Saturday, 16 September 2017

Busageddon: Croydon Edition

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

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(C) garage, with an eclectic mix of older vehicles in a wide range of conditions, although some of them have been withdrawn following this change.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 Since the contract changeover, some of the Evolution's have been withdrawn, although route 359 is the place to find them at Croydon (C) garage, whilst a solitary MAN E200 still remains at Orpington (MB) garage, usually on routes 126,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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Five Changes For The Corresponding Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Random Route: 252

One of London's slightly less interesting routes is the 252, running between Collier Row and Hornchurch Town Centre at a 10 minute frequency. It takes a fairly indirect route between the two termini, serving Romford and Elm Park in the process. Describing it as residential can almost be seen as an understatement, with no real break at all apart from Romford Town Centre. Thankfully, there are occasional changes of scenery to complement the housing, and if you do love routes that constantly travel through suburban residential areas, then I would definitely recommend the 252. It runs from Stagecoach London's Rainham (RM) garage with a mixed allocation consisting of ADL E400s and Scania OmniCity vehicles, which are some of the nicest examples in London.

An ADL E400 is seen at Romford Station on the 252 to Collier Row.
The 252 starts at the very end of Collier Row High Street, a smaller equivalent of the thriving Romford Town Centre. This modest suburban development is located in the London Borough Of Havering (which the 252 doesn't leave throughout its journey) just North of Romford and contains lots of surrounding housing areas where several bus routes terminate. Most of them take the direct route to Romford, via Hainault Road, but there is a substantial amount of homes along White Hart Lane and Mawney Road, which the 252 serves to start off. My bus left on time, in the form of a Scania OmniCity, at the start of a fairly lengthy journey to Hornchurch. After loading up at the first stop, my bus skipped past a few semi-detached houses before approaching a much smaller parade of shops, mostly consisting of independent places and an average-sized Aldi, which was seemingly popular for a Wednesday afternoon.

My bus suddenly turned left onto White Hart Lane (no we didn't teleport to Tottenham) which was much less exciting than the North London equivalent, containing a mixture of low-rise flats and some average housing which was beginning to look like Essex. My bus encountered a small green space, which was part of a primary school, before stopping for the first time after the small parade of half-decent shops, providing essentials and takeaway meals for the local community. The road suddenly became much narrower and this was where White Hart Lane morphed into Mawney Road, which had a few bungalows but was mostly made up of housing similar to the previous street. Despite the large number of cars parked in front of houses, a decent number of people boarded the bus to head to Romford Town Centre, with some of the passengers from Collier Row alighting from this point. Unusually, my bus contained two different door alarms for the front and rear, so I spent the next couple of minutes listening to the difference in pitch as there wasn't anything noteworthy happening outside.

When I saw the fairly lengthy traffic queue I was concerned at first, but then the A12 dual carriageway revealed itself and I realised that this wouldn't continue until Romford. I managed to catch sight of a single decker on the 296 speeding off towards Ilford, which was quite the opposite to the sedate pace of my Scania OmniCity, although that was probably due to the loose scheduling on this section rather than an underwhelming bus. The sign for parking indicated that Romford Town Centre was nearby and the first residential chunk of the 252 was almost over. Hardly any passengers boarded after this point, as all the shops are probably within walking distance, but I was quite relieved that some louder external surroundings were approaching.

Stagecoach London 15007, my refurbished Scania OmniCity, stands under a threatening sky at Hornchurch Town Centre.
A much busier road revealed itself and then my 252 was speeding around the outskirts of Romford Town Centre, racing a much busier Enviro 400 on the 86. The overflowing Romford Market stand was certainly an amusing sight, as a flurry of number 5 buses had just arrived and a couple of 248's were taking their break too. As the bus navigated another huge roundabout, the familiar "Mercury Gardens" announcement played and a sizeable number of passengers alighted here and at the next stop, on the lively Western Road, which contains no less than 23 bus routes. Due to an inconvenient one way system, my 252 was forced to literally head round the back of the shops, which was much less appealing and quite derelict compared to the bustling town centre. However, civilisation re-emerged shortly and my bus passed the rather hectic Romford Station, which is a considerable distance away from the 252 stop! The majority of routes heading towards Roneo Corner serve Queen's Hospital, but there is a small residential area on South Street, which is the route the 252 takes. The fairly mundane stretch of houses was occasionally interrupted by a public house or warehouse, and there was little demand for the bus along this stretch, which suggests that the recent re-routing of the 5 away from this area can definitely be justified, as the 252 and 248 are comfortable with taking the rest of the passengers.

