Sunday, 23 April 2017

Busageddon: Uxbridge Road

Two routes that I use on a daily basis changed vehicle type on Saturday 8th April, with one transferring to another operator. Metroline lost route 427 to Abellio London with new vehicles and the 207 was given a full allocation of Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles, sourced from two garages. Here is how the services ran before the changes.

An almost-new VW on route 427 to Acton High Street, on diversion in Northfields.
The 427 is a relatively young for such a busy route, although it replaced part of the old 207 (which is still in the top 10 busiest routes today), that used to run all the way from White City-Uxbridge. In 2005, the 427 was introduced to make the 207 more reliable, running between Uxbridge and Acton High Street. First used to operate the route from Hayes garage, with some Trident President vehicles that have been withdrawn for seven years now. In 2010, the contract was renewed and Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles made their way over for the new contract, and these vehicles stayed on the 427 for a solid 7 years, rarely making appearances on any other route. However, these vehicles were incredibly worn out after working such a busy route and were constantly breaking down, resulting in the 427 being 4 or 5 buses down on most weekdays in the past couple of years, even with spare Enviro 400s and Scania OmniCity vehicles filling in. This was certainly noticeable on my daily commute, where sometimes the 427 simply wouldn't show up at all in the mornings, causing the 207 to be even more overcrowded than it already is! During this period the route had its operation transferred to Metroline on 22nd June 2013, when First London sold all of its operations over here.

With the shambolic, unhelpful service provided, I was hoping that this route would be lost to another operator, although this seemed unlikely as Metroline were the only operator who had realistic garage space at the time, although it eventually became clear that a new depot was meant to open up for the new contract date. Last October the tender results came through and I burst out laughing, reading that Abellio had won the 427, with brand new vehicles from an already overcrowded Hayes (WS) garage! I was ecstatic that I was getting luxury Enviro 400 MMCs for my daily commute and possibly a more reliable service. Unfortunately it was revealed that this route is on a temporary, non-extendable three year contract, which suggests that TFL are going to modify it in conjunction with the opening of Crossrail (I still refuse to call it the Liz Line).

The first day of a temporary new era...

As the contract date approached, the service became even worse and it was announced that Hayes garage will close, following the loss of the 427 and U5 to Abellio, with the 207 transferring to Greenford (G) garage, which has lots of space after losing six E-routes in two years! What surprised many enthusiasts was that the ex-134 Gemini 2 vehicles (bound for route 207) showed up on the 427 a couple of days early, allowing the 427 to almost reach the full PVR! I managed to catch this on the first day, which was rather special as they were only around for four days before the contract changed. As the final days approached I looked forward to getting rid of the shambolic service and I was quietly confident that Abellio would do a sterling job.

Metroline SN1928 working route 207 to White City.
The 207 is famous for being the last route in London allocated Mercedes Citaro "bendy bus" vehicles, which were withdrawn in December 2011. First typically ordered a mixture of Wright and ADL products for their new contracts, but Boris Johnson demanded that the articulated buses needed to vanish by the end of the year, so First ordered Scania OmniCity vehicles for the first time as they would be ready for the new contract, probably due to a lack of orders. The SNs were the final batch of OmniCity's for London and they were some of my favourites, with beautiful engines and power. Metroline adopted them in 2013, but after this period they started to wear out, feeling tired after five years on such a demanding route. As these were non-standard for the Metroline fleet, an announcement came through stating that these vehicles would be withdrawn and replaced by a mixture of ex-427 and ex-134 VWs. I was absolutely gutted about this particular change, as I was losing some brilliant local buses and keeping some atrocious ones instead. These vehicles were far more reliable than the 427 examples and I was worried that the 207 would become much more difficult to use after the SNs were withdrawn.

Note the funny blinds, another discrepancy...
On the first day the service on the 427 was mediocre, with a few gaps and bunching, which is typical for the start of a new contract. Surprisingly, most of the brand new Enviro 400H MMC vehicles were on time, with only 4 buses yet to enter service. The route has been crammed into the tiny Hayes (WS) garage, with the 195, 350 and E5 moving out to  Fulwell (TF) garage, which is quite far from all three of these routes! Apart from a breakdown on the first day (2553), the buses have performed well so far and I'm a big fan of these MMCs. They are equipped with comfortable Lazzerini seating, along with the bright Abellio interior and provide a smooth ride throughout the journey. Having been on the buses five times already, I can make a judgement and say that they are some of the best MMCs in London, with only the 277, 135, 53 and 344 batches being superior.

Abellio London 2555 heads back towards Uxbridge, with a lovely gesture from the driver.

I rarely cover first day changes, although I had to make an exception for these two local routes, to sample my new service. I found my first 427 journey very relaxing and I was really excited for when I got the chance to take these vehicles on a regular basis, a massive improvement to the 10-reg VWs. A week after the changes, I can conclude that Abellio are doing well on the route so far, with necessary curtailments and measures to make the service as reliable as possible. It's nowhere near perfect, but the service levels are adequate and it's showed up every single morning, which is a brilliant start! I'm loving my new 427 so far, and I hope that this level of excellence is continued for the next three years. Abellio just need to get used to the daily drama that occurs on this route, as sometimes the drivers are struggling with the extreme loadings and last minute diversions, especially when a hotel caught fire and a police incident occurred on the same stretch of road at the same time, causing chaos and the abandonment of many buses along Ealing Broadway!

Abellio London 2401 stands on route 427 to Uxbridge.
In order to fill the void left by the MMCs that haven't entered service yet, four "classic" Enviro 400 Hybrid vehicles are currently working the 427. They are nowhere near as nice as the MMCs, although they are pleasant addition to the route, adding some variety into the equation. These might be staying at Hayes (WS) garage permanently, for the new U5 contract which begins next Saturday, using 9 existing E400 MMCs from the 350, as well as four other buses, which might be these vehicles here. I wish Abellio luck for the next five years, and I'll talk more about this in my conclusion!

