Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Random Observations: December 2017

The long-awaited post is finally here. Unfortunately another prolonged period of exams ensured that my writing time was slashed, although now the opportunity of publishing a new post has emerged and a sense of regularity should be able to return well into February. As I haven't ventured out of Ealing recently none of the current changes can be documented yet, although a trip into Central London on the weekend should kick-off the massive catch-up that looms ahead. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy another random-based post, with the right amount of content this time.

Tower Transit WSH62297 stands at Covent Garden on route RV1.
The hamartia of the once glorious RV1 hasn't gone unnoticed by both enthusiasts and Transport For London, especially due to the massive decrease in patronage recently, bringing annual usage down to six digits, something very concerning for a high frequency Central London route. Five years ago, this route arguably needed a conversion to double deckers, buses were always busy and the route seemed to be operating successfully. However, a gradual but painful deterioration of the RV1 has become apparent over the past few years, with relentless diversions and horrific traffic contributing to the problem. There hasn't been a single period of time where the RV1 hasn't been involved with some sort of long-term diversion in recent years, with some of them being detrimental to the reliability and usefulness of the service. Closures of important roads like Tooley Street have sent the RV1 all over the place, crossing roads like London Bridge where the road movement is always painfully slow. As a result, the service has been pretty poor too, with Tower Transit struggling to maintain even headways much of the time. In addition, the WSH-class hydrogen buses aren't too reliable either, which means that unattractive conventional single deckers have been roaming around the streets of Central London regularly, something which is off-putting for tourists and consequently decreases ridership.

This is a huge problem because the RV1 doesn't really have many regular commuters, most of the passengers simply board the service spontaneously due to the various tourist attractions it serves. It also provides a handy link between Tower Hill and Waterloo, although most of the route is followed by other services which are more frequent. I'd imagine a large amount of revenue is earned through the destination display of 'Covent Garden', a thriving tourist area which has no bus service due to the awkward and unconventional street layout there. The RV1 makes an attempt at serving Covent Garden, although the terminus is only 60 seconds away from Aldwych, which is served by two dozen other bus services, resulting in a large number of disappointed tourists who find themselves dumped outside the tube station rather than at their wanted destination. To investigate passenger numbers I decided to sample the service in the height of the evening rush hour and I'm pleased to say that the bus was surprisingly busy, being fully seated at various points throughout the journey. However, buses heading the other way seemed to be carrying fresh air, so perhaps the high loadings on my trip were anomalous rather than what's expected.

My theory of the route having no commuters was proved to be correct, with almost 90% of seats being taken up by groups of families travelling together. A large number boarded at Tower Hill, although the intermediate stops proved unpopular and it seemed that almost everyone stayed on until the end at Covent Garden, apart from a small number of travellers bound for Waterloo or London Bridge. To some extent, TFL's strategy of advertising the service as serving Covent Garden is still effective and is probably the only reason why the RV1 still exists in its current form. The future is uncertain, but perhaps when all the roadworks are finally complete and the service returns to a bearable state, the RV1 can flourish and become the important Riverside route it used to be.

Go-Ahead London SE26 stands at Dagenham East.
The 364 isn't the most riveting single deck route around, with describing it as residential almost being an understatement. It runs from Dagenham East-Ilford via a circuitous routeing which involves travelling through Seven Kings and Goodmayes and takes around 45 minutes from start to finish. My bus, SE26, was tatty despite its recent refurbishment and felt really sluggish, although I often find that when the vehicle is unsatisfying I tend to focus on the external surroundings more, so if the 364 was interesting then I would be in for a treat. Although I've experienced more depressing routes, the 364 wasn't exactly something that I'll treasure in my memory. An average route can be defined here, there weren't many noticeable negative qualities, but I don't have many positive things to say about the route either. There is an urban interlude in Goodmayes, although the relentless hail and ride sections and constant turning around Seven Kings did make me feel fed up towards the end of the journey. It is the only route in one of the residential areas it serves, which means that the 364 is one of the busier routes running out of Ilford, which can be problematic as the service is patchy at times. The route is popular with young people who mainly use it for short hops, I counted 22 U16s on my journey who all used the bus for less than six stops. Despite it serving two Crossrail stations no improvements are scheduled for either the 364 or surrounding routes, so the expected increase in patronage won't go unnoticed by the travelling public. Although the 364 isn't one to recommend, it can be useful sometimes and I was relieved to find that there were occasional lapses in the plain housing which dominated this part of East London. It isn't one of the better single deck routes, but it could've been a lot worse.

Arriva London HV247 pauses along Bishopsgate, with the Gherkin sneaking into the photo in the background.
The 242 is one of those routes that seems to appear on the blog fairly regularly, either because of recent major changes or because I frequently find myself along the route. Before the curtailment to St Paul's, I used the 242 on a regular basis, mainly because it took me from the Shoreditch area to the West End in a pleasant manner; as the 242 isn't allocated horrific New Routemasters. A few of its Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles have been repainted in an all-over advertisement livery for the Google Pixel, making the buses stand out from the crowd along the route, like HV247 illustrated above. Although the 242 is still a pleasant route, since its curtailment it has no use for me at all, and loadings have suffered as a result. The 10bph frequency at rush hour is certainly superfluous, with London Oveground improvements in the Hackney area also contributing to its patronage decrease. Even if the best section of the route has been cut, the section around Homerton is rather interesting, where the double decker often struggles to navigate the narrow community roads and overall I still really like the 242. Grabbing a seat is almost guaranteed and the short nature means that by the end you don't feel disorientated, which is often the case for hour-long trips. If you're looking to waste time in North-East London then the 242 is something to try, although there are definitely better routes which venture further into this ever-growing and fascinating part of the City.

Metroline Travel VW1048 is seen at Hessel Road working route E2.
The local strikes again. Pictures of the E2 are regularly found on the camera roll, so it's no surprise that one has ended up in this Random post. Reliability is slowly improving although there are still inconsistencies and there is room for improvement with bunching and regulation being the main issue. As a user of the E2 on a daily basis, I find it bizarre and concerning that my buses have never been paused en route by the controllers for over three years now. If two buses find themselves bunched together, they'll probably stay in this position until the end of the trip as almost nothing is done as a method of mitigation. Curtailments are either absent or blatantly apparent, on some days you'll find none although at other times having every other vehicle turned at Scotch Common isn't an uncommon sighting. The route isn't too long either with not too many traffic hotspots bar the occasional jam towards Greenford, but other routes in the area seem to operate well despite running along the same roads. However, I'm generally finding that the buses are turning up on time more and more lately and there is a noticeable difference from last year where I couldn't rely on the service in the morning almost every day. For some odd reason the refurbishment programme has ground to a halt; VW1034-VW1068 were all completed over a month ago with a much-needed refresh and boost to continue serving West London for another five years, although the last four vehicles haven't even entered the workshop yet! Some of them, VW1072 in particular, are looking very worn out now and are making some questionable engine noises, so hopefully this is sorted out soon. Additionally, the wrong cover shape has been placed on the downstairs wheelarch seats, which does look a little odd, although comfort hasn't decreased in any way, making a once hideous batch of buses now bearable to ride, in most cases.

