostly, whilst Metroline have a few on the 302 and 460 in North-West London, but also a noteable amount on the Central London route 43 and catching one on that is probably your last chance to ride a double decker of this generation for a considerable amount of time in zone 1.

London United ADE40423 (YX12 FDJ) is seen at Hounslow on the H98.
This particular E400 has remained at Hounslow (AV) garage for the 81, instead of transferring to London Sovereign to work the 142 and 258. Although the H98 is a single decker route, the flexible allocation policy at the depot ensures that E400s and Scania OmniCitys do appear fairly regularly, especially because the partial allocation of Optare MetroCity vehicles now make very intermittent appearances after what was a promising start in terms of reliability. The H98 has actually had its contract retained recently and hopefully it will result in a refurbishment of the knackered 60-plate DLE-class Enviro 200s that have worked the service consistently over the past few years. Some of those buses have been involved in a route branding scheme in the Hayes area, but a more detailed post on that will be published in a couple of weeks. It is quite unfortunate that the H98 didn't receive a full allocation of double deck vehicles upon contract renewal, although this is hardly surprising given the unfortunate state of the buses budget. Buses on the H98 are frequently pushed to their maximum capacity and are almost always fully seated with single deckers, mainly because it provides unique links between the two major Bath Road and Heathrow-Hayes corridors, along with assisting the other routes along them. It's one of those routes that can turn up empty if following a convoy of other buses on different routes, but if the H98 turns up by itself, following a gap of a few minutes, your chances of getting on are slim. This makes the route rather grim on a single decker, but if you're lucky enough to experience a DD, the H98 might be quite enjoyable, especially because it has many fast and semi-rural sections where buses often reach high speeds, in addition to urban high streets and a brief residential part at the end. Therefore, the H98 has the potential to be quite a nice and useful route, but without the extra floor on all buses that won't be happening anytime soon.

Stagecoach London 19738 is seen at Romford Station on route 86 to Stratford.
One of the busiest routes in London is the 86, paralleling the TFL Rail service between Romford and Stratford, with intermediate destinations including Chadwell Heath, Goodmayes, Forest Gate and Ilford. Bar a few deviations in town centres, the route is essentially a straight line for its entirety, running alongside the busiest route in London, the 25, along the overcrowded Romford Road corridor between Stratford and Ilford. Despite the parallelling train service, the 86 serves residential areas in much more detail, but also offers a cheaper alternative which is very popular in this part of London, so the 86 picks up both local traffic and long distance travellers. To make matters worse, the route is a lone wolf for almost the whole of the Ilford-Romford corridor and is the only bus to serve Seven Kings Station on the Northern side at all and disappointingly TFL aren't changing this matter despite the other Crossrail-related service changes. There is a large area of residential housing just North of the station and a new single deck route here would be very popular and might help the crowding on the 86.

Recently, the route has seen a vehicle upgrade, to a large batch of existing ADL E400s, which have replaced (most of) the Trident ALX400s which were the face of this route for a number of years, although for those of you who prefer the old kit there are still a couple running around every day. Soon, the notorious Romford Road corridor will also receive some much-needed support with an extension of route 425 to Ilford, which finally brings a bus route that's not in the top 10 busiest to many of the bus stops here, so hopefully commuters can breathe a sigh of relief and be able to board their buses in the morning. Due to its popularity, the 86 isn't the most reliable of routes and I've had to wait for a considerable amount of time on each of my attempts to use the service, but there are certainly trunk routes out there with a worse service, including another one radiating from Romford since the new operator took over. However, the story of that route shall be told another time.

Arriva London T121 is seen along Streatham High Road on route 250 to Brixton.
 Oh look, it's another ridiculously busy double deck route, being the 33rd most popular in London. This time we're in South London, on the number 250, which runs between Croydon Town Centre and Brixton, in roughly a straight line, bar a deviation in the Thornton Heath area to serve some residential parts alone. The 250 does have quite a poor reputation in South London, mainly because of its awful reliability, clapped out fleet of heavily restricted ADL E400s (courtesy of Thornton Heath (TH) garage and their infamous maintenance), along with a loose timetable and a strong presence of anti-social behaviour on the route. It is also extremely oversubscribed, with the 7-8 minute frequency being completely inadequate for the service. Although I've probably made the route seem extremely unattractive for you, I think it will be quite interesting to try out, especially because of how urban it is. Most of the route is spent travelling along busy, main roads or town centres like Brixton, Streatham and Croydon, whilst the residential section in Norbury is very dense and contains a sprawling network of roads served minimally by three busy double deck routes.

