Friday, 26 May 2017

Busageddon: Misfits All Over London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glamorous new bus stop at Leamouth.

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

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

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Busageddon: Heathrow-Hayes

At the end of April four West London routes were subject to vehicle or routeing changes, due to contract renewals and pre-Crossrail route planning. At the moment all of the changes have mixed reviews, but hopefully my cynical perspective can help shape your overall verdict on these controversial matters.

Metroline DE1787 at Christopher Avenue, on the last day of Metroline operation.
The 195 has never been a personal favourite of mine, being severely overcrowded, unreliable, running through endless housing and having terrible buses. When the new tender result came out I was 50% happy, because Abellio had won the route with brand new MMCs, but I was gutted that the route wasn't given a significant frequency increase, or even double deck vehicles (apparently trees exist in Charville Lane so this might not be possible), as I have never had a quiet 195 journey. The route has been subject to a lot of anti-social behaviour over the past few years, as well as some uncomfortable travelling conditions. The unreliability of the service made it impossible to use (despite it potentially being useful to me) and I've only found one route in London even more unbearable (don't ride the 309 guys). I was hoping that Abellio would try to improve the service on this extremely challenging route.

Abellio London 8744 on the 195 to Brentford, County Court.
Abellio are providing a slow introduction for the new 195 vehicles, so the ex-235 Dart Nimbus vehicles are still hanging on while the last few buses enter service. These buses have been allocated to two heavy-duty single deck routes recently, so they are very worn out and should be withdrawn imminently. On the first day the service was terrible, although the drivers were very friendly and gave some nice gestures whilst I attempted to photograph them driving down Boston Manor Road. Since the first day, Abellio have been struggling with the route, producing an extremely infrequent and bunchy service, even worse than what Metroline originally offered. Some worrying gaps have been produced and it's become clear that no new operator can handle the route, with Ealing Community Transport, First London, Metroline and Abellio all having a try within the past decade, none of them succeeding so far. Hopefully, Abellio can get used to handling the unpredictable route soon, although I'm slightly unconvinced that this will happen.

Abellio London 8876 on the 195 to Brentford. The buses are nice, but are already developing issues. My bus was heading towards Charville Lane but the iBus still announced "195 to Brentford, County Court" at every stop!
It's become clear that the 195 simply doesn't work in its current form. Unreliability and crowding issues won't cease unless the route is split up and I think TFL should use the upcoming introduction of Crossrail to modify this West London route. Perhaps splitting the route into two (Charville Lane-Southall, Town Hall) and (Brentford County Court-Hayes & Harlington) would begin to resolve the issue, providing a more reliable service throughout the area of West London it serves, and relieving the overcrowding on the busiest section of the current 195, between Hayes Town and Southall. I wish Abellio good luck for the next five years and hopefully the issues can be ironed out, or maybe even a route modification would make things better.

Go-Ahead London E223 on route X26 to Heathrow Central.
The X26 is the longest daytime route in London, running all the way from West Croydon-Heathrow Central on a limited stop basis, taking over 2 hours end to end. It still only runs every 30 minutes and the route was recently lost from Quality Line back to Go-Ahead London, with a DD conversion too. The service under Epsom Coaches was certainly questionable, resulting in some very overcrowded single door Mercedes Citaro vehicles, which were equipped with luggage racks for Airport travellers. The X26 has become an increasingly popular method of travelling across South West London, being efficient and not following any national rail services. It's double deck conversion has now made the route slightly more attractive for me, although the 30-minute frequency is still quite off-putting; upping it to 3bph would make it even busier!

Go-Ahead London WVL335 prepares for departure at Heathrow Central Bus Station.
Go-Ahead London are providing a temporary allocation at the moment, whilst the ex-East London Transit vehicles destined for the X26 receive their well-deserved special refurbishment, which will include some extra features including the removal of the 2nd door (allowing space for luggage racks), USB points and some coach-style seating. However, WVL334 went for refurbishment in March and still hasn't returned, so whether this programme ever finishes is another matter. The first day produced some hiccups, but since then the service has been adequate, although the temporary allocation is causing some disapproval by enthusiasts and members of the public. Firstly, the Gemini 2 vehicles currently roaming around South London are proudly displaying "East London Transit" vinyls, which is very misleading for tourists who may think they are in the wrong part of London! Secondly, the lack of luggage space means that some civilians aren't able to get on at Heathrow Central Bus Station, and waiting 30 minutes for the next one isn't the most appealing idea. Hopefully the new refurbished vehicles arrive promptly so the service doesn't get too unpopular at the western end. Other than that, it's been a successful service change and I wish Go-Ahead London good luck for the next five years!