Arriva London HV111 starts a journey at Lordship Lane en route to Tottenham Court Road.
One of the more well-known Central London routes is the 29 and surprisingly it still runs with conventional vehicles, which are very pleasant to travel on too. The Wrightbus Gemini 2 B5LH buses have a welcoming interior and superior acceleration compared to many other examples of this type, making the 29 an enjoyable way to travel across North London most of the time. It's high frequency also makes the route (generally) reliable and easy to use, something which has boosted my ridership on the service recently due to the deterioration of route 24, both in terms of vehicle type and reliability, which this route parallels between Trafalgar Square and Camden Town. The 29 then continues North to serve Holloway, Finsbury Park and the congested Green Lanes, before conveniently terminating at Wood Green (WN) bus garage, where Arriva London operate this flagship route from. Unfortunately, TFL have decided to reduce the frequency of this route recently, which is absurd and detrimental to all regular users of the service. It's the third busiest route in London and one of the most crowded too; getting the front seats is virtually impossible unless you're boarding from the first stop. Many reports have confirmed that buses are even busier than before and eventually some people will simply switch to the congested Piccadilly and Victoria lines, decreasing patronage even more as a result. Nevertheless, the 29 is often quieter on weekends and if you want to ride a mainstream Central London route that hasn't been plagued with new Routemasters, the 29 is one of the better examples around.

Go-Ahead London SE174 is seen in the Beddington Lane industrial area.
Despite the fact that I haven't done the 455 from start to finish yet, I still have an unusually large number of pictures of the service, mainly because of the recent service change that occurred back in March. Coincidentally, I managed to take a ride on the service during my attempt at Transport Roulette 2017 , an infuriating game of chance which can sometimes successfully send you all over London, although going round in circles isn't uncommon either and a full set of rules have been linked above in case you're daring enough to give it a go. Starting off at Ealing Broadway gave me a wide choice of transport methods, although the bus triumphed and my day began with the 65 to Brentford, followed by a number 267 to Chiswick. After a hop on the District Line, a rather wasteful exercise meant that I used the same Southern branch line three consecutive times, frustratingly travelling back and forth between Carshalton Beeches and Wallington on crusty Class 455s that aren't in the best condition. However, some bus rides around South London followed featuring the 157 and 455 (not the train this time!), followed by a Tram and a lengthy Thameslink ride into Central London from one of London's least used stations, South Merton. Just as I thought my number 76 would take me up into the depths of North London, the dice sent me back along the exact same route before ending up in Canary Wharf. However, I ended up travelling back on myself for a fourth time until I ended up at London Victoria. I ended my day at Gatwick Airport, thanks to the dice deciding it would be wise to blow £9.00 on a 'premium' Gatwick Express train that still slowed down for the intermediate stations. However, it can be a fun and thrilling experience and I hope to try again soon, perhaps starting somewhere further away.

Go-Ahead London EH13 stops at Waterloo en route to Canada Water.
This particular ADL Enviro 400H vehicle has become a regular on the 1, although it's still the only example of this type to work the route, presumably because the other ones haven't been blinded yet. These workings have become apparent since the 1 transferred from Mandela Way (MW) to New Cross (NX) garage in July, bringing its dedicated batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles with it. Currently, the 1 runs between Holborn and Canada Water only (making the route seem rather short), although its official terminus is at Tottenham Court Road, however the return date has been postponed at least five times and I'm sceptical that it will return, especially with the upcoming pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, which will displace other routes to the former 1 stand. A large number of these pictures were taken in Central London, so it's no surprise to find another victim of a frequency cut in this post. The 1 was also a busy route, with buses frequently leaving Central London with no seats in the evening rush hour - this experience has been worsened since the reduction. Even though these cuts can be justified in the middle of the day where buses frequently carry a small number of passengers, rush hour is where bus routes flourish in terms of their loadings and cutting them just forces even more people onto the already overcrowded and dangerous tube network, which simply can't cope with much more demand. Hopefully, regular users of the 1 will stick with the service despite it's inconvenience, although I'll certainly empathise with the public if they start walking to Bermondsey Station every morning instead of catching the bus.

A panoramic shot of Grove Park Bus Station.
Grove Park looks quite lonely in this photo, with only a solitary 136 occupying the generous stand space. The other terminating route, the 181, has awful reliability and a fleet of buses which are literally falling apart, in some instances being held together by tape on the outside, so it's no surprise that none of those feature in the shot - hopefully Stagecoach will be able to improve the service when they take over from Go-Ahead in a few months time. The much more substantial route here is the 136, which has continually grown over the years and bucked the trend of decreasing patronage, mainly due to its recent extension to Elephant & Castle. This not only gave the struggling 343 additional support in the sprawling Southampton Way area, but offered new links from Lewisham to Elephant and other parts of South London, something which has proved extremely popular and now has resulted in a rather overcrowded service. The 136 is surprisingly infrequent and takes a very long time to complete (every 10 minutes for a 75 minute e2e journey at rush hour), but is a perfect example of how improvements to services can actually benefit both passengers and TFL, due to higher revenue, in the long-term. I've certainly found the 136 to be very useful over the recent years and it's generally reliable too, although the convenient location of its home, Catford (TL) garage, does help significantly. It's quite nice that this photo has been selected, as it shows an example of a bus route success story, rather than the normality of reporting doom and gloom and how the bus network is gradually dying. If routes like the 136 can prosper with extensions and improvements, perhaps other routes can be treated in the same way. The investment might actually generate some profit, which is all TFL need at the moment!

Go-Ahead London WVL94 stops at Vauxhall Bus Station.
Initially, WVL94 might seem like an ordinary first-generation Wrightbus Gemini B7TL that'll leave London in a few years and you might question why it can be found on a Central London route nearly every day. However, WVL94 has been lucky enough to participate in a trial which converts old diesel vehicles into almost new Hybrid buses with a completely different engine. The Go-Ahead vehicles have been pretty reliable, although the ALX400 examples in East London have spent 90% of their time sitting in the garage rather than working the demanding route 123, where they seem to constantly break down! Nevertheless, I managed to sample one of the Go-Ahead buses back in October, on route 87 between Aldwych and Vauxhall, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the ride. The engine noises are certainly eccentric, sounding a little like a B5LH upon acceleration, although you can probably tell that the bus wasn't originally 'green'. The vehicle has also received a refurbishment, suggesting that it'll be roaming around London for a few more years and may well be one of the last two examples of this type in the City, with WVL95 also carrying the technology. If the trial is successful, the Vantage conversion will be spread onto many more London vehicles, hopefully preventing the need for buying new buses and keeping some much-loved classic types into existence.