Like the 86, it has both long-distance travellers and local residents, which is why the buses remain consistently busy throughout the entire journey. However, what's surprising is that the 250 is not a route which spends a lot of time by itself (bar the housing section) - in fact, over 70% is shared with another bus route called the 109, also running between Brixton and Croydon Town Centre, which is almost identical to the 250 in terms of the areas it travels through, except it takes a different route through the residential part of Norbury and travels in a straight line for the entire journey, making it slightly quicker than the 250 for long distance trips. Subsequently, this service is even busier, being the 14th most popular in London and perhaps its notorious levels of overcrowding are the reason why the 250 is still well-used - it does take longer but if everyone travelling between Croydon and Brixton/Streatham tried to use the 109, they'd be waiting for a very long time to board a bus. What fascinates me is the sheer popularity of this corridor - if two high frequency double deck routes are still overcrowded then that just emphasises the strong demand for North-South links in this part of London. Indeed, the 109 routeing was supposed to be covered by a tram service, which probably would've been wise considering the dire state of affairs with these routes at the moment. We can only hope for improvements, but that's very unlikely.

Go-Ahead London SOE26 is seen at Prince Regent on route 300 to Canning Town.
I don't know much about the 300. It is one I've never used before, but from my previous map studies and observations I can infer that it looks quite tedious. The main allocation consists of a clapped out batch of ADL Enviro 200s, although occasionally more exotic types like the Scania Esteem buses do appear, although these particular buses don't please me much at all because of their small windows towards the rear and rather claustrophobic interior atmosphere. Vehicles aside, the 300 runs from Canning Town to East Ham Station, taking a very indirect route with points of interest including Newham Hospital, Prince Regent and Beckton, in addition to an assortment of housing estates in between. The route also seems quite busy, but it ran into much more serious problems a few days ago, when a DLR strike caused chaos in East London. Given that the 300 is the only bus route to serve lots of DLR stations, including Royal Albert and Beckton Park, surely it would've been wise to give this route some extra buses to support passengers in finding alternative methods of transport? The normal service was entirely inappropriate and as a result lots of people were turned down as buses were rammed solid. In contrast, extra buses on the 147 shuttling between Canning Town and the ExCeL Exhibition Centre were carrying fresh air, along with the double deckers on the D3 which missed out most of the route anyway. Hopefully if a strike occurs again, TFL will learn their lesson and reimburse this poor little route that really shouldn't have to deal with mass overcrowding.

Metroline Travel VWH2092 is seen at Chenies Place on route 214U to Camden Town.
Since the Northern Line is closed over the Easter weekend between Moorgate and East Finchley, rail replacement buses have been provided and for the section between Camden Town and Moorgate this comes in the form of extra vehicles on route 214, which parallels the tube on this section. Metroline are running the supplementary service with existing Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles from Holloway (HT) garage, with cards in the window and either a blank destination blind, or a rail replacement/special service display as the vehicles lack proper blinds for the service. The 214U runs at a 12 minute frequency, between Camden Town and Moorgate only, in order to provide the additional capacity where it's needed most and also to avoid all the posh residents in Highgate which prevent the route from being DD full-time. Some of the buses were fairly busy, whilst others carried fresh air if they were following a regular 214, like the example above. However, on Friday many enthusiasts were disappointed at the drivers of the service, who often skipped stops or deliberately dragged behind regular 214s which were packed out, whilst the double deckers carried air. On my two trips today, I experienced some rather reckless driving, with one of them not holding back at all with the accelerator and taking corners in King's Cross at full speed, which resulted in some near misses with pedestrians and parked cars. My other driver also wasn't hanging around, but the issue with this one was using the brakes properly and in St Pancras the bus crashed into the rear of a number 45. Although there was no significant damage, the driver of the vehicle in front was understandably quite annoyed and started shouting at my 214 driver for a couple of minutes. However, once we'd got going again we ended up skipping a red light on Euston Road after braking too late and after this, we had to swerve violently to narrowly avoid crashing into a taxi. It certainly was a thrilling experience.