Metroline VW1272 working the 207 to White City.
I wasn't looking forward to the vehicle change on the 207, although the service provided would certainly be an interesting comparison. The first day didn't get off to a great start, with the 2nd bus in service being curtailed to Ealing Hospital, something which rarely happens on the 207. Throughout the day it became clear that Greenford (G) garage were really struggling with the 207 on that particular day and I was sceptical that it would get any better, especially with the unreliable part allocation. On the other hand, the 12-reg VWs are lovely vehicles and they are the only enjoyable thing left on the 207, so I'm trying to catch them as much as possible. To make things worse, the new schedule involves some ridiculously loose running time, resulting in frequent regulating and very slow journey's, something which isn't ideal on a boring, overcrowded route like the 207.

Lacking correct blinds, VW1830 heads towards Shepherd's Bush.
The ex-427 buses don't even have blinds for "White City", which is an embarrassment in itself, but Metroline are showing no indication of changing them. My first ride on one of these vehicles was dreadful, with an extremely slow and depressing run from Ealing Broadway-Acton High Street, with frequent regulating and an uncomfortable, worn out interior. These buses need a refurbishment badly, or ideally the Scania OmniCity vehicles would continue to plough the 207 for the next couple of years, but fleet standardisation always takes priority. Since these vehicles took over the 207 I've witnessed two breakdowns in two weeks, which really isn't ideal for such a busy route, especially considering I only use a small section of the 207. Most of the buses have problems such as emitting black smoke, roaring, or broken interior compartments, which is why I was campaigning for these vehicles to be stood down!

Metroline VW1284 on route 207 to Hayes By-Pass.
In terms of reliability, the operation of the 207 has been terrible since the vehicle changeover, with frequent gaps and bunching. The 207 never runs as frequently as advertised, providing an every 8-10 minute service instead of running every 4, resulting in overcrowding on other routes such as the 483, 427 and 607. This past week, I've only caught the service 3 times out of 8 journey's where it could've been useful, which is pretty poor considering it's supposed to run at double the frequency of the 427. At the moment I'm just looking forward to the next contract, where hopefully the 207 is lost to another operator, or at least gains new buses, as at the moment the service is terribly unappealing.

Metroline TE1741 on route 207 to White City.
Since bendy bus operation, the 207 has always had an extremely strict allocation, with strays from other routes being extremely rare. However, Greenford (G) have decided to buck the trend and stick Enviro 400 vehicles allocated to the 92/282 on the route every day, partially because the ex-427 buses spend a concerning amount of time off-road. This does mean I get even more variety on the Uxbridge Road corridor, although the 207 service as a whole is one I'm going to try my best to avoid.

Abellio London 2557 strays onto the E9, from the 427 batch of MMC vehicles.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the changes. The new 427 is brilliant, with a reliable service and fabulous buses and I now look forward to using the route as much as possible, a massive improvement from before. However, the new service on the 207 is disgraceful and it has forced me to undertake a difficult task, which is avoiding one of the most useful routes along the Uxbridge Road corridor. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible, but my hope for a new contract will live on until the day the tenders are released in two years time. 

Thanks for reading, stay safe!

p.s: I know you're probably fed up with constant route changes posts, so we'll be taking a break next week from Busageddon.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Busageddon: Arriva Central South, In The City

This is another catch-up post, containing lots of quick paragraphs about some recent service changes that have taken place in the Central & Inner South London areas, mostly involving Arriva! I'm going to go through the changes in chronological order, so our first stop is the 25th February and the Liverpool Street area.

Arriva London DW234 on route 48 to Walthamstow Central.
The 48 runs from London Bridge-Walthamstow Central, passing through Shoreditch and Hackney along the way. It runs every 8 minutes and is generally a busy route, providing assistance to the 55 and giving Walthamstow a bus link to Central London. Stagecoach used to operate the route with Scania OmniCity double deck vehicles, but unfortunately (in my view) they lost the contract to Arriva. The conversion of the 48 meant that no more routes in Central London were allocated Scania vehicles, which is a shame as they provide lovely views for admiring London's architecture and sights. The 48 will convert to New Routemaster operation eventually, but these will be existing vehicles, following the curtailment of route 73 to Oxford Circus. Having said that, four NRMs have already transferred over from the 38, following its PVR reduction. For now, the 48 is using Wrightbus Gemini 2DL vehicles, meaning that it still scores highly on my route ratings until summer.

A New Routemaster on the 48.
So far, the 48 has been doing very well since the contract change, with Arriva providing a decent service that is no different from what Stagecoach originally offered. In general, I love the 48 as a route, as it passes through a wide variety of urban areas, but also the almost 'rural' Lea Valley, home to an Ice Centre and some marshes. I haven't ridden the route under Arriva yet, but hopefully I will get the chance while the Gemini's are still around, they are nice buses too! I wish Arriva good luck for the next five years, especially with the new vehicles that are coming in August...

Arriva London HV230 on route 242 at Homerton Hospital.
At the moment, the 242 is a high frequency route running from the depths of Hackney to the West End, through Dalston, Liverpool Street and High Holborn. This route was retained by Arriva on February 25th, with some brand new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, compliant with the new specifications for buses entering the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Not all of these vehicles have entered service yet, so a few of the old Wrightbus vehicles are clinging onto the 242 until they arrive. This route has always been run well and Arriva have continued to provide an excellent service, with some brilliant new Gemini 3 vehicles which really suit the route. The narrow streets that this route has to traverse in Homerton are very interesting, as well as the lovely section in the City Of London, where the 242 passes lots of tall skyscrapers and workplaces. Unfortunately, in July this route will not run between Tottenham Court Road and St Paul's, due to insufficient loadings on this section in the off-peak. Although the capacity will be appreciated elsewhere and I can understand why this route is getting cut back, one of the best sections of this route is lost and I will now have to use the number 8 bus between Liverpool Street and Holborn, which uses dreadful New Routemasters. However, this has been a successful service change and hopefully the curtailment can make the route even more reliable than it is now.