A Wrightbus Gemini 2 DB300 vehicle pauses at Mill Hill East en route to Edgware.
An unusual characteristic of route 221 is the operation technique used to meet demand levels across all of the route. It's one of the only routes in London to have scheduled curtailments, with many vehicles only travelling between North Finchley and Turnpike Lane Station, rather than working the full route up to Edgware. This method was very effective initially, making sure that the capacity was provided for the busiest section of the route, whilst saving resources by keeping the service levels minimal for the quieter part. However, demand to and from Edgware on the 221 has increased significantly in recent years and now a large number of buses are very busy along this part of the route and the need for scheduled curtailments is starting to be questioned. If a full-length only system was installed, it would also result in a frequency decrease for the North Finchley-Turnpike Lane section, although this issue is being debated and I think the possibility of these changes happening has been put on hold for the near future. As I haven't sampled the service, I don't have any strong opinions on the matter, although I usually favour the views of the local commuters when in doubt, because they're the ones who'll be affected most. The route has also recently converted to 100% Gemini 2 operation, ousting another batch of the endangered VLW-class vehicles with Arriva, with only one batch left working route 142 between Watford and Brent Cross. I'm hoping to catch a ride on the 221 this Christmas, mainly because the section through Mill Hill looks unusual and hilly, something which I normally like about bus routes, and maybe I can produce some feedback then.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Bus Deviation: London's Latest Trains

This post attempts to act as an interlude from the London bus scene, mainly because I don't have the time to cover the most recent contract changes, and sadly my "Random" series posts take an awfully long time to put together and at the moment having that luxury is simply impossible. So, I've tried to include my other transport-related interest here for a change and if you're into the railway network too, you might be able to correct me occasionally as my knowledge is limited in places! This post will specifically document the latest train types that have entered service on London-based routes, namely the TFL Rail/Crossrail Class 345s and the South Western Railway Class 707s.

A TFL Rail Class 345 arrives at Liverpool Street.
Chronologically, the first new train type to appear was the Class 345 "Aventra" model, the latest product manufactured by Bombardier, who were successful with their previous Electrostar train. These trains will eventually make up the entire allocation for Crossrail (or the "Elizabeth Line", something I refuse to call the service), spanning all the way from Reading-Shenfield/Abbey Wood via a mixture of existing main lines and some new tunnels in Central London. At the moment, the new trains are being tested on the TFL Rail service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, which will be advertised as Crossrail from December 2018. The first one entered service in June 2017 (a little later than expected) and appearances have been intermittent since then, although they seem to be entering service at a rapid rate from now. Unfortunately these trains have suffered from a large number of reliability issues, with at least two breaking down each week, but hopefully these natural teething issues will be rectified before the glorified new train service begins.

At the moment the Aventras are running as 7-car formations, although they will run as 9-carriage trains once Crossrail is fully open, the reason for this temporary shortening is that the terminus at Liverpool Street can't accommodate these longer trains at the moment. You can walk through the train from one end to another and they are complete with a purple and grey interior colour scheme, which consists of mostly longitudinal seating, but there are a few (more comfortable) transverse examples located in the middle of the carriage, providing a bit of variety. The wide passages also improve overcrowding, providing a much better environment for standees. Interestingly, these trains have a minimalistic announcement system, where Emma Hignett simply states the key information rather than forming sentences with it (for example, "Next Station...Stratford"), which I think is quite effective, although other enthusiasts aren't happy with this system and prefer to have more announcements that flow better, which is understandable.

On Tuesday 29th August, I managed to ride one of these trains for the first time, on a semi-fast service from Romford-London Liverpool Street in the evening peak, before heading back out to Ilford. Personally, I find that these trains are the best new models available for suburban commuter routes. The interior colour scheme is sleek and reassuring, the seats are bearable (something of a rarity with new trains), the acceleration is superb and whilst the engine noise is quiet, there isn't complete silence which is always a bonus in my eyes. They are also some of the nicest trains out there in terms of their exterior paintwork and are miles better than the grim Class 315 trains that still make up the majority of the allocation on TFL Rail. As the Crossrail service will run through my local area and I will undoubtedly be using it on a regular basis, the high quality of these trains is a great relief and I certainly look forward to travelling on them in the future. 

Generally, they only tend to run on weekdays, with weekend appearances being sporadic and ever-changing. Although some trains may run unofficially, these trips are likely to be operated by a new Crossrail train, although there is no guarantee that a Class 315 won't turn up, so don't blame me if you're left disappointed! Each series of diagrams represents a different train.

2W03 0512 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W06 0610 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W21 0704 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W26 0750 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W43 0842 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W30 1636 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W47 1724 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2C74 1810 London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park

2C19 0729 Gidea Park to London Liverpool Street
2C14 0807 London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park
2C37 0849 Gidea Park to London Liverpool Street
2W46 0930 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W63 1024 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W68 1120 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W85 1214 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W90 1310 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W07 1404 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W12 1500 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W29 1554 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2C56 1650 London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park
2C57 1732 Gidea Park to London Liverpool Street
2W52 1807 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W65 1854 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W78 1952 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W87 2044 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W00 2140 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield

2C25 0758 Gidea Park to London Liverpool Street
2C20 0837 London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park
2C43 0917 Gidea Park to London Liverpool Street
2W52 1000 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W69 1054 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W74 1150 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W91 1244 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W96 1340 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W13 1434 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W18 1530 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W35 1624 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2W38 1717 London Liverpool Street to Shenfield
2W55 1804 Shenfield to London Liverpool Street
2C80 1850 London Liverpool Street to Gidea Park

A South Western Railway Class 707 stands at the elusive Platform 20 at Waterloo.

The second batch of new trains started appearing from August 2017. These are the Siemens Desiro City Class 707 trains, which are being used on the South Western Railway network to boost capacity for three years, until even newer Aventra trains arrive to replace them. Their entrance into service was heavily delayed; the original date was June 2017, although the first one didn't appear until the middle of August. Even then, it was only pushed into service so the old franchise operator (South West Trains) could claim that the first passenger service was run under them - no more appeared for another week or so. Then, the first diagrams finally emerged for some Windsor-London services and now there are four Class 707 trains booked to run every weekday. In terms of reliability, issues haven't been as noticeable as the Crossrail units, although there have been a few cancellations recently, mainly due to door issues on the 707s.

These trains are only partially walkthrough - as two trains are attached together you can only actually walk in your respective five car portion, unless you physically get off the train at the station and run between the units. They are painted in the red "suburban" South West Trains livery and are currently being used on a wide variety of London-based services, although the Hounslow and Windsor ones seem to be the most popular. The trains also feature an automated announcement system, which is rather amusing at times due to the noticeably large gaps between words/phrases. The Passenger Information screens are also quite effective, not only showing the next station, calling points and destination, but the status of London Underground and the rest of the South Western network are revealed sproadically, usually when there is a fairly large distance between stations. I managed to ride one of them on Tuesday 24th October, specifically on the 1815 London Waterloo via Hounslow circular service.

The interior of a Class 707 train.

The train departed from the hidden platform 20 at London Waterloo, it's part of the old Eurostar terminal but isn't really accessible as you have to walk some distance down another platform in order to reach it. Nevertheless, the train departed on time and I think that they're decent units overall. The interior colour scheme is bright and welcoming, the screens/announcements are informative and the seats are quite comfortable despite their rigid nature. It's a shame that they're only a temporary move as I always like having variety on my local train line, but if the new Class 701 Aventra trains are like the Crossrail units then at least I'll be gaining some satisfactory replacements.