My personal theory is that these drivers are regulars on the normal 214 and haven't had sufficient type training on the new Gemini 3s - they seemed unfamiliar with the braking system (which perhaps was easier to control on the single deckers) and unaware of the powerful acceleration of the buses - most drivers hold back when pulling off on Gemini 3s because you literally go flying without restriction and that's what happened today. Nevertheless, I absolutely loved travelling through Somers Town on a double decker for the first time and I do wish that I could sample the whole 214 service with one - it would be a brilliant route.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Go Away, Give North London Independance

Amongst the excitement on Saturday 3rd February 2018, two routes in North London had their contracts awarded to different operators whilst a third gained new buses for a retention. Although they don't all meet at any single point, all three serve the bottom chunk of the London Borough of Enfield and Go-Ahead London were the losers here, giving up routes 299 and W4 to independent operator Sullivan Buses and the much more substantial Arriva London respectively.

Go-Ahead London SEN17 is seen at Southgate on route 299.
Originating in Cockfosters, the 299 is predominantly a quiet residential route, serving the back streets of the outer London suburb Oakwood before dropping off travellers to the urban town centre of Southgate. After this, it generally sticks to main roads but the nature of the surroundings still remains fairly monotonous, with the only points of interest being a steep hill on Alexandra Park Road, crossing the North Circular Road near Bounds Green Station and the pretty Broomfield Park. I was left disappointed after my end-to-end ride on the 299, as the routeing itself is pretty dull and all the houses pretty much looked the same - in fact, the only riveting sections were the somewhat rural approach to Cockfosters and the high street at Southgate and I honestly think there are much more interesting routes in this part of North London, especially since the new buses have taken over. Of course, this is subject to opinion and some enthusiasts will like  Wrightbus Streetlites, but there's more on them later.

One advantage of the 299 is its fairly short length, taking no more than 40 minutes to cover the six miles between Muswell Hill and Cockfosters. A modest 15 minute frequency is generally suitable for demand and the route soaks up seven buses at rush hour. Under Go-Ahead the 299 used dual door 2011-plate ADL Enviro 200s, which were inherited from First after they sold Northumberland Park (NP) garage, although occasionally other types including the endangered Marshall Capital would appear. Generally, there were no real complaints regarding the reliability or buses provided by Go-Ahead, with the loss being overshadowed by the gain achieved by Sullivan Buses ; the 299 is now their fourth mainstream TFL service and it prompted the first batch of Wrightbus Streetlites for the company.

Sullivan Buses SL90 is seen along Alexandra Park Road on route 299 to Muswell Hill.
As usual, SL90-97 carry the personalised number plates which Sullivan Buses always order for new buses, in addition to the TFL-spec interior livery and the buses have been used on the other two single deck routes at South Mimms (SM) garage, the 298 and W9, with the former being used as a testing ground for the new vehicles a few days before the 299 takeover. Generally, I'm not a fan of Wrightbus Streetlites, especially the longer variants, because their interior layout just makes it so unncessarily difficult to enjoy the view outside, having ridiculously small windows towards the rear along with loads of glass barriers in front of the seats which even distort the view outside of the front windscreen. They feel cramped and this sensation is particularly noticeable on the 299 examples, as they are 9.7m in length and are therefore shorter than the standard examples but still have two doors. This made the entire journey feel very uncomfortable, preventing any sense of appreciation for the 299's routeing - it definitely isn't top 10 material but I found that the vehicle detracted from my enjoyment significantly. However, lots of enthusiasts have praised this batch as apparently they can reach high speeds, although if you're a strong advocate of that theory I'd suggest trying SL93 first as that bus was truly awful, having no power and refusing to leave first gear, which ultimately resulted in an end-to-end 299 journey that didn't exceed 10mph. The bus wasn't even overreving badly, as that at least provided some amusement to when I had an E200 stuck in first gear on the 143 a few weeks ago. Therefore, in general I'm not too happy about the 299 change, although my opinion on the bus model should really be inferior to the views of the general public and Sullivan Buses' service delivery so far, which is the focaliser of the next paragraph.