Arriva London HV213 on route 259 to King's Cross.
The 259 runs between Edmonton Green and King's Cross, along the busy A10 corridor from Tottenham-Edmonton. It is a very popular method of travelling to Central London quickly from North London, taking around an hour end to end via the most direct route. Go-Ahead London used to run the route with worn out Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles, although they lost the contract to Arriva with new Gemini 3's (sorry, there's going to be a lot of them in this post!). Arriva are running the route very well, with better service levels than what Go-Ahead used to provide. The buses themselves aren't anything special, but they're not bad at all and are functional for their purpose, to transport crowds to Central London from Tottenham and Edmonton. When I used the route on a Saturday afternoon a crowd of around 30 people boarded at the bus station and all of them went upstairs, on a family outing. The front seats were already taken, so I had to settle for one in the middle as they were few and far between. By Bruce Grove we had a standing load and the bus was forced to leave people behind between Tottenham and Manor House, especially as this already busy route had an extra load of passengers on that journey. My bus had made remarkable progress, but as soon as I got the front seats at Finsbury Park, the dreaded announcement played that stated that my bus would terminate at Holloway Nags Head instead of travelling all the way to King's Cross. I did ride to the end on a different vehicle and I enjoyed my experience on the 259, despite the non-availability of the front seats!

Go-Ahead London LT929 on route 76 to Tottenham Hale.
 The 76 runs from Waterloo-Tottenham Hale, running through Bank, De Beauvoir Town,  Dalston and Stoke Newington on the way. This route has been converted to New Routemaster operation, under a new contract, where Arriva lost the route to Go-Ahead London from Northumberland Park garage, filling in the void left by the loss of the 259 there. The 76 was meant to convert towards the end of January, but the contract was pushed back until March 25th, so that all of the LT vehicles could arrive on time. The 76 used to be one of my favourite routes in London, but the new vehicles have ruined the experience for me. So far, the operation has been questionable but I think that Go-Ahead will get used to running the route eventually. Another blind discrepancy has appeared here, with these vehicles randomly displaying "Tottenham Hale BUS STATION", which seems unnecessary as there are no other termini in Tottenham. The iBus announcement has changed too, although these changes may be rolled out onto other Tottenham terminators in the future, such as the 41 and 192. I wish Go-Ahead good luck for the next five years and I hope that they provide a decent service for users of this route!
Arriva London HV309 on route 2 to Marylebone.
The conversion of the number 2 was a straightforward one, with the old Volvo B7TL ALX400 and Gemini 2 vehicles being replaced by, you guessed it, Wrightbus B5LH Gemini 3's! These buses are decent and will provide a strong service for the next contract period, which is just as well for this busy route. The 2 is very popular for providing links from Norwood and Brixton to Central London and is not  frequent enough at rush hour! I'm wondering if these vehicles will be the main allocation of the 2X this August, as that route mainly used vehicles from the allocation of the 2, which was ALX400's at the time. The 2X runs during the Notting Hill Carnival and is extremely overcrowded, providing Brixton and surrounding areas with a link to Notting Hill Gate, so hopefully these vehicles will provide comfort for the Carnival-goers.

Arriva London HV311 on route 249.

The 249 runs from Clapham Common-Anerley Station, offering a fairly direct route through Balham, Streatham Common and Beulah Hill. Before the contract change, Go-Ahead London ran the route with Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles, although the route was downgraded to Volvo Preisdent vehicles when the Gemini's were needed for the expanded East London Transit network. However, the 249 has now gained the new buses it rightly deserves, on a new contract won by Arriva from Norwood (N) garage. The Gemini 3 vehicles intermix with the ones found on the 2, so both routes have been replenished with these excellent vehicles. The 249 is a very scenic route, passing through lots of greenery such as Clapham Common, Streatham Common and Tooting Bec Common, as well as some interesting residential areas and urban town centres, which is my cup of tea! I thoroughly enjoyed my 249 experience and I highly recommend that you ride this route, especially with the new vehicles.

Arriva London HV274 on route 19 to Battersea Bridge, South Side.
The 19 is a very long route, taking over 90 minutes at peak times, running all the way from Finsbury Park-Battersea Bridge, through Islington, Clerkenwell, Shaftesbury Avenue and Knightsbridge, meaning that it is very popular with tourists. It is also a useful backup in case the high frequency 38 decides to contradict its nickname; I had a 16 minute wait for one once! The 19 is an incredibly difficult route to run and Go-Ahead London certainly tried their best, running it from two garages on different sides of the river at once point (Stockwell and Northumberland Park), but they only lasted five years and Arriva won the route back for the next contract. Wrightbus Gemini 3 vehicles are used from Tottenham (AR) garage, resulting in some incredibly long dead runs to the South side of the river! The 19 is still a top 10 route for me and Arriva have been doing very well so far, I hope that they are able to keep this up for the next five years, I wish them luck!

