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These buses have been allocated to two heavy-duty single deck routes recently, so they are very worn out and should be withdrawn imminently.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!