Sullivan Buses SL93 is seen near Muswell Hill on the 299 to Cockfosters.
The first day of operation presented some challenges for Sullivan Buses, although in general the service levels were deemed acceptable and this has remained the case since then, apart from the occasional lapse in rush hour. Unusually, the reliability most commonly deteriorates late in the evening, particularly after 9pm, where sometimes the buses run around in pairs despite the 20 minute frequency - normally the punctuality of bus routes improves in the late evenings as road traffic conditions are much clearer. My personal conspiracy theory for this bizarre matter is that the route isn't actually being controlled or overlooked by anyone at the depot during the evening - Sullivan Buses only opened up their iBus room very recently and perhaps they couldn't recruit anyone for the night shift yet. However, you can probably take this with a pinch of salt as it's just something that came to me the other day out of the blue. So far, there have been no odd workings on the 299 under the new contract, although there is always the possibility of existing Enviro 200s if they are reblinded. In conclusion, with my enthusiast mindset the 299 change can be viewed as disheartening, with the introduction of those horrible Wrightbus Streetlites which simply irritate me to the point I can't enjoy the journey. However, unless you concretely share my views on this type it might be worth checking out the route anyway, in case there are some hidden gems within the initially dry routeing presented on my journey. Just avoid SL93 as that was unbearable. I wish Sullivan Buses the best of luck with maintaining the Streetlites and their immaculate interior presentation, as well as running a satisfactory service for the 299 - it's a positive start and if they can work on the punctuality of the last few trips the standards will easily match those provided by Go-Ahead.

Go-Ahead London SEN10 is seen at Wood Green on the W4.
Some bus routes in London may initially look tedious from map studies or reports from other enthusiasts, although the W4 proved exactly why it's always worth trying something out, on the off-chance that your expectations are exceeded significantly. Both termini of the W4 are very unusual and I started my journey at Oakthorpe Park under the new contract - the first stop is just alongside a dual carriageway with not much to see elsewhere bar a crusty footbridge which can offer some decent views of the passing traffic underneath, although the noise of traffic constantly roaring past provided some much-needed entertainment during my wait. After this the W4 weaves through the back streets of Palmers Green on a hail and ride basis, although the occasional park or public house do provide some balance between relentless residential property.

Before any sense of boredom became apparent, the W4 returns to a main road and travels right through the heart of Wood Green, something which is quite fun to do on a mini single decker - usually this route underneath the shopping centre is associated with important double deck routes like the 29, 123 and 141, so traversing it on a very different model was certainly an interesting experience. After this urban replenishment, the W4 becomes residential yet again, serving some extremely narrow streets in the West Green area, although arguably the most interesting section is here, where the W4 undertakes a one-way loop to serve the expansive Broadwater Farm Estate, being the only route to do so.
Arriva London ENN41 is seen on the W4 to Oakthorpe Park.
The contrast between white terraced housing and the countless towering apartment blocks is quite mesmerising, with each tenement having a unique characteristic, whether that being a ziggurat structure or the somewhat admirable graffiti art. The other factor which impressed me was the sheer size of the area, it looked like it stretched out for miles at the W4 stop underneath a link bridge, adjacent to some community shops providing essentials to local residents within a short distance. There are indeed negative connotations surrounding this estate and perhaps the conditions are still quite unpleasant for the tenants, but exploring these parts of London is eye-opening and allows us to reflect on matters such as inequality, but also the architecture of this huge complex - it's brutally beautiful. After here, the W4 serves some more sections of terraced housing before entering the hustle and bustle of Bruce Grove and Tottenham High Road, along with the recently developed retail parks. Tottenham Hale Bus Station is a busy interchange where most routes terminate, although the W4 soldiers on for a few more minutes, serving the Ferry Lane Estate.

This is nowhere near as vast as Broadwater Farm and there is definitely evidence of this area being formerly industrial, although it's in a very odd location, marooned between the Greater Anglia rail line to Cambridge and the Tottenham reservoirs, so all the housing is contained in this very short space with no room whatsover to expand outwards. It's a very odd terminating point, being an isolated and quiet area which is so close to the thriving Tottenham Town Centre, although it feels as if it's one hundred miles away. Within the tranquility an unsettling tone was also created - perhaps the dire state of the construction site next to the train tracks partially contributes to this, along with the occasional lack of pavement if you choose to walk out of the estate. Yes, I have deviated significantly from the aspect of route changes, but hopefully I've been able to convey how much the W4 surprised me, being one of my favourite single decker routes of North London for offering such an enthralling insight into an area I thought I was familiar with, although this clearly isn't the case.