Go-Ahead London SE234 works the 100 to London Wall, Museum Of London.
In a recent consultation TFL proposed to shorten route 100 so that it would terminate outside the Museum Of London, with 388 being re-routed from Liverpool Street to serve London Wall, St Paul's, Blackfriars and Southwark, as a replacement for the 100 on this section. Wapping residents were not too pleased with this curtailment, as the 100 is rather short now and it doesn't provide links to many useful areas apart from Liverpool Street. Personally, I think this is stage one of a wider scheme to save some money on electric vehicles (all single deck routes running inside the ULEZ will need to convert by 2020), and this route will be withdrawn with an extension of the 339 to Tower Gateway, or the 153 to Shadwell. However, I could be wrong and hopefully the 100 can live on with its short form! Due to roadworks in Aldgate this route has had a significant patronage decrease and the London Overground improvements there didn't help this route much either. Although I was also hoping for an extension of the 100 to Warren Street (via Barbican, Percival Street, Russell Square and Gordon Square), TFL are short of money at the moment so it won't happen for a long time.However, the element of the consultation that I was excited about since it was released was the extension of the 388. Here's why.

The old allocation of the 388 in 2013.
The 388 is a relatively young route and it has remained with CT Plus since it was born in 2003. It has had lots of modifications since the beginning, only running between Mansion House and Hackney Wick. It was extended to Blackfriars Station not long after it's birth, then to Embankment in 2009, providing a very unique link along the Victoria Embankment. Unfortunately, this was only temporary and the route was cut back to Blackfriars after a couple of years, but in January 2013 the 388 was extended to Stratford City via the Olympic Park, providing many shopping trips for residents of Hackney Wick and Cambridge Heath. The final extension took place on Saturday 8th April, where it was re-routed away from Bank and extended to Elephant & Castle. The 388 has been underused from the beginning, with buses only half full even in rush hour, partially because of its low frequency compared to other routes it follows such as the 8. The Stratford City extension saved the route from withdrawal and it is now quite popular for Westfield shoppers to get home. When I initially saw the consultation I was very happy as a brand new East-South London link was created which should be very popular, especially from areas such as Bethnal Green and Elephant.

CT Plus 2502 on route 388 to Elephant & Castle.
The contract for the 388 was renewed in January, with brand new Enviro 400H City vehicles, the second batch for CT Plus. I still miss the old Trident Lolyne and Scania vehicles, although these comfortable buses are a suitable replacement for them. On the first day the route was subject to bunching and delays, but this is predictable considering it travels through the congested City Of London. The 388 has always been very unreliable and hopefully the difficult extension has encouraged CT Plus to try and operate the route a little bit better. So far, the buses have been carrying air on the new section, with only a few people who normally used the 100 between Liverpool Street and Elephant, which coped fine with single deckers! I had to wait 17 minutes for my 388 along London Wall for a relatively empty vehicle. However, I hope that people will be made aware of the change sooner or later and the extension will be popular, despite my concerns. Although the link should be very beneficial for cross-river trips, the 388 is certainly not the most direct of routes and it is far quicker to change buses in pretty much every long trip. From Elephant-Stratford/Bethnal Green you're better off taking a 35, 133 or 344 to Liverpool Street and changing onto a 25 or 8 respectively. However, some indirect routes are still popular for long distances and hopefully the 388 will be one of them, as I love the new routeing!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Busageddon: Finchley Road Changes

Unfortunately, TFL now have a very limited amount of money to spend on improving the bus network, especially as bus patronage is decreasing, as a result of the relentless construction works all around Central London, which has forced passengers off the roads and into tunnels, with the tube being even busier than before. This has resulted in a number of cuts for bus services in the capital and a lot of frequency reductions, and in this case, route withdrawals. TFL thought that the Finchley Road corridor was over-provided in terms of buses per hour, and they have now decreased it from 22bph to 18bph in the off-peak. Here is how.

VH17 on the final day of the Aldwych-Golders Green variant of the 13.
At first, TFL released a consultation stating exactly what would happen. Click here for a link to the original consultation page, which also provides maps explaining the changes. The 13 and N13, running between Aldwych and Golders Green/North Finchley at night, would be withdrawn entirely, with the 82 gaining a frequency increase and a 24 hour service, running between North Finchley and Victoria, following the 13 between Golders Green and Portman Square. The 113 would be extended from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus and gain a significant frequency increase (partially compensating for the loss of the 13 on that section), whilst the 189 from Brent Cross would be curtailed to Marble Arch, with a new route N189 running between Brent Cross and Oxford Circus. Finally, the 139 would be extended to Golders Green from West Hampstead, providing the West End with a longer route to Child's Hill and Golders Green.

However, residents were angry with the loss of an iconic number, the "13", so TFL were forced to release a new consultation, where one minor change and some careful re-wording resulted in enough support so that the changes could go ahead. TFL stated that the 82 was being withdrawn, with the 13 being extended to North Finchley and re-routed from Portman Square-Victoria. However, what actually happened is that the old 13 (Golders Green-Aldwych) was withdrawn, and the 82 was re-numbered to 13. Additionally, the N189 to Oxford Circus proposal was scrapped, with a 24-hour 189 to Marble Arch.  I'll reveal my thoughts on the consultation at the end of the post.

Metroline TE1440 on the final day of operating route 82.
Eventually, the tender results came through, which confirmed that the changes were going ahead on April 1st, coinciding with new contract dates for some of the routes. The "new" 13, running from North Finchley-Victoria, was awarded to Tower Transit, with 31 brand new B5LH MCV EvoSeti vehicles from Westbourne Park (X) garage, bringing a brand new operator to parts of North London. The 113 was retained by Metroline, gaining a partial allocation of hybrid vehicles, as a result of the deserved frequency increase and extension to Oxford Circus. The 139 had its operation transferred to London Sovereign using the old 13 vehicles, as otherwise they would lose out on their only Central London route, despite the tender not coinciding with the Finchley Road changes. The 113 gained its hybrid vehicles from the 139's former allocation under Metroline. They are the only "loser" in the Finchley Road programme, although I think that their loss was fair, as they are the biggest company out of the three operators involved. As well as the changes to the "new" 13, 139 and 113, route 134 transferred from Holloway (HT) garage, to Potters Bar (PB), to fill in the void left by the loss of their only Central London route, allocated with the Enviro 400 vehicles formerly allocated to the 82. Route 168 also transferred from Cricklewood (W), to Holloway (HT) garage, to relieve the overcrowding at Cricklewood depot.