Like the 345s, appearances on weekends are rare and often unadvertised - recently they've been helping out on the Twickenham Rugby shuttles. However, weekday diagrams are as follows:

2U07 0558 London Waterloo-Windsor & Eton Riverside
2U14 0721 Windsor & Eton Riverside-London Waterloo
Repeat every 2.5 hours until
2U67 2058 London Waterloo-Windsor & Eton Riverside
2U74 2221 Windsor & Eton Riverside-London Waterloo

9D10 0558 Guildford-London Waterloo via Epsom
9F09 0720 London Waterloo-Woking
9F96 0817 Woking-London Waterloo
2V47 1637 London Waterloo-London Waterloo via Brentford and Richmond
2R53 1815 London Waterloo-London Waterloo via Richmond and Brentford

2H92 0700 Shepperton-London Waterloo via Richmond
2R13 0815 London Waterloo-London Waterloo via Richmond and Brentford
2V39 1437 London Waterloo-London Waterloo via Brentford and Richmond
2R45 1615 London Waterloo-London Waterloo via Richmond and Brentford
2S55 1752 London Waterloo-Weybridge
2S64 1937 Weybridge-London Waterloo

 2R07 0645 Waterloo - Waterloo 0809
2S17 0822 Waterloo - Weybridge 0939
2S26 1003 Weybridge - Waterloo 1127
2V27 1137 Waterloo - Waterloo 1302
2R33 1315 Waterloo - Waterloo 1441
2S43 1452 Waterloo - Weybridge 1607
2S52 1633 Weybridge - Waterloo 1757
2V53 1807 Waterloo - Waterloo 1932
2R59 1945 Waterloo - Waterloo 2111
2S69 2122 Waterloo - Weybridge 2237
2S78 2303 Weybridge - Staines 2332

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

East London's Trio Of Changes

Saturday 14th October 2017 was an exciting day for many enthusiasts, particularly those based in East London, as three routes were awarded to different operators as part of the tendering process. Go-Ahead London were unsuccessful in retaining route 257, which passed to Stagecoach London, although the latter company ended up losing routes 103 and 175 to Arriva. So, a mixed bag for Stagecoach, congratulations to Arriva and commiserations to Go-Ahead, who seem to have lost a worryingly large amount of work from Northumberland Park (NP) garage recently!

A Go-Ahead London WVL-class Wrightbus Gemini arrives at Whipps Cross en route to Stratford.
Go-Ahead London only operated route 257 for 5 years, from their Northumberland Park (NP) garage. The allocation generally consisted of Wrightbus Eclipse "Gemini 1" vehicles, which were transferred  from Putney (AF) garage back in 2012. The route itself is one of the shorter ones in East London, being only 5 miles long. Originating at Stratford, the 257 travels through residential Maryland before arriving at the transport hub of Leytonstone. There is a brief rural interlude until Whipps Cross, where the 257 follows the high street through Leyton Bakers Arms until Walthamstow Central, where it terminates. The Peak Vehicle Requirement of 16 caters for a 7-8 minute frequency, which is justified from my observations as the 257 seems to be pretty busy all day, especially with the opening of Westfield Stratford City and further developments in Walthamstow Town Centre. Even though Northumberland Park (NP) garage have been slammed for their poor operation of other routes, the 257 was always one of the more reliable services they ran. There weren't many complaints about the buses either, apart from residents who probably weren't too keen on buses roaring away in the middle of the night, as the WVLs certainly weren't the quietest vehicles around! After an absence of five years, Stagecoach London successfully won the route back from Go-Ahead, presumably because the garage is in a much better position logistically, and the convenience of having existing vehicles they could use for part of the allocation.

Stagecoach London 12428 picks up passengers at Walthamstow Bus Station at the start of a journey to Stratford.
In addition to the existing E400s, seven brand new ADL E40H MMCs were ordered for the new contract and these buses are based at Leyton (T) garage. They entered service prematurely on their flagship Central London route 55 (which is normally run with New Routemasters), and there have been occasional appearances on routes like the 275 and 179 since the contract gain. However, they do predominantly work the 257, which is a good thing as they suit the route very well. The 257's external surroundings are urban 90% of the time, and some of the roads can be traffic-filled in rush hour, so the stop-start technology can be effective at these times. However, my bus (12428) was very powerful too, allowing the bus to really open up on the rural section between Leytonstone and Whipps Cross. The other part of the allocation is some existing ADL Enviro 400 vehicles that were previously used at Rainham (RM) garage, which Stagecoach lost on the same day as they gained the 257. Therefore, it made sense to transfer them over to Leyton (T) garage for the new contract, rather than splashing out on a full allocation of new vehicles, which would probably cost them the tender. The 62-reg buses have settled in at the garage nicely, making appearances on pretty much every other route found there. As a result, some of the native E400s at Leyton have started to appear on the 257 regularly, such as 10180 pictured below.

Stagecoach London 10180 arrives at Walthamstow Central en route to Stratford.
Stagecoach London have made a decent start to their new contract on the 257. Apart from the first day, where there were a couple of noticeable service hiccups in the evening, the reliability has been superb. This was certainly the case when I rode the route, with almost perfect headways and no curtailments or bunching. However, this is not too surprising, as Stagecoach London have had previous experience with operating the 257. When I rode the route from start to finish at the end of October, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a great example of an urban East London route that never becomes boring, there are almost always shops to look at and when there is purely housing, something interesting pops up a minute or two after. The rural section between Leytonstone and Whipps Cross is also fun, allowing the bus to reach high speeds. Embarrassingly, the last ever Go-Ahead 257 towards Walthamstow, WVL194, actually broke down outside the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel stop on this section, which has also made this stop very popular for photography in recent times! Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend the 257 if you want to explore inner East London, although I'd suggest doing it during the off-peak, as even the fast section can be gridlocked during rush hour.

Stagecoach London 17979 passes through Romford. This photo was taken in June 2014!
Unfortunately, the 257 gain did come at a price for Stagecoach, who lost routes 103 and 175 to Arriva at the same time, which caused lots of grief within the enthusiast community, as Stagecoach operated these routes for a considerable amount of time. Route 103 runs between Rainham Interchange and Chase Cross, via Dagenham East and Romford, whilst the 175 operates from Dagenham New Road to Hillrise Estate, also running across Romford Town Centre.For both routes, the old allocation mainly consisted of ADL Trident ALX400s and Enviro 400s, based at Romford (NS) for the 175 and Rainham (RM) for the 103, although the latter route also saw Scania OmniCity vehicles on a regular basis. In addition to the typical day-to-day allocation, Stagecoach London's 19000, named Spirit Of London in remembrance of the 7/7 attacks, also made regular appearances on route 103, and this bus deliberately performed the last ever Stagecoach 103 trip, which is a superb way to end the contract! There were never too many issues with service for both routes and neither of them are particularly difficult to operate, with only one or two traffic hotspots in Dagenham and Rush Green.