Go-Ahead London operated the W4 from Northumberland Park (NP) garage, using a batch of SEN-class ADL Enviro 200s which were almost identical to the 299 examples, apart from the lack of a second door with the W4 buses. Occasionally, Wrightbus Streetlites would appear on this route and even some of the longer vehicles ventured out onto the W4 from time to time, although how they navigated some of the tight turns in West Green is beyond me. A peak vehicle requirement of 14 buses satisfy the 10 minute frequency, which may sound quite high for a single deck route but is entirely inadequate for the W4 - almost every area it passes through has very high bus usage and this means that the short E200s are almost always filled up, with my bus being packed up to the driver's cab on the approach to Wood Green at 11:30 on a weekday. In terms of their service and vehicle provision, Go-Ahead weren't viewed as particularly awful on this route - the reliability was patchy but that is to be expected for a route like the W4, which serves traffic hotspots as well as tight residential streets where buses often get stuck. Enthusiasts were quite happy with Arriva taking over the operation of the W4, given that the change is a homecoming as this company ran the route before First took over a few years ago (which then became Go-Ahead after First sold the garage).

Arriva London ENN39 is seen at Ferry Lane Estate at the end of a W4 journey.
Arriva London ordered sixteen ENN-class 9.0m ADL Enviro 200 MMCs for the W4, which entered service promptly and subsequently no other types have been used on the route since the new contract. The route is based at Wood Green (WN) garage which is conveniently right in the middle of the route and the Enviro 200 MMCs themselves are quite nice vehicles, not having an overpowering interior colour scheme, although a potentially powerful engine is also apparent, which is rather satisfying to listen to even at low speeds. Unusually, Arriva seem to have reverted to using yellow poles for the interior livery of these new vehicles, rather than the cream-coloured ones which were used on the previous MMCs Arriva ordered for the 377. Day one of Arriva operation coincided with roadworks in Wood Green, which completely wrecked the service and caused gaps lasting well over 40 minutes and a countless number of curtailments, especially in the afternoon, although since then the route has been performing well, which can perhaps be explained by the fact that Arriva already have experience with the W4 in its current form, bar the slight diversion in Tottenham which occurred a couple of years ago with all the gyratory works. I still don't properly understand what's changed other than that the bus station was rebuilt and now all the roads are two-way. There's still some form of development going on with the train station as accessing the platforms is it a bit of a mess at the moment - even the oyster barriers are outside!

Arriva London ENN43 is seen near Muswell Hill on route 184.
Even though the W4 hasn't seen any other bus types, nothing has stopped its allocation from spreading their wings onto the challenging route 184, between Barnet and Turnpike Lane. Its own batch of longer E200s have clearly been having problems recently, with the route having to borrow both the W4 vehicles and occasionally double deckers from the 29 on an almost daily basis, with the former option not being ideal for the oversubscribed 184 service. As this particular section has lingered on for ages now, a summary should hopefully assist you in consolidating the W4 change ; the route was lost from Go-Ahead to Arriva with new MMCs and the service levels are decent so far. It's also a really fascinating route which is honestly it's a brilliant way to spend your time if you like exploring different areas of London and getting to know this diverse city, beyond all the tourist traps in zone one.

Arriva London ENS39 is seen at Southgate on route W6 to Edmonton Green.
No, this is not another example of the W4 buses straying, although the only immediately obvious difference is the appearance of a second door, although even that isn't very clear with this contemptible picture - unfortunately Southgate Station is an absolute pain for snapping buses and I completely forgot to try again after alighting, mostly because the driver decided to let me off a whole 30 seconds after I pressed the bell on a hail & ride section, which meant that I got distracted in trying to find a more appropriate walking route. The W6 was retained by Arriva on Saturday 3rd February and it was simply a matter of displacing old Dart Pointers with the more modern equivalent - Enviro 200 MMCs. They entered service very prematurely, some of them as early as November and I'm sure regular commuters are relieved to finally have new buses on this short, but overcrowded service. Running between Edmonton Green and Southgate at a 10 minute frequency, it's a handy method of linking the two town centres, in addition to serving some housing alone, all within half an hour. The new buses are based at Enfield (E) garage and haven't strayed onto any other single deck routes there, as they are too long for the 377 whilst sending one out on the 313 would be entirely inappropriate given how busy it gets. The service levels provided by Arriva have always been adequate and hopefully this continues for the next few years.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!