As the road started to twist a little, the 252 had arrived at Roneo Corner, a fairly substantial junction and interchange point for buses heading in various directions but mostly ending up in Romford eventually. The 252 turned left onto the busy main road, with most of the traffic heading for Tesco Extra, but the noisy and congested road was clearly too much for my bus, which started to head into even more housing after almost circling the biggest roundabout so far. For the next couple of minutes the bus went through solid housing, but a driving school with an impressive number of parked cars provided something else to stare at for a few seconds. The housing was reduced to the left hand side only, as the trees and bushes of Eastbrookend Country Park dominated my other view. Shortly after this point, my 252 started to pick up the pace as the scenery became much more rural as Harrow Lodge Park replaced the residential homes on the left, which was filled with children and parents despite the threatening clouds.

An interesting coincidence meant that I was on the 252 bus at 2:52 PM, demonstrated by the iBus screen upstairs.
Unfortunately, the 252 didn't continue into the depths of the countryside, with even more homes to serve. Elm Park Avenue was a tight squeeze, although nobody wanted the bus here and the eventuality of ending up at the tube station is probably the only reason why this road boasts a frequent bus service. In general, I noticed that the 252 is a lone wolf in terms of routeing, with the majority of bus stops it serves having no other routes present. This trend was muted briefly at Elm Park Station, with the addition of three more bus routes that form the popular Hornchurch-Rainham corridor. The unpretentious parade of independent retail units complemented the busy District Line station, found near the end of the line at Upminster. However, after one bus stop of sharing the 252 had had enough and dived down Coronation Drive, which appeared to be pretty similar to the roads served previously. South End Road was surprisingly busy and the random patches of grass alongside the street livened things up a little. The 252 then passed another school (this route must be horrible during term time), before the road widened up considerably, enabling some high-speed running past the houses that were partially hidden behind a wooden fence.

My bus then turned left again (a popular manoeuvre in the Hornchurch direction) onto Airfield Way, with the corresponding Airfield Estate and large wilderness named after the former RAF Hornchurch base, which has typically been turned into residential homes. This section contained some dense housing and was the most popular part of the 252 on my journey, with lots of people wanting to travel to Hornchurch Town Centre. The Tesco Superstore car park was unusually quiet and the bus started to pick up the pace once again despite the twists and turns. The overgrown Hornchurch Country Park was the last green space I saw on the trip, although the end was near and I surprisingly wasn't too fed up at this point, as the amount of housing this bus serves can feel relentless at times. 

Suttons Lane is bungalow territory, but it's also home to the termination point of the 256 and the former St George's Hospital, which will be become a residential development site (surprise surprise). The sudden influx of tudor houses was brief and a modest parade of shops revealed itself, presumably because the appearance of Hornchurch District Line station was imminent. All the retail units that weren't considered good enough to appear in the town centre seem to have been dumped here, a location that's a little too far from the more substantial shopping street to be appealing. Due to the close proximity to the tube and high street, the houses were much more expensive and the appearance of another small chain of shops and Hornchurch Police Station indicated that my journey was almost over. The 252 terminates at the edge of Hornchurch Town Centre on a roundabout, so the bus can turn around and head back on its indirect routeing to Collier Row, but the shops are only a short walk away.

In general, I can say that the 252 certainly wasn't one of the best routes I've done, being a bit too residential for my liking. However, I've definitely been on routes that have been much worse and the excellent Scania OmniCity kept me entertained throughout the journey. There are also some rural elements and speedy sections, so there is some balance after all. I rate the 252 6/10 and if you like going through residential areas, then I think you'll enjoy it a lot! Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Northern Piccadilly Changes

The area surrounding the North end of the Piccadilly Line has seen a decent number of bus service changes over the past couple of months, with Holloway Road, Turnpike Lane, Southgate and Cockfosters stations all welcoming various enthusiasts who recently covered the respective contract changes and new route introductions. Chronologically, the first change we're documenting occurred on Saturday 3rd June 2017, concerning the 217, running between Waltham Cross and Turnpike Lane Station.