Arriva London DW248 pauses at Ilford Station en route to Becontree Heath on the 150.
Some of the DW-class Wrightbus Gemini VDL DB300 vehicles bound for route 175 arrived prematurely and were used on routes 150, 173 and 368 before the new contract. However, their poor performance on the A13 dual carriageway and the involvement of route 150 in a route branding scheme has resulted in them appearing on route 368 and 175 more than anything else. These vehicles have migrated from either South Croydon (TC) or Tottenham (AR) garage to work the 175. In addition to the 103/175 gains, the school trips on route 150 previously operated by Go-Ahead London were incorporated into the main contract, which was retained by Arriva on Saturday 14th October 2017.

Arriva London DW229 is seen on stand at Rainham Interchange.
The 103 DW-class vehicles are based at Grays (GY) garage, allowing them to intermix with the examples that work native routes 66 and 370, but there have been no appearances of other vehicle types on the 103. These vehicles were previously found at Ash Grove (AE) garage working urban routes, so this new contract allowed them to experience a brand new type of environment, especially on the 370 which spends a lot of time in the middle of nowhere! The service on the first day was pretty poor, with lots of curtailments and a noticeable number of large gaps. However, reliability has improved greatly since then, condemning the views of many enthusiasts who were sceptical that Arriva would be able to provide an adequate service. The buses themselves are decent and I was fortunate enough to have a fast journey, with my driver using kickdown regularly, even through Romford Town Centre! The 103 surprised me when I rode it, it's nowhere near as residential as I initally thought, with the section between Rainham and Becontree Heath being particularly interesting, with the nice open roads and somewhat industrial nature South of Dagenham East. Even though the section North of Romford predominantly consists of housing, the 103 does use the A12 dual carriageway for around 30 seconds, something I didn't even know about at first! So, if you're looking to sample one of the routes under the new contract, I'd definitely recommend the 103 over the 175, as my experience on the latter route was nowhere near as good.

Arriva London DW245 is seen at Hillrise Estate on route 175.
Unlike the 103, the 175 is operated from Barking (DX) garage, which is actually in a convenient location for the Southern terminus of the route. Since day one, the service on the 175 has been considerably worse than on the 103, with even bigger gaps and regular curtailments. In recent times there have been some signs of improvement but there's a lot of work to be done if Arriva want to meet the previous standards presented by Stagecoach. Rather embarrassingly, a number of buses have been displaying the incorrect destination on the front blind; the route was permanently withdrawn from Dagenham Ford Works last year, so I'm slightly confused as to why the destination was being displayed as it isn't even on the line of route. In contrast to the 103, my bus (DW245) was awful, struggling to reach any speed faster than 10mph and having a hideous vibrating noise throughout the journey, which became really irritating towards the end of the journey. My main problem with the 175 is that pretty much the entire route was already familiar to me, it's essentially a "sideman" service which doesn't do anything useful apart from providing back up to other routes on busy corridors. Coincidentally, the best section of the route is also the only part where the 175 is a lone wolf, the view of London from the terminus at Hillrise Estate is fantastic! However, the schedule also seems to be very loose, resulting in a painfully slow journey. In conclusion, the 175 was disappointing. The buses are in a deteriorating condition, the routeing is far less interesting than the 103, and the service isn't particularly good either. There also haven't been any odd workings yet, so you're probably going to be dumped with a sluggish Gemini.

This rounds off the recent bus service changes in East London. I wish good luck to Stagecoach and Arriva for the next five years operating routes 257, 103 and 175, even if I only recommend the first two. On that note, there is also a brand new page/feature on the blog, which gives tips/tricks to enthusiasts in order to make their day more effective. Additionally, there is a route recommendation service, where you can leave a comment telling me what makes a route appealing to you, and I should be able to find something you'll enjoy. Since its implementation on Monday, there hasn't been one comment on the page yet, so hopefully its advertisement here will boost its popularity.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Going Ahead With Dominating Tooting

As you might have guessed, this post concentrates on the recent service changes in the Tooting Broadway area, where two routes have just gained a different allocation of buses that have been introduced by Go-Ahead London, as a result of contract renewals/gains.

Go-Ahead London WS78 pauses at Tooting Broadway Station at the start of its journey to Brixton.
The 355 is one of London's busiest single deck routes, running from Brixton-Mitcham via Clapham Park, Balham and Tooting Broadway at a general 5bph off-peak frequency. It is operated from Croydon (C) garage, with a Peak Vehicle Requirement of 12 buses that satisfy the 7 mile route. The previous allocation mainly consisted of ADL Dart Pointer vehicles, which unfortunately managed to escape my camera, although the relaxed allocation system at the garage ensured more quirky types frequently strayed onto the route, including Man Evolution vehicles and even 8.9m short Pointers, which wouldn't have gone down well in rush hour! Lots of enthusiasts were hoping that the route would be given an upgrade for the contract renewal, with either a frequency increase or double deckers. Unfortunately, the tender announcement declared that the route would be retained by Go-Ahead London, at the same frequency, with an allocation of single deck buses, which were later confirmed to be Wrightbus Streetlites.

Predictably, there was an uproar on various bus websites, where enthusiasts were outraged that this overcrowded route wasn't gaining a full allocation of double deck vehicles, which were clearly justified. The reasoning for the non-existent upgrade is that TFL work with corridors rather than individual routes and for the majority of the journey, route 355 parallels more frequent double deck services on different corridors - the only reason it's so busy is because of the round-the-corner links it provides from the respective corridors to other town centres. However, TFL won't have realised this because the other routes running alongside the 355 are over-resourced, so generally there is enough capacity for that particular passage, even if it's completely unbalanced between the routes. So that is my hypothesis on why the 355 has remained a single deck route ; TFL's growing lack of money might also contribute to this.

Officially, the contract will be renewed with these vehicles on Saturday 9th December 2017, although Go-Ahead certainly didn't waste time with ordering the vehicles, so all of them have entered service prematurely and make up the full allocation of the route already. Personally, I've never been a fan of the Wrightbus Streetlite, mainly because of the inadequate window sizes towards the rear of the vehicle, and I'm considerate enough not to sit in the priority seats where the view is arguably better. However, I'm sure regular commuters on the 355 are grateful for their new vehicles, as the old Pointers were starting to deteriorate and were undoubtedly rather unpleasant to travel on during rush hour, particularly in Summer!

A London United ALX400 stands at Tooting Broadway preparing for departure.
 The 131 is a somewhat major double deck route in South-West London, running between Kingston and Tooting Broadway, passing New Malden and Wimbledon en route. It's Peak Vehicle Requirement is for 21 vehicles, which maintain the 5-6 minute frequency during rush hour. Previously, London United RATP operated the 131 from Tolworth (TV) garage with a mixture of Trident ALX400s and Scania OmniCity vehicles ; most of the former type are in the process of being withdrawn, whilst the more modern Scania buses have moved on to pastures new. In general, London United were quite popular with their provision of the 131, as reliability was decent, the allocation was likeable, and the company also gave the Tooting/Wimbledon area a large variety of operators to choose from. Now that the 131 has been lost to Go-Ahead, RATP have removed themselves completely from these places in terms of TFL operation.

WVL482 pauses at Wimbledon Bus Station en route to Kingston. This vehicle was transferred from Barking (RR) garage to make up the numbers.