A brand new Tower Transit EvoSeti on the new 13.
Tower Transit have been struggling with the new 13 since they started operating the route 11 days ago. Almost every other vehicle has a curtailment (some which I've never seen before!) and large gaps are a common occurrence, some longer than 15 minutes, which is disgraceful for a route which runs every 5 minutes in the peak. As a result, lots of vehicles are bunching in groups of 3, 4 or even 5, as I saw when I rode the route last Thursday. On the first weekend, the 13 was disrupted by various roadworks and a demonstration march, although the service hasn't improved since then, and the locals are already fed up with their inadequate service levels. I also noticed that the 460, which runs alongside the 13 between Child's Hill and North Finchley, is much busier than usual. So far, the new 13 has been consistently busy throughout the day, although the vehicles aren't overcrowded unless there is a large gap in the peak, which is quite often! However, I'm concerned that buses will start leaving people behind once the Easter holidays are over, especially if Tower Transit don't up their game service-wise.

These two 13's were part of a group of 5 buses bunched, two of them curtailed!
I decided to sample the new service last week, although I was greeted with a 15 minute wait at Golders Green, despite being in the height of the evening peak. Every bus towards North Finchley was full, showing that the new 13 service is popular, although there is still some breathing room left for term time. After lots of buses passed in the other direction, my bunching finally emerged in Temple Fortune. The first bus was absolutely rammed, even though it was travelling against the peak flow and the second one was moderately busy, although there were a decent number of spare seats upstairs. The new EvoSeti vehicles are lovely buses, equipped with Tower Transit's colourful interior and comfortable seats, unlike the Go-Ahead examples. The ride was very relaxing and I'm sure the service will be wonderful if Tower Transit get used to operating the route, which should decrease the painfully long gaps in the service and make some of the buses slightly less busy, as at the moment buses are either rammed or completely empty, dependent on whether they are travelling solo, or near the back of a bunching.

DNH39127 works the 13 to North Finchley, allocated to route 23.
Westbourne Park have been fairly relaxed with the allocation of their new route, with the vehicles frequently swapping between the 23 and 13, resulting in the occasional Enviro 400 E40H vehicle running down the Finchley Road, with the old First interior. The garage is located right in the middle of the route, which could've made the route more reliable, although Metroline did a superb job before they lost the route, despite running the Central London route from a garage outside of the M25, in Potters Bar! Driver changeovers are lengthy and take place at Alpha Close, although with the brand new expansion of Westbourne Park garage, I can sense that Tower Transit will pick up lots of Central London routes in the near future, especially with the strategic position. I wish them luck for the next five years!

The new destination and hybrid allocation on the 113.
The 113 runs all the way to Edgware via Finchley Road and Hendon, using the A41 dual carriageway in the process. It linked many outer London suburbs to the West End and was ridiculously overcrowded before the changeover, partially due to the terrible frequency it had before the changes. It only ran every 20 minutes on a Sunday and buses were frequently leaving people behind! Thankfully, the route has received a PVR increase of 10 buses, which should be enough to sort out the capacity issues and the extension to Oxford Circus seems to be popular enough, even though I personally think it's not needed as the road will be pedestrianised soon anyway! This is one of the changes I'm actually happy with, especially as the route has now gained some lovely E400 Hybrids, which should be fun on the A41!

The London Sovereign 139, standing at Golders Green.

London Sovereign have been running the 139 remarkably well over the past couple of weeks, with a frequent and punctual service that is much better than the service Metroline used to provide! On the first day of the changeover, the route had to endure three separate diversions, although London Sovereign are trying their best and it is paying off. The 139 is now allocated a mixture of Gemini 2 B5LH vehicles, some Gemini 3s and a couple of two-door B5LH New Routemasters sometimes work the route, which will move to the 183 soon. The route is very similar to the old 13 now, although it crosses the River Thames and serves West Hampstead and Abbey Road rather than Swiss Cottage. The route is even more popular than it already was, with my bus having no seats upstairs after a 6 minute gap in the evening rush! However, I was delighted when a Gemini 2 turned up (they are my favourite batch in London) and I absolutely loved my ride to Golders Green, especially as I haven't been up Abbey Road for a couple of years now! The extension is already very popular, with well over a dozen people staying on past West Hampstead, which is remarkable for the first week of operation. In my eyes, this has been a very successful service change, and I look forward to using the route under London Sovereign in the future. The company even created a special schedule for the night of 31st March/1st April, so that the last 13's to arrive at Golders Green could morph into 139's, as that service is 24 hours.

LT793 on the curtailed 189.
The 189 has been relegated from Oxford Street and now terminates at Marble Arch instead of the 113, which should make the route slightly more reliable now. However, the 189 has almost no use to me and it uses New Routemasters, so I'm going to avoid it anyway. This is the one service change I really don't care about, so we're moving on already.

The new look of the 134. Taken at Warren Street.

The 134 used to be a Wrightbus route, running with Gemini 2s and not much else, although a couple of Enviro 400s did sneak out before the route moved out of Holloway. Now, the route is run from Potters Bar, with the old 82 vehicles, although any of the large batch of Enviro's found there can appear on the route; the bus in the picture is actually allocated to the W8. The 134 has an interesting schedule, a bit like the old 82 (which also terminated at North Finchley), which involves every vehicle starting service at the North end of the route, avoiding long dead-runs from Potters Bar to Tottenham Court Road. However, one problem with this is that the last bus heading down to TCR is also the same vehicle heading back up to North Finchley, which gives people heading into Central London a slight disadvantage! However, Potters Bar seem to be doing well on the route and I wish them luck in operating the route!