A map showing the changes for routes U5 and 350, current and proposed routeings.
In an attempt to provide more capacity where there is future demand, TFL decided to swap the allocation and routeing of routes 350 and U5. The 350 has been re-routed between Stockley Park and Hayes to serve Botwell Common and the terminus has been changed to Hayes Asda. It has essentially taken the old U5 routeing between Stockley Park and Hayes. The U5 has been re-routed to serve Clarendon Road and Dawley Road, which was the old 350 routeing. The new U5 has been given new double deck vehicles (ex-350), whilst the 350 has been downgraded to single deck operation, with a frequency decrease to every 20 minutes. Both routes were awarded to Abellio London on tender, both using MMCs, albeit on different bodies.

The new allocation and terminus of the 350.
The changes have been unpopular with enthusiasts and I must admit, I was disappointed when the 350 SD conversion was announced, as it had a lovely routeing and the new MMC vehicles really suited the fast-paced route. However, the double deck 350 had always been underused apart from one section in rush hour, so it makes sense to transfer the allocation over to the U5, which is consistently busy throughout the route. The route swap was logical too, meaning that the busy peak loadings on the 350 would still be catered for, just with a different number. Some disadvantages include the slightly longer route the 350 now takes between Hayes & Harlington and Terminal 5, as well as the  frequency decrease, although I still think these changes make sense. It's providing extra capacity where there is demand, and providing a limited service where there is little requirement, which is ultimately what we need on the London bus network. Even though I am upset at the loss of a great route with DD vehicles, I look forward to riding the new U5 with some better buses.

Abellio London 2525 on route U5 to Uxbridge.
I would argue that these service changes have been successful, despite some enthusiasts ridiculing them due to the potential absence of thrash near Heathrow. However, I think they need to stop acting in a somewhat selfish matter and think about the general public, as for once TFL have got something right (in terms of providing a better service), even if it means disappointing the enthusiast community. Hopefully the locals to the U5 are grateful for their enhanced service, and the 350 users aren't too disappointed with their loss of a deck which carried lots of oxygen.

I hope you enjoyed reading this brief, informative post about the latest changes in the West London Bus Scene, two weeks before I disappear into hiding. More on that next week, stay safe!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Random Observations: May 2017

Sorry for the non-existent post last weekend, I was out snapping buses for future posts and installing the brand new "latest news" slider icon found near the top of the page, along with a new poll. I hope you enjoy this break from Busageddon, as we're back on it next week!

WLT 882 runs on the Visions International "Arriva and Hills" tour, at Little Park Gardens.

 The Enfield Transport Bazaar coincided with my North London trip and Visions International were running one of their various tours on that exact day, after running up some of London's most torturous hills. As my 329 pulled into the last stop I saw a well-loaded Routemaster standing outside Little Park Gardens and I instantly knew what the occasion was, as I spotted many enthusiasts on board. You can just about someone's camera peeking through at the front, and their face would also be visible if the windows were bigger. Some of these tours do look fairly interesting and I've been considering taking a ride on one for a while, but there don't seem to be any more after next week, which is pretty bad timing for me! Hopefully the tour was successful, even if the Bazaar was somewhat unattractive (I was going to pop in if it wasn't for the price and the discouraging smell that wafted out of the hall).

DE1014 was actually working the 117 in Isleworth when this photo was taken, but the front number blind was randomly displaying 209, suggesting that there had been a blind failiure, or the driver couldn't be bothered to change it to 117 from its last trip. It's been on the 117 various times after this photo was taken, which confirms that this was human error rather than the bus. I found this quite amusing, as this bus route is normally packed and desperately needs a frequency increase, but this new number clearly put people off and no one was on board the vehicle! Thankfully, the 209 and 117 operate in different areas, preventing any sort of mix-up and some very angry passengers. If the 209 did go to Staines it would be one heck of an extension!

TFL Destination Discrepancies.

The W8 is heavily residential, running from Chase Farm Hospital-Lea Valley, specifically terminating at either a Leisure Centre or a Leisure Complex, as the two different blinds in this picture contradict each other. Personally, I would call the terminus a "Leisure Complex" as there are multiple facilities available for relaxing and socialisation, including a cinema, restaurant and leisure centre. The route itself is decent, passing through a variety of housing areas in addition to a couple of town centres. My refurbished 60-reg TE was lovely and contained padded seats, although the temporary lights at Bush Hill Park halted my progress and the bus turned straight back round again at the Leisure Complex. If you like going through residential areas then I highly recommend this route, as some other routes with similar characteristics are pretty tedious, especially ones that use 1 door E200s.

Go-Ahead London SE243 takes a break at Clapham Common, Old Town.
I rode the 322 on a beautiful sunny day, all the way from Clapham Common-Crystal Palace, through an assortment of back streets and town centres. Even though I'm generally not a fan of most residential single deck routes, I really enjoyed this one for it's unique features, including travelling up Gipsy Hill, the tight turn into St Gothard Road, but the highlight for me was that narrow road right in the heart of Brixton Market, where the bus had to crawl along to avoid bumping into anything on either side. I got to really see inside a pedestrian area on a bus, which was certainly a rare treat. The quirky ZF E200 buses allocated to the route are interesting too, and lots of people knew each other on the West Norwood residential section, bringing a sense of community. I gave this route a high 7/10, which is rare for an SD route!