As a result, many enthusiasts were quite upset that the 131 had been lost to the ever-expanding Go-Ahead, especially as London United were on a losing streak at the time. Although the aforementioned contract winner had the potential to operate the 131 effectively, it would make the route less interesting in terms of the allocation, especially as the ALX400 vehicles were among some of the last examples in the RATP fleet. After the 131 loss, the Tooting area has become 85% Go-Ahead, operating 12/14 routes, which is rather dull from an enthusiast perspective. The contract change took place on Saturday 30th September 2017, with a requirement for existing vehicles from Merton (AL) garage, which the 131 conveniently passes en route.

WVN28 is seen at Wimbledon on the 131. Eventually, these vehicles are expected to make up the entire allocation of the 131.
The service on the first day was shambolic, which is often the case as operators are inexperienced at running the route and are often clueless about its characteristics. Additionally, a closure of the Northern Line meant that traffic along the A24 was horrific, which the 131 serves between Colliers Wood and Tooting. As a result, large gaps were common and almost every vehicle was curtailed, and it seemed that two services were unofficially formed (Kingston-Colliers Wood and Tooting-New Malden) and hardly any buses were completing the full route by mid-afternoon, where the service ultimately collapsed. This did result in a surge of unhappy enthusiasts, as they were unable to complete the route from start to finish. During the first week of operation, the 131 was still turn-filled and bunching was an evident issue, although in recent times the service has been consistently good with buses arriving frequently without any resultant gaps. The close proximity of the garage to the route is definitely an advantage over the old contract, as the dead run from Tolworth (TV) garage was significantly longer overall. So, in terms of service, the future is bright for the 131.

WHV114 pauses at The Polka Theatre.
The existing allocation can be described as "all over the place", which is often the case for Go-Ahead contract renewals! Ultimately, the 131 should be operated with ex-First WVN-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles only (the 3rd 131 picture in this post). However, a couple of them are still at Northumberland Park (NP) garage working the temporary shuttle route 530 in North London, and the entire allocation needs to be refurbished for the new contract, although the programme hasn't even started yet. So, some extra vehicles needed to be sourced from somwhere else in the Go-Ahead fleet. Conveniently, route 14 at Putney (AF) garage had a frequency cut recently, which released a small number of ADL E40H MMCs, which could've worked the 131 to initially make up the numbers. However, this would introduce a brand new type to Merton (AL) garage, which unnecessarily wastes valuable time training drivers for the vehicles, so these MMCs were sent to Barking (RR) garage instead for route 5, where drivers are much more familiar with the buses. So, a couple of the Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles previously used on the 5 (2nd 131 picture in the post) transferred down to Merton garage for the 131 , and these are identical to the WVN-class vehicles apart from the interior colour scheme, so no further type training was required. As well as the main allocation of Gemini 2 vehicles, some native Merton buses have strayed onto the 131, including Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, like the one seen above.

Overall, the 131 change has been successful. Despite a shaky start, the service has been excellent and a proper allocation has been sourced, even if it's not what was initially planned. The only problem is, the ex-14 MMCs are destined for use on route 176 for that contract change in two weeks, but as the refurbishment of the WVNs hasn't started yet, they're not leaving the 5 any time soon. So, it's up to Go-Ahead to somehow source an allocation for the 176 takeover, but I'm sure they'll pull it off somehow!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

10 Unique London Bus Routes

If you're not interested in the mainstream Central London tourist routes on offer in this city, there are a wide range of slightly less prolific, but much more fascinating (in my opinion) routes scattered all across London. In this post, 10 of the weird ones that particularly stand out for me will be documented briefly, in the hope that you'll be able to find one of these routes appealing.

Go-Ahead London SEN23 pauses at Barnet, The Spires in between trips.
I'm not going to venture into too much detail here, as the 399 (almost) had an entire post to itself, where I gave a proper route review. Therefore, this paragraph will teach you the basics and if you're still not convinced, you can read my in-depth analysis which has been linked above.

The 399 is the least busiest route in London, running between Hadley Wood Station and Barnet The Spires, without really travelling through any other places of interest. It essentially operates in a massive one-way loop as soon as it enters the gated premises, in an attempt to serve all the housing in this isolated area. There are only six trips per day on the 399, with only four serving the complete loop, as the first and last buses start in the middle of Hadley Wood rather than Barnet, which is close to Cockfosters. The 399 leaves Barnet The Spires at hourly intervals, from 1045 until 1445, on Monday-Saturday only, normally using an ADL Enviro 200 found at Northumberland Park (NP) garage. After turning off the main road in Barnet, the entire route is operated on a Hail and Ride basis, which is convenient for most of the residents as they can be dropped off directly outside their household.

However, this unappealing frequency isn't the only eccentric characteristic of the 399's operation; it actually shares its solitary bus with another route. After a morning peak hour stint on the regular route 299 (Muswell Hill-Cockfosters), the bus changes its blind and does a trip on the 399, before flipping its blind again to become a 389, and after that rounder is complete it goes back to being a 399. The process of alternating between the two routes repeats for 5 hours, where the last 399 terminates in the middle of Hadley Wood before travelling to Cockfosters to start an evening peak journey on the 299. Both the 389 and 399 are so short that the one bus can comfortably work both routes within 60 minutes, although I found the latter route much more interesting.

Hadley Wood is an upper-class residential area found on the outskirts of Greater London and it remarkably has a regular (up to every 10 minutes) train service into Central London, although the 399 is the only bus route serving the area. Most of the houses have multiple cars parked in the front garden, so its no surprise that bus usage isn't very high. However, there is some demand and the community nature of the route is something rarely found in London, with the majority of passengers greeting each other and the driver as they board, and giving newcomers some suspicious looks! The conversations I listened to were very fascinating, including one debate on whether placing a sun dial in the front garden would be effective, emphasising that residents of Hadley Wood almost live in an entirely different world to people like me! Nevertheless, the routeing is also intriguing, passing through huge mansions 90% of the time, something you don't see every day. If you want a proper look into one of the most affluent and upper-class areas found in London, make sure to ride the 399, you'll certainly be impressed.

Go-Ahead London WVL335 loads up at Heathrow Central at the start of a lengthy trip to Croydon.
The X26 is the longest bus route in London, running between Heathrow Central and West Croydon on a limited stop basis, travelling through Kingston and Sutton in the process. It is one of three express routes found in London and was recently converted to double deck operation with existing Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles, based at Go-Ahead London's Croydon (C) garage. If you love sitting on a bus for a long period of time, then the X26 is certainly for you, as some of the trips can take up to 150 minutes to complete! The routeing is also pretty cool, offering a spectacular perspective of Heathrow Airport and landing planes, views of the River Thames in Kingston, residential sections and urban high streets, along with the Croydon Flyover, which provides an alternative view of the bustling town centre. Even though the X26 only runs every 30 minutes, it's still an incredibly popular method of travelling across South West London, and now you should be able to find a seat and actually enjoy the journey.