Another curtailed 13, what a surprise!
Loadings along the Finchley Road corridor are very inconsistent, with Sunday being one of the worst days for travel, where buses frequently left people behind before the changes took place. In the peaks, every route was well-used, including the withdrawn 13, along the section between Golders Green and Portman Square. I think that the 139 extension and 113 increase were both smart moves, although the decrease in the number of buses per hour along Finchley Road does concern me. The 13 carried fresh air for most of the day between Oxford Circus and Aldwych, which was wasteful and added to the ever-worsening congestion of Central London. I think that the withdrawal of the route in Central London was necessary, although the re-numbering of the 82 has confused many people and can be deemed unnecessary.

My solution would be to go-ahead with all of the proposed changes but additionally extend route 240 from Golders Green-Baker Street Station. This would make the route very long, taking 85 minutes e2e at peak times, although other routes manage fine with this amount of running time, and I can't think of another route to extend that would be suitable. As well as providing new links to the edge of Central London, the number of buses along the core of Finchley Road would remain the same, with the 240 providing 5bph to supplement the 22bph provided by the new 13 and 113. This would relieve congestion in Central London, but not result in a reduction in the number of buses per hour along Fnichley Road, ensuring that regular commuters don't lose out on seats, especially with the unreliable new 13 service.

139 to Golders Green.

However, the changes have gone ahead and all I can do is hope that the locals don't suffer as a result of these changes. I hope that the 113's crowding issues have been relieved (and the route doesn't get even busier as it's more attractive, this has happened before!) and that the 139 continues to provide a decent service to residents of Abbey Road and West Hampstead, with the beautiful London Sovereign Gemini 2 B5LH vehicles. Most importantly, I hope that Tower Transit can sort out their issues with running the 13 quickly, before it becomes unusable and the locals get fed up! I'm also secretly hoping that TFL read this and they love my 240 idea, even with their tight budget.

I'm sorry for rushing this post, but I have such a large backlog of change articles to publish that I can't afford to waste any time talking about things that aren't critical.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Busageddon: Walthamstow & Beyond

In March, lots of routes in North-East London changed operator over two weekends, whilst others gained new buses while staying with the same company. I finally found the opportunity to cover them last week, so on Friday I went out on a massive adventure all over that part of London, to hunt down all of the vehicle changes, apart from one which is running late. However, this post has been delayed enough already, so waiting for the new vehicles to enter service isn't really an option, especially as there have been so many other changes in this hectic month for the world of buses, resulting in a flurry of Busageddon posts over the next month.

Stagecoach London 12410 on route 205.
I apologise for the extra-large size, this picture is showing up as fuzzy on my preview page and I want to make sure my visual representation of the changes is on point! The first change took place on the 25th February, when the 277 started to receive a partial allocation of E40H MMC vehicles, from Bow (BW) garage. However, they are spending more time on the Central London route 205 at the moment, which is fine by me as that route is far more useful to me than the 277, and these hybrid vehicles are wonderful. The 277 is using the older E40H vehicles allocated to route 205, which are still my favourite hybrid vehicles in the whole of London, and contain seats that are much more comfortable than the flat ones on the Scania OmniCity vehicles which have migrated to the 97, following the arrival of this new kit.

CT Plus 1263 on route 397 to Debden.
The 397 runs on the outskirts of London and into Essex, with a modest 2bph frequency, from Crooked Billet Sainsbury's-Debden, via Chingford and an assortment of back streets. The buses are always fairly busy and I think a frequency increase to every 20 minutes would make the route even more popular; it could've been useful twice on Friday, although a 25 minute wait on both occasions wasn't appealing. The route was run by Arriva London, before CT Plus won the route in the tendering process, with some brand new Enviro 200 MMCs. The independent operator were very successful in winning routes from other operators, resulting in a very large order of single deck vehicles from their new garage in Walthamstow. The vehicles operate on a common user policy, meaning that any of the vehicles allocated to the 397, W11, W13 or W16 can appear on any route found in the garage, as they all use the same type of bus. For example, the bus shown in the picture is really allocated to the W13, but it can frequently be found on the 397. At the start of the contract the locals weren't happy with reliability and concluded that Arriva ran the route better than CT Plus, although the service has improved lately and is almost as good as the previous operator's effort.

WVL473 stands at Wanstead on route 101 to Gallions Reach.
Following the introduction of New Routemasters on the East London Transit routes (these will be covered in October, once the new roads in Barking Riverside open), the Gemini 2 vehicles previously allocated to the routes were made redundant. Go-Ahead London used this opportunity to win route 101 off Stagecoach, with these existing vehicles. However, the branded buses haven't been repainted since their last contract, so the Gemini 2's on the 101 are running around with East London Transit vinyls on the side, even though the route isn't part of the scheme! Ironically, the New Routemasters on the EL1, EL2 and EL3 haven't had their vinyls applied yet. The 101 is a difficult route to operate, passing through traffic-filled town centres of East Ham and Beckton, although the scenery on the route is lovely, including Beckton DLR Depot and Wanstead Flats. The route is fairly reliable and Go-Ahead are not struggling with it at all, partially because this route mirrors the 474 from Beckton-Manor Park, which Go-Ahead already operate. Overall, this is a successful operator change and I hope the strong start remains consistent over the next five years.