Sullivan Buses E77 arrives at Waltham Cross Bus Station on a route 217 journey from Turnpike Lane Station.
Sullivan Buses are London's only independent bus operator, based at South Mimms (SM) garage. They operate a mixture of commercial routes around the Potters Bar area, and TFL services such as the 298 and W9, as well as contributing to weekend rail replacement services using their spare double deckers that are officially allocated to school work. They successfully won their third TFL contract in November 2016 for route 217, which was previously run from Metroline's Potters Bar (PB) garage. The former allocation consisted of ADL Enviro 400 double deckers, part of a common user arrangement at the garage, with routes 82 and W8. The service under Metroline was pretty decent for such a difficult route; even though its physical length is quite short (Waltham Cross-Bush Hill Park-Edmonton-Turnpike Lane), the route sticks to the Great Cambridge Road for the majority of the journey, which is home to road traffic accidents fairly frequently, resulting in tailbacks and chaos that  can rapidly deteriorate the service of the 217.

The batch of brand new ADL Enviro 400 MMC diesel double deckers (the last non-hybrids to enter service in London) arrived early, allowing them to venture onto route 298 before the contract change, to iron out any teething issues. Sullivan Buses have ordered personalised number plates for the vehicles, with the last three letters "SUL" abbreviating the company name, and the first two letters standing for the initials of drivers who work for the company. The vehicles will also contain posters documenting the history of route 217, suggesting that Sullivan Buses really take pride in their brand new batch of E400s. The first day produced a poor service, with lots of bunching and curtailments - at one point there wasn't a single bus heading towards Turnpike Lane, although the customary accident along the A10 wasn't helpful for the controllers.

Since the contract change, the service has improved slightly, but the company are evidently still struggling with this service, a massive step up from the much quieter 298 and W9. Having said that, customer service is brilliant, with lots of friendly staff members, such as the driver of E77 on Saturday 29th July 2017. The route itself is fairly interesting, passing through a mixture of residential and commercial areas at high speed along the dual carriageway. The extremely tight running times in the early morning hours mean that a fast-paced journey is guaranteed, with drivers struggling to keep up to their schedule! The buses themselves (E70-E81) seem to be a little underpowered from my limited observations, but I'm sure they will be popular with enthusiasts as the last diesel double deckers to enter service in London! Occasionally, other double deck vehicles found at South Mimms (SM) garage have strayed onto the route, such as the Scania OmniCity buses normally allocated to school work. It seems that Sullivan Buses are trying their hardest to improve service levels and I think they will get there eventually; we must remember that running a major trunk route between two town centres for the first time isn't easy!

Metroline Travel DEM1351 stands at Millbrook Park, before starting another 382 journey to Southgate.
On Saturday 15th July 2017, route 382 (Millbrook Park-Mill Hill East-Finchley Central-Friern Barnet-Arnos Grove-Southgate) was awarded to Metroline Travel, with some existing single deckers. The previous operator, Arriva London, ran the route from Edmonton (EC) garage with some 8.9m ADL Enviro 200 single deckers, which were only introduced on the route recently following the loss of the 192 to Go-Ahead London. Under the previous contract, the service was pretty poor, with frequent gaps and a noticeable lack of buses in service on many occasions. Many enthusiasts predicted that the route would pass to Metroline upon contract renewal, especially with the rumoured closure of Edmonton (EC) garage, which still hasn't happened yet! Existing single deckers were compatible with the latest contract standards, which gave the route a modest capacity increase to 9.3m single deckers, involving the addition of a second door. The 15 minute frequency of the 382 is suitable for this quiet route, providing some useful round-the-corner links in North London, as well as serving housing areas that main bus routes simply cannot reach. The route was recently extended to the Millbrook Park housing development site, which is a couple of minutes further than the previous terminus, Mill Hill East Station.

On Saturday 15th July 2017, Metroline took over the contract for route 382, with some existing ADL Enviro 200 DEM-class single deckers based at Potters Bar (PB) garage, made available from the loss of the W9 to Sullivan Buses earlier in the year. As usual, the first day produced a terrible service, with constant bunching and curtailments, even worse than the previous operator. Thankfully, this was only temporary and since then the service has improved drastically, with buses generally maintaining an even service. Hopefully, local residents are grateful for their new-found reliable service and longer buses, which should make travelling on the 382 much easier, if Metroline can keep up their excellent work.

