Sunday, 15 October 2017

Demonstrating Metroline's Organisation: Route 222

One of the most recent bus service changes has seen the operation of route 222 transferred from London United to Metroline West, with a batch of brand new buses, although none of them entered service on the first day. This post documents what should've been a simple operator change, but instead turned into a rather complex re-shuffle of lots of buses in the Metroline fleet.

ADE40131 was part of a regular batch of E400s that used to work the 222. It is one of a few left at Hounslow for use on the 81.

The 222 runs between Uxbridge and Hounslow Bus Station, running through West Drayton, Cranford and Hounslow West in the process. It's one of the busiest routes in Hounslow Town Centre, and it recently joined the increasing number of routes than run 24/7 in London. The former allocation consisted of ADL Enviro 400s based at Hounslow (AV) garage, although Scania OmniCity buses were also found on a regular basis. In terms of reliability, London United were praised throughout their contract for generally maintaining a decent service, even when the route was operated with single deckers a few years ago. The 222 is quite popular with enthusiasts, due to the mixture of urban high streets, outer London residential running, and the possibility of a "thrashy" journey, particularly around the Sipson area. Many enthusiasts were gutted that London United had lost the service, especially because the company had given up so many other major routes at the time. Since the contract change, some of the ADL E400s are still at Hounslow (AV) garage working the 81, although others can be found working on the long-term London Overground Rail Replacement service, or up in North West London on the recently acquired route 258.

Personally, I've always been quite fond of the 222, as it's one of the more interesting routes found in quite a dry part of West London. Although I've generally been unlucky with fast trips, the external surroundings are interesting enough to keep you entertained, especially around Heathrow. I had mixed feelings about Metroline running the 222; even though they are capable of providing an excellent service, the large number of bus types previously found on the route would be ruined, as Metroline tend to be much more strict with allocations. Nevertheless, I wasn't dreading the changeover, and I was intrigued to see how Uxbridge (UX) garage would cope with this difficult service. Predictably, Metroline ordered some Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles for the new contract, which started on Saturday 16th September 2017.

Metroline VWH2172 is seen at Hounslow Bell Corner on the first day of the new contract.
 The first night was easily the most shambolic changeover of 2017. As the 222 is a 24 hour service, the first Metroline bus followed straight on from the last London United trip, which gave enthusiasts the opportunity to spot two different operators running one route at the same time for around 45 minutes. However, drivers were given the wrong duty cards at Uxbridge (UX) garage, so whilst they thought they were running on schedule, the iBus controllers would see the bus as in a completely different position to where it should be, due to this confusion of trip numbers. As a result, buses were constantly being curtailed at places such as Heathrow North throughout the night, as the vehicles were so far ahead/behind schedule that fixing the service in an hour or two simply couldn't happen. This meant that there was effectively no service between Uxbridge and Cranford for 2 hours of the night, which is a sizeable chunk of the route. When I found out about the incident in the morning, I simply burst out laughing and Metroline certainly hadn't given a good first impression for the regular night users of the 222, who essentially had no bus for much of the night. However, after the first day hiccup, the service has actually been very good, with no real issues with reliability or even duty cards - I'm sure Metroline will never make that mistake again! Even though the dodgy start foreshadowed a shambolic and disorganised future, almost everyone can agree that the operation of route 222 looks promising and hopefully Uxbridge (UX) garage can keep this up.