Stagecoach London 10116 stands at Lee Valley Campsite on the 215.
 The 215 is an odd route, running with double deckers from Walthamstow Central-Lee Valley Campsite. Before the contract renewal, the route was allocated with Scania OmniCity vehicles and was extended to Lee Valley Campsite during summer months only; the route terminated at the Yardley Lane lay-by at other times. The route now runs with ADL Enviro 400 vehicles displaced from the 387 and terminates at the campsite all year long! The route offers a stunning view of the seemingly endless King George's Reservoir towards the end of the journey and the terminus at Lee Valley is pretty unique, located in the heart of the countryside at Sewardstone. From my observations, the route is lightly used up there, but clearly the loadings are sufficient enough to demand a service to the campsite all year round!

A Gemini 2 vehicle stands in Wanstead, working route 308.
This route was supposed to receive brand new B5LH EvoSeti vehicles at the beginning of March, however they still haven't entered service now! It runs from Clapton Pond-Wanstead via Stratford and Forest Gate, running every 12 minutes. The double decking of the route has been appreciated by the locals and lots of bus enthusiasts, myself included, as the route can get exceptionally busy in rush hour. This route also offers decent views of the Olympic Park in Stratford, although the 388 is still slightly better for this. For now, a mixture of existing vehicles found at Lea Interchange garage are being used on the route, like the Gemini 2 shown in the picture.

A CT Plus E200 MMC on route W11.
The W11 is a short, well-used single deck route that runs from Walthamstow Central-Chingford Hall Estate. A re-route via Blackhorse Road was scheduled for the contract award, although that aspect of the tender has been postponed and the route still runs directly to Walthamstow via Palmerston Road. As well as the 397, Arriva lost this route to CT Plus, with more E200 MMCs equipped with the TFL interior and moquette. At the moment, CT Plus are struggling with the route, with large gaps in the route becoming a common occurrence. I hope that CT Plus get their act together soon, otherwise the locals aren't going to be happy with the new, inadequate service levels.

Another win for CT Plus...
The W16 runs from Chingford Mount-Leytonstone, avoiding Walthamstow completely by travelling through Highams Park and Wood Street instead. As a result of ongoing works in the town centre, the W16 is a popular method of travelling across North-East London efficiently and is a very busy single deck route. Go-Ahead London used to operate the route with ADL Enviro 200 vehicles from Northumberland Park garage, although those vehicles have been sent to Orpington for the R11 contract, along with a refurbishment. The common-user MMCs at Walthamstow garage work the W16 and the route is doing well under CT Plus, after a shaky start. A frequency increase was probably best for this route-although thankfully it's not at bursting point yet. I get the feeling that it will only get busier as time goes on, so hopefully CT Plus can maintain the good levels of service provided so far.

A banditised route 167 vehicle at Loughton Station.
Go-Ahead London lost both the 167 and 549 to Stagecoach on the 11th March. These routes will receive new Enviro 200 MMC vehicles in the future, although they will only arrive later this month. This is because Stagecoach originally order Mercedes Citaro K vehicles for the routes, but due to concerning emission levels those vehicles have been banned from London for the time being. The routes are temporarily using a mixture of ADL Enviro 200 vehicles, sourced from various garages across East London. The 165 and 178 have temporarily converted to double deck operation, allowing their single deckers to transfer over to Barking until the new kit arrives. Unfortunately, Essex County Council withdrew funding for the 167 route, so a curtailment from Debden was necessary, meaning that the route now only runs between Ilford and Loughton. A new school route, the 677, now runs to all of the schools in the area and route 20 continues to provide the link from Loughton-Debden. So far, reliability on the 167 has been great, although some of the buses don't have blinds for the route, resulting in "banditry", which involves sticking a piece of card or paper in the window with the route number written on instead of normal blinds. Once Barking garage fix their vehicle presentation, the route will be fine. The 549 runs between South Woodford and Loughton every 70 minutes and is a community route running with only one vehicle for the entire day. Operation under Go-Ahead was terrible, so hopefully Stagecoach can provide a more useful service for locals along the route.

An Optare Esteem vehicle stands at Chingford Station on route 379 to Yardley Lane.
The 379 only has a PVR of 2 and is a circular service from Chingford Station, operating in a loop at the Northern end of the route, serving the Yardley Lane area and linking the locals to a railway station and high street. A full journey from Chingford-Chingford only takes 20 minutes, meaning that this route is one of the shortest in London. Amazingly, Arriva managed to lose this route, even though it must be relatively easy to run, to Go-Ahead London from Northumberland Park (NP) garage. I'm not entirely sure of the future allocation of this route, as I think the use of Esteem vehicles are only a temporary measure. These vehicles started off South of the river under Metrobus (the logo is still visible), but then they moved to the 346 in Upminster, which is just like the 379! It's a loop service with a PVR of 2 that links local residents to the station and high street. However, the 379 is going to kill these vehicles, they are really struggling up the steep Antlers Hill!

CT Plus 1269 on route W13 to Leytonstone.
CT Plus managed to hold onto this route, with more MMCs. The buses are very nice, containing the TFL interior and are capable of travelling at high speeds. The W13 runs from Woodford Wells-Leytonstone via Wanstead and sometimes uses double deck vehicles. CT Plus have always ran the route well and the reliability is still on point for the new contract. This route is also full of buggy users, so enjoy watching some "buggy wars" if you feel the need to ride this route.

Stagecoach London 36302 on route 462 to Limes Farm Estate.
The 362 and 462 were also won from Go-Ahead by Stagecoach, from Barking garage. Some of the 462 MMCs have entered service, although the 8.9m "classic" E200s are still hanging around for a while. These low frequency routes have also been subject to banditisation several times since the new contract and have been very unreliable since the new contract. Hopefully Stagecoach can get their act together for the next five years, otherwise some very angry locals will emerge in the East London area!