Interestingly, the WVL-class vehicles allocated to the service are receiving an extensive refurbishment, which involves the removal of East London Transit branding and the second door (which means that these vehicles will be the only DD buses in London with a single door), to pave the way for a massive luggage rack downstairs. However, this process takes an awfully long time to complete, so only a handful of vehicles have received the treatment so far. The X26 might not appeal to all of you, especially if you can't bear travelling on a bus for more than 60 minutes, but if you're comfortable with staying on a bus for over 2 hours then I would definitely recommend the X26. It offers a well-rounded view of South West London, passing through the major town centres and the fascinating suburbs between them, as well as two rather unique sections at either end. Additionally, the buses themselves will all be special to this city soon, with the removal of the second door being a particularly striking, but controversial, decision.

Note: If you're dedicated to waking up early on a weekend morning, there are some early trips which only take 80 minutes end to end, so if you're determined to ride the X26 end to end, but don't fancy wasting 2 hours of your day sitting on a bus, then head down to Heathrow Airport or Croydon and catch one, ideally before 8am. I think it will be worth it.

A type no longer found on the 521 is the Electric Irizar single decker.
On the surface, the 521 might seem like an average single deck commuter route in Central London, but there are a number of quirky characteristics about the service. The allocation consists of electric vehicles only, specifically a batch of 50 ADL Enviro 200 MMC BYD vehicles shared with the 507, which were introduced in August 2016. These buses are based at Waterloo (RA) garage, which is home to the "Red Arrow" routes only, as their high combined PVR takes up all of the limited space. The 521 runs from Waterloo to London Bridge, via an indirect route which involves crossing the River Thames twice at either end, serving Holborn, St Paul's and Cannon Street in between. Even in the height of rush hour, the 521 only takes 30 minutes from start to finish, which is very surprising as it doesn't leave the traffic-filled Central London.

Something else that's quite odd about the 521 is the sheer difference in frequency between rush hour and midday. During the morning/evening peak the service runs every 2-3 minutes, providing 26 buses per hour for commuters coming to and from the two mainline stations. However, during the day there are only 6 buses per hour, at a dismal 10 minute frequency. The buses also have an open boarding feature, which means that passengers can board or alight from the centre door too, although this does mean that there is a high amount of fare evasion on the 521.

Although the peak frequency looks much more attractive, I would strongly recommend that you travel outside of this time, as every single bus is rammed full of commuters from start to finish. There are only a limited number of seats on these vehicles, in order to cram in as many standees as possible, and travelling when the service is quiet guarantees a much more leisurely ride. You can even use the USB sockets conveniently provided on these vehicles. The iBus screen is also unique, providing much more information than what's found on normal vehicles, including real time train departures from Waterloo, London Underground status updates, as well as an ETA for the next few stops en route. The routeing towards London Bridge is also quite eccentric, as it skips the bustling hubbub of Aldwych in favour of the Strand Underpass, which is always an enjoyable experience, so I recommend that you complete the route in this direction.

The 521 is probably one of the easiest routes to complete, due to the convenient location and the decent frequency, with the only disadvantage being the lack of service on weekends. The quirky electric buses, unique Central London routeing and the fascinating operation technique easily make the 521 the most interesting route in Central London, and if you're looking for something odd to complete that isn't too difficult to get to, then the 521 is perfect.

Metrobus 255 starts a journey at Orpington Bus Station on route R8 to Biggin Hill.
Another infrequent bus route is the R8, running between Orpington and Biggin Hill via the village of Downe. The Peak Vehicle Requirement is only for 1 bus, which comfortably completes the loop within 90 minutes, something that's essential for the next trip to run on time. The route used to be home to the shortest vehicles in London, although these buses have sadly been withdrawn and now longer vehicles are used instead, which can result in some gripping experiences on the narrow country lanes! The routeing is very odd for a TFL service, spending more time in the middle of green fields rather than picking up any passengers. The countryside views are spectacular and the whole route is really fast-paced, enabling a "thrashy" journey for speed-loving enthusiasts. The 8.9m E200s and Dart Pointers that regularly work the service are struggling on the route, with parts of the bus falling off on a regular basis, and some really tricky situations involving passing cars on the tiny roads, where the bus simply can't fit. The R8 turns around in Biggin Hill using a loop via the housing area of Aperfield, so technically you can enjoy a 75 minute round trip from Orpington if you love the route, rather than being dumped in Biggin Hill, which is very poorly connected. The R8 is actually quite popular with locals, despite the unreliability of the service, mostly due to nature rather than traffic!

There are no stops along the country lanes, so most of the service is operated on a hail and ride basis, which is rather ironic as there are literally no safe places to pause in the countryside. Something I'd love to do is ride the R8 at night time, as there are no lamp posts or light sources anywhere along the country lanes, so it would certainly be an eye-opening experience. However, if you simply want to appreciate the brilliant views from a TFL bus, then it's best to consult a timetable and track down the journey suited for you, something I had to do twice as the bus broke down on my first attempt at riding the route! The main reason why the R8 features on this post is due to the narrow, country lanes that are pretty much unique to this London route, which you can experience twice for £1.50!

Note: I've heard that the R5/R10 in Orpington are also very similar to the R8 and spend even more time in the countryside, but I still haven't ridden those yet so I can't confirm that they will be as good.

A Metroline Enviro 400 arrives at Whitestone Pond on a route 603 journey.
One way to describe the 603 is bizarre. There are only four trips per day, making it the least frequent route running 5 days as week all year long. The elusive journey's are only at school times, 2 towards Muswell Hill in the morning and 2 towards Swiss Cottage in the evening. Additionally, the '600 series' routes are nearly always school services, with the only other exception being the 607 in West London, numbered like this for nostalgic reasons. So, you might think that the 603 is a school route and that it has no place here, although I'm pleased to say that this isn't the case. The 603 runs on Monday-Friday throughout the year, meaning that it runs during school holidays too, which is very odd considering it simply carries fresh air during this period. So technically, the 603 is just a normal route running at extremely inconvenient times for no apparent reason, other than to transport school children. The routeing is actually very interesting, passing through the middle-class leafy suburbs of Hampstead Heath and East Finchley, and some sections such as Fitzjohn's Avenue normally only see single deck routes. Some of the links created are very useful, and it's a shame that TFL would like to withdraw the holiday trips soon, which would just make the 603 another tedious school route. So, if you want a guaranteed empty double decker running on a school route during the holidays, then ride the 603 as soon as possible, before it disappears from the list of unique bus routes here. This week (23rd-27th October) is half term, and the 603 should be running during this period, as there has been no formal withdrawal announcement, but whether the route will operate during Christmas is uncertain.