The route itself isn't that interesting, passing through lots of residential areas that look fairly similar to each other. Additionally, the DEM-class single deck buses have astonishingly powerful heating, which might be useful in the colder months, but managed to almost send me to sleep last week! As there weren't enough ex-W9 vehicles to cover the Peak Vehicle Requirement for routes 382 and 384, a couple of DEM-class single deckers have transferred over from Alperton (ON) garage, the only other Metroline garage with this type of vehicle, with some longer DE-class E200 buses replacing them in West London. I wish good luck to Metroline for the next five years, who have become the second operator to attempt running this rather neglected route in North London.

Metroline West DEM1916, one of the recent transfers from Alperton (ON) garage, is seen at Barnet Hospital on route 384.
Metroline also retained route 384 (Cockfosters-Bevan Estate-New Barnet-High Barnet-Quinta Drive) on Saturday 15th July 2017, with a controversial frequency reduction to every 20 minutes. Many enthusiasts were angered by this preposterous change, with the 384 being fairly busy under the previous contract. It serves a lot of dense residential housing, especially near Cockfosters and I was gutted when the frequency reduction was announced, as this emphasises the sorry state TFL are in, being forced to make bus cuts with their limited amount of money. The only good news is that longer buses are now being used on the route, partially compensating for the loss of 1bph. Like the 382, the 384 now uses DEM-class vehicles displaced from the W9, but the Alperton transfers also appear on the route fairly regularly, such as DEM1916 illustrated above.

Even though the routeing is heavily residential and quite mundane at times, the sheer number of twists and turns make this route quite unique, especially as they are all concentrated in one small part of Barnet. Most of these indirect routes are forgotten by transport enthusiasts, but this one is famous for destroying the dreams of those undertaking the Tube Challenge, where the main aim is to visit all 270 London Underground stations in one day. The close proximity of High Barnet and Cockfosters (the termini of the Northern and Piccadilly lines respectively) means that a short bus connection is incredibly useful for tube challengers, but only the number 307 travels between the two quickly. Many have made the awful mistake of taking the 384 bus between the two, and losing out on what could've been a world record finish. Knowing your bus routes well really does help sometimes!

Go-Ahead London WVN14 is seen at Holloway Nags Head at the start of a route 530 journey to Islington Angel.
The most valuable section of Upper Street (near Angel Station) is closed Southbound until November 2017, for "essential works." As a result, a large number of bus routes have been diverted away from the area and a new temporary route has been set up to act as a lifeline for residents who are currently isolated from the majority of the rest of the bus network. However, the buses are still using their normal line of route heading Northbound. Heading in the opposite direction, routes 4, 19, 38, 56 and 341 have been diverted via New North Road, Old Street and Clerkenwell Road, avoiding the Angel area entirely. The 73 has been diverted via New North Road, Old Street Roundabout and City Road, so it still serves Islington Angel, but doesn't travel along some of Essex Road to get there. The 43 and 274 have been diverted via Caledonian Road and Pentonville Road, with the former no longer serving Upper Street or Highbury & Islington and the latter no long serving Copenhagen Street or Barnsbury Road. The 153 has been diverted via King's Cross Road, no longer serving some of St John Street, whilst the 30 and 476 have been diverted via Tolpuddle Street and Chapel Market. These routes still serve Islington Angel and Upper Street/Essex Road respectively, only missing out the first two stops along Pentonville Road.

 A temporary route, numbered the 530, is running between Holloway Nags Head and Islington Angel Southbound only, every 12-13 minutes from 6am-11pm. This route maintains the link between Nags Head and Islington Angel lost by the 43 diversion, and also serves all stops along Upper Street, which have lost three bus routes due to the works. The 530 has a peak vehicle requirement of 3 buses and refurbished WVN-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles are being used, based at Northumberland Park (NP) garage. From my observations, the route is extremely popular for a temporary service, picking up lots of passengers at every stop along the way, which justifies the use of double deck vehicles, something I questioned when the service was introduced on Wednesday 16th August. There has been some disruption and I do suggest you avoid the area, but Angel was surprisingly traffic-free when I visited on last Saturday.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Metroline's Frog Exchange & Enviro Shuffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Busageddon: Central London Bus Changes

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

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

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

Routes 73/N73:

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

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

Route 172:

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

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

Route 242:

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

Route 137:

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

Route C2:

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

Routes 22/N22:

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

Future changes:

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!