Tower Transit VH38104 on route 212 to St James Street.

There are two bus routes between Walthamstow and Chingford, one of them only running between the two places. However, the 212 runs a little further than Walthamstow Bus Station, as there is no room to accommodate all terminating routes there, and this is probably the shortest one out of the lot. However, the 215 is much shorter than the 275, so maybe it would be more logical to send that one over to St James Street rather than the lengthy 275. Anyway, Tower Transit won the 212 recently with smiley-face Gemini 3 buses, and they are the only examples of this type with TT. Even though Lea Interchange (LI) garage run many routes that venture into the polluted Central London, these hybrid vehicles generally stick to the 212 for some reason. The route runs along some tight residential routes, but it is efficient and fairly interesting.

One of the oldest buses in London, DMN1, stands at Enfield on the unique W10.

The W10 is an oddball route, running between Enfield and Crews Hill every 60 minutes using a single bus, but only from 10am-1pm during the week, and for three hours longer on Saturday. It uses a mixture of buses found at Northumberland Park (NP) garage, but it consistently uses an ageing Dart Marshall (DMN1) every Saturday for some reason, so I took the trip down to Enfield on 8th April to try out this quirky route. There was also another enthusiast on board, but the majority of passengers on my bus were elderly, heading home after a shopping trip. There were certainly friendly relationships between most of them, emphasising the connotations of a community on board this route. The route along Willow Road was a residential hail and ride section, where a lot of the passengers alighted, although after a brief intersection with the 191, the bus travelled through the countryside, before entering Crews Hill, which consists of a few houses completely isolated from the rest of North London. This area does actually have a train station, but it seems to be located in the middle of nowhere and the W10 doesn't actually serve it, so I'm probably never going to end up there. Overall, my W10 experience was brilliant, with the combined uniqueness and fascinating routeing, it's one of the best SD routes in London. I highly recommend you ride this route if you have a spare 45 minutes in Enfield, it will certainly be worth it.

The only B-route in Orpington

Orpington Town Centre mostly consists of R-routes, although one route from the Bexleyheath "B series" breaks the prefix trend and terminates at Orpington Station, providing the only bus link between these two major town centres in South East London. Unfortunately, this route is limited to 8.9m single deckers and it also runs at a relatively low frequency, resulting in some packed buses, full of a combination of e2e riders and commuters. It is also pretty indirect, so I've always been hoping for a faster service between the two places of interest. I'm sure this tedious route is a nightmare in rush hour and I'm really not looking forward to riding it. This is the sole Esteem at Bexleyheath (BX) garage and it generally sticks to the B14, running alongside Enviro 200s. Here it is at the Walnuts Centre.

Arriva London DW104 is near termination point.
The 403 terminates in the village of Warlingham, which is technically in Surrey. It's a fairly short route, terminating in the vast town centre of Croydon, using a mixture of buses found at the garage. The DAF DB250 vehicles are a dying breed, with only around 30 of them left in South London, so I'm hoping to catch one of them when I attempt to ride this route. They are certainly interesting vehicles and have the potential to perform well, despite their age.

Hybrid 329.
This is an uncommon working, one which doesn't happen very often, but isn't exactly rare. I managed to randomly snap this in Enfield whilst waiting for the W10, so I didn't even have to use LVF for this one! Some of the 329 Ts are knackered so I hope that the regular users of this route were pleased when a beautiful hybrid turned up, equipped with comfortable seating and air-conditioning. The 329 is a very short route, running between Wood Green and Enfield through Winchmore Hill. It gets exceptionally busy with e2e riders between the two town centres, as well as residents in Palmers Green and Bush Hill Park. It's not particularly interesting, but I didn't hate my ride either, so all in all, a meh route.

Metroline London VW1765 working the 483 to Ealing Hospital.
The 59-reg VWs at Alperton (ON) garage are currently receiving their well-deserved refurbishment, after almost eight years on the tough-going 83/483. These worn out vehicles are now in a better state, although I'm not a fan of the removal of the black surrounds at the front, every time I see these vehicles I can instantly sense there is something missing. The rear looks ugly too (click here for an example) and the seats are now rock hard and have received a minimal amount of padding, which isn't ideal for a route like the 483, that takes over 2 hours from start to finish. However, they are in a reasonable condition now, and I hope that they last until the end of the contract.

I hope you enjoyed this post, despite the influx of Enfield pictures in this edition of Random Obs. Please check out the new poll and my latest news feature, and stay safe!