Metroline VWH2183 is seen at Uxbridge Station at the end of a route 222 journey on the first day.
A controversial frequency cut to every 10 minutes coincided with the new contract, which has resulted in busier buses and overcrowding in the peaks, as this route already struggled with its previous timetable. Due to space constraints at Uxbridge (UX) garage, where the route is controlled, Metroline recently acquired an outstation at Uxbridge Industrial Estate, where the 222 buses are stored overnight. So far, the allocation has been pretty strict, although there have been occasional appearances of ADL E400s currently allocated to routes 607 and U4, and a solitary appearance of a Wrightbus Gemini B7TL, bringing another new type to the 222. However, for the past month or so the main allocation of route 222 hasn't actually consisted of its batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles. Only 5 of the new buses for the 222 had been delivered by the contract date, and even these weren't fit for service. As a result, the 222 had to borrow some buses from elswhere, and route 114, also running from Uxbridge (UX) garage, was the victim. In order to give a good first impression of the new route 222 operation, blinded buses had to be sourced from the route 114 allocation of 16-plate Gemini's. These buses are almost identical to the route 222 examples, although they are already fairly worn-out after working such a heavy-duty service, which was evident when I rode the service on the first day. So, whilst everything has seemed normal on the 222 in terms of vehicle presentation, the 114's appearance for the past month or so has certainly been questionable.

Metroline Travel VWH2323 pauses at Ruislip Manor Station, towards the end of a route 114 journey to Ruislip.
The buses currently on the 114 are actually brand new; they were initially intended for use at Willesden (AC) garage for routes 260 and 302, although the lack of 222 VWHs means that they have been diverted, so the two Willesden routes can keep their grim Volvo Presidents for a little longer. So in theory, route 114 users have received another vehicle upgrade, and when I rode one of the new examples on Saturday 16th September, the bus was in a pristine condition, containing that addictive rubbery new bus smell. However, you may have noticed from the photo that there is one significant issue with these brand new Gemini 3's working the 114. They don't have blinds for any Uxbridge (UX) routes, and have been running around banditised (with a sheet of paper in the window) for almost a month, which is unacceptable in my opinion. If this temporary allocation was only present for one weekend, then I think the lack of blinds could be understandable. However, these buses have been working the service blindless for almost a month now, and they're going to be staying on the route for a few more weeks. Evidently, the presentation on route 222 has been prioritised, and the 114 has been dumped with buses that aren't fully equipped for the service. I was expecting Metroline to add some blinds to these buses within a week or so, but I think it's outrageous that this ambiguous and confusing display has taken place for this long, and I do hope Metroline are punished as a result. The new buses for the 222 have only just entered service and unfortunately I haven't been able to take a picture of one, but I'm sure you've seen enough Gemini 3's in this post to know what one looks like on the 222!

Metroline Travel TE948 is seen at Uxbridge at the end of a route U4 journey.
 The contract for route U4 was retained back in April, which promised the withdrawal of the elderly Volvo Presidents that used to make up part of the allocation. However, the replacement Enviro 400 vehicles (displaced from Potters Bar garage) only arrived in September, and haven't really worked the U4 much at all. In fact, the poor old Volvo Presidents are still working the U4 on a regular basis, as these E400s are currently being used on the 114 and 222 due to the lack of available Gemini 3's.

 In general, we can infer that Metroline have been quite successful with the 222 takeover, as the service on that route has been decent (bar the first night). However, it's a shame that other routes like the 114 have suffered as a result of Metroline's lack of organisation, and hopefully the 222 VWHs enter service promptly so this debacle can be sorted out.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Random Observations: September 2017

This particular post has been published just after the Summer holiday, so these pictures have been chosen from a batch of over 200 found in my folder. Typically, we have a rather unbalanced selection of photos, with only one contributor from the East, and none from the West! Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the latest edition of a shortened Random Observations, and maybe today will be the lucky day where I moan about your local route....

Tower Transit VH38116 pauses at Swiss Cottage Station on a rare appearance working route 13.
Since Tower Transit took over operation of the new route 13 (replacing route 82 between North Finchley and Victoria), the route only used the allocated MCV EvosSeti B5LH buses, as well as some spare Enviro 400H vehicles normally found on the 23. Since then, there have been two appearances of one of the Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles found at Westbourne Park (X) garage - these normally stick to route 328. However, on the most recent trip VH38116 only lasted for a couple of hours in the evening, but on Wednesday 30th August 2017 this bus managed to stay out for a substantial amount of time. A convenient coincidence ensured that my camera was available for snapping in the Swiss Cottage area, which