Go-Ahead London SE234 pauses at Moorgate on the final stretch to London Wall.
The 100 is one of the shortest routes in London, only taking 30 minutes from start to finish. The route has constantly been fiddled with over the past few years, with a diversion to Blackfriars and a recnt large-scale curtailment, withdrawing the route from St Paul's and Elephant & Castle. This part of the route sometimes took as long as the current section, turning the 100 from a useful Central London bus into an irrelevant single deck route that serves housing in Wapping but doesn't do anything useful after. However, this cut back has made the 100 even more quirky. The routeing is very unique, travelling down the cobbled streets of Wapping and passing a large number of docks and riverside pubs, making this last section of the route reminiscent of the Victorian era! The Central London part is also enjoyable, because the large office blocks can appear rather daunting as they tower over the small single deck vehicle. The ADL Enviro 200s allocated to the service also have the ZF gearbox, meaning that they really overrev upon acceleration! However, the main reason why the 100 features in this list is due to the section in Wapping. I can't think of any other London bus route that spends so long in such a unique area; although the D3 does briefly serve Wapping, the route is really busy and the section from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel is quite grim, so the 100 wins by a mile. Since the curtailment, the 100 isn't that useful to the locals, so you're pretty much guaranteed a seat on this short, but sweet route.

Go-Ahead London WVL471 stands at the isolated terminus of Dagenham Dock.
The first section of the EL2, between Becontree Heath and Barking, is very dull and simply involves travelling along a main road with houses on either side for 20 minutes. However, the next section consists of something completely different...

The EL2 is one of London's newest routes, replacing the 369 to Thames View Estate in 2010, with a dedicated batch of Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles that worked the route until February 2017. The route is part of the "East London Transit" scheme, which involves reconnecting the isolated area of Barking Riverside to the rest of East London, with branded vehicles and a number of bus priority measures to speed up journey times. One of those is the use of Ripple Road in Barking Town Centre, which involves cutting straight through the middle, rather than using the slow and inefficient loop that just scrapes along the edge of the high street. The East London Transit branding involves painting the buses in a unique colour scheme, and adding some swirls to bus stops along the routeing. All of this seems a little unnecessary to me, but this sort of project is the only example in the TFL network.

All three "ELT" routes were converted to New Routemaster operation in early 2017, which is very odd as these 'Central London bound' vehicles are now found on routes that don't get any closer to the City than Zone 4. The usage of these vehicles on the EL2 is particularly confusing, as the last few minutes are spent travelling in the middle of nowhere in an industrial wasteland, which is exactly why the EL2 features on this post. After serving the Thames View Estate, the EL2 travels down Choats Road, in the depths of a bleak landscape with absolutely nothing to stare at other than marshes, something I absolutely love. This road is fairly lengthy and eventually pylons start to emerge as the EL2 terminates in the middle of nowhere, home to a few factories and nothing else. The oversized bus station at Dagenham Dock only contains one route and even though there is a train station, the dismal frequency of every 30 minutes instantly puts people off. In the long term, there will be residential housing along this desolate stretch of land, and the appearance of fancy New Routemaster vehicles will make sense. However, at the moment the usage of these high-profile buses, which have connotations of Central London and tourists, in the middle of nowhere, is particularly baffling, and is something I love about the EL2. If you absolutely hate the idea of staring at warehouses, then don't bother riding this one, but this section alone made the EL2 memorable and lovable, even though the rest of the route was really boring.

©LondonBuses72 - do not use without their permission
The H3 is another route that can be categorised as truly bizarre. It runs from Golders Green-East Finchley, turning around using a one-way loop at the Northern end. There are only seven trips per day, one at around 7am for commuters, and from 9am it runs hourly until 2pm, where the service stops completely. There also isn't a Sunday service. The route also uses some of the shortest buses in London, in order to navigate the extremely tight turns of Hampstead Garden Suburb. At Golders Green, it shares its tiny bus station with the H2, which is the much more frequent service to this part of Hampstead. The H3 starts off by running through the fancy Hampstead Way, part of the Garden Suburb, with some upper-class detached houses accompanied by the Hampstead Heath extension. As the H3 soldiers on, the houses just get bigger and soon electric gates begin to appear, and even more cars pop up in the front gardens. For any travellers who find this overwhelming, there is a brief interlude in the middle where the H3 stops at Kenwood House, providing an interchange with the 210 and the aforementioned 603.

However, the most fascinating point of the journey is when the H3 turns onto The Bishop's Avenue, often known as Billionaire's Row, home to an assortment of mansions among the most expensive in the country. New, 8-bedroom houses, sell for prices as high as £50 million, whilst most of the 66 houses along this road have been unoccupied for many years. Oddly, the houses aren't particularly satisfying to look at, with metal gates preventing you from peering inside these palaces, but the excitement of travelling down such an iconic street in a luxurious part of London on a bus makes this route so special. The fact that a bus route travels down here, even though I'd be surprised if anyone has boarded the H3 on The Bishops Avenue for many years, is pretty cool, and this road alone can justify the H3's place here. In addition, the tiny buses, half-day operation and unique routeing, make the H3 a must-do for people wanting to explore the wealthiest parts of this city.

Arriva London VLA106 stands at Western Road on the 375 to Passingford Bridge.
The 375 runs every 90 minutes, on Monday-Saturday only, between Romford Station and Passingford Bridge. The service was launched in 2008, in order to serve the village of Havering Atte-Bower, found on the border between Greater London and Essex. Even though the loadings barely justify a single decker, double deck vehicles found at Grays (GY) garage are used occasionally, and this makes the experience even better. After a residential start, the 375 offers some spectacular countryside views, but there are a number of routes like this in London, and the termination point is the only reason why the 375 features on this post. After serving the hamlet of Stapleford Abbotts, there isn't anywhere to turn around the bus, so the 375 soldiers on through the countryside for no apparent reason, until a roundabout emerges at Passingford Bridge, the termination point of the 375. However, when enthusiasts are dumped at the last stop (I don't think any civilians actually come to Passingford Bridge), there is literally nothing to look at apart from a main road with cars whizzing by, and greenery. If you're lucky, you might find a puddle to stare at for a couple of minutes, but other than that, the 375 literally turfs you off in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do. Normally, bus termini are associated with urban high streets, or at least a built up residential area, so Passingford Bridge is the complete opposite of what anyone would expect. There is also a scheduled ten minute break there, so if you do try the 375 you can admire the greenery and try to find anything else to do in order to waste time - if you are successful then please notify me!

In conclusion, the 375 is a decent countryside route, with a unique and eccentric termination point that simply can't be beaten.

A yellow minibus pauses at Bridport Place in between trips on the 812.
Although the 812 isn't a TFL bus service, it is one of a couple of commercial routes that run entirely within the Greater London Boundary, with this one sticking to Zones 1 & 2. The 812 runs between Hoxton, Bridport Place and Old Street, in a loop format which involves travelling via Essex Road, Islington Angel and Barbican in the process. It is run from the CT Plus Ash Grove (HK) garage, with a dedicated fleet of Volkswagen Bluebird Tucana minibuses. The 812 runs every 20 minutes, on Monday-Friday during shopping hours, acting as a lifeline to residents living along roads which aren't served by mainstream bus routes. The 812 is pretty successful for a route tendered and subsidised by  Islington council, and the routeing around the Barbican area is wonderful, giving you an insight into some interesting back streets which you'll miss from simply travelling to the Barbican Centre, or by the 153 bus. There is a £1 flat fare, which is much cheaper than TFL services, and you can pay by cash on this hail and ride service. Although this service isn't run by Transport For London, it's certainly unique and is one of the more accessible services in this list.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully you've found one you'd like to try!