Thankfully, all of the NE London changes have been covered and I now only have 5 Busageddon posts left to publish now! Stay safe and thanks for reading!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Random Route: The 521

If anyone asks if I can think of a unique route in Central London, this is the first one that comes to my mind. The 521 runs from Waterloo-London Bridge via Holborn, crossing the River Thames twice in a very short period of time. The route only runs on Mondays-Fridays and in the Northbound direction, it uses the Strand Underpass and misses out Aldwych completely, despite being a key interchange point! The route has a full allocation of electric buses and runs every 2 minutes at peak times, but only every 10 minutes during the day and has no service on weekends! It is also one of the only routes in Central London to use single deck vehicles, often running along a corridor full of DD routes. I've ridden the route end to end many times, so I've randomly selected my most recent journey on the BYD ADL E200 MMC electric vehicles that currently work the route.

One of the new vehicles on the route.
 In Waterloo, the 521 stands by the Hole In Wall pub near Tenison Way, at the back of Waterloo's main bus station, where every route that crosses the river stops. However, the 521 hogs an entire bus shelter, due to the crowds that pour out of Waterloo Station that need this route to get to workplaces in the City. I often sit in this shelter on weekends, as it's always empty compared to the others! When I rode this route, there were only a few electric vehicles out, although my patience allowed a 30 minute wait to pass by quickly, after a walk around Waterloo Bus Garage.

A line up of buses at Waterloo, with the Shard providing a lovely backdrop.
Eventually, SEe5 rocked up and thanks to the open boarding, I managed to get my favourite seats on the bus, the second row on the elevated section on single deckers. The one disadvantage of open boarding is that these routes are subject to fare evasion and I counted three people succeed on my journey alone. The new buses have an extremely detailed iBus screen, showing the ETA for the next few stops, a route map of key locations en route, the direction the bus is travelling, London Undergound status updates, South West Trains departures from Waterloo and the time. These buses also have USB charging points at every seat, so you can charge your phone on the move, which is incredibly useful for all of my Central London bus trips! However, there are only a few seats on these vehicles as they are allocated to commuter routes, which need as much capacity as possible at rush hour for short trips to the station. I felt very privileged to have a seat as the quiet vehicle accelerated around the IMAX roundabout and onto Waterloo Bridge, my favourite river crossing in London, due to the length and stunning view of Docklands with the water.

A staggering 21 routes serve the Waterloo Bridge/South Bank stop, which is fairly popular for tourists. After a few more people miraculously found seats, the electric vehicle got up to its maximum speed, a dismal 20mph, as the bus entered the far lane on Waterloo Bridge, something that only 521 buses achieve. The bus dipped into the Strand Underpass, which is always a lovely experience, especially with the underground twists and turns the bus has to navigate under Aldwych. The journey time difference is fairly significant, although most of the time I find that the tunnel is closed for works, so travelling through it is a rare treat! The bus re-emerged on the Kingsway, where the next stop was Holborn Station. Lots of people alighted here, but an equal number joined, giving me time to admire the unique architecture on this road. Due to a complicated one-way system around Holborn, the bus had to overshoot High Holborn and turn right onto Theobolds Road for a couple of seconds, before heading back South again on Procter Street, where four 98's were taking a break from the tedious journey up to Willesden.

These Irizar electric prototypes left the route recently.
Before turning left, the 521 paused under an office block at the traffic lights, where I spotted a trio of 25's heading towards Oxford Circus. Along High Holborn tall office blocks dominated the view, with a mixture of restaurants underneath, which were mostly healthy places around the Brownlow Street area. A few lucky people boarded the bus here, who had managed to escape from work at lunch time, which was where the last seats were taken and some workers were forced to stand. Three minutes after passing Holborn, another Central Line station presented itself, which is also incredibly busy at rush hour. Around Chancery Lane, the "healthy trend" ground to a halt as a Greggs emerged, just a few meters after an Abokado. The junction at Grays Inn Road added four more routes to the mix, although three of them bail at Holborn Circus. The offices thinned out as the road became slightly more elevated as it morphed into the Holborn Viaduct, which offers a panoramic view of Farringdon Road. The next point of interest was City Thameslink, where lots of passengers alighted for fast services to most corners of London. Due to space constraints, the station is found under an office block, which is definitely an efficient use of space.

To the left I glimpsed St Bartholomew's Hospital, the terminus of 2 routes outside a phone box containing hundreds of letters to Sherlock. I do hope it's still there. Another array of coffee shops appeared on King Edward Street, before St Paul's Station emerged in the background. Another one way system forced the bus to take the long route through Angel Street, which then allowed the bus to break free from the Central Line corridor and onto New Change. Lots of people boarded the bus outside the Shopping Centre, which also contains a splendid view of London on the roof garden. An array of tourists admired St Paul's Cathedral as my bus waited at the traffic lights to turn left, through more workplaces in Mansion House. Less than 60 seconds later, another District Line station presented itself. Cannon Street is a busy station, offering Southeastern services which can't fit inside Charing Cross, as well as onward connections on the tube. It only opens for half a day on weekends, because it really isn't needed then. The bus passed the umpteenth Pret A Manger before Monument Station, the penultimate station that this route serves.

The sun decided to shine just as the bus crossed the River Thames, offering a brilliant view of Docklands and Westminster; I also spotted another 521 crossing Waterloo Bridge, at the start of a 30 minute journey around the City. Most passengers alighted on the bridge itself, although the 521 continues for one stop into London Bridge Bus Station, conveniently located just before the NR station, where I took a break and admired the new, confusing concourse.

I love the 521 for it's unique character and features and I strongly recommend that you take a ride on it if you have some spare time. For me, it's the second best single deck route in London, only beaten by the glorious C10 from Victoria-Canada Water.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

p.s: There have been a lot of bus changes recently and I'm covering all of them in the next week, so expect a flurry of Busageddon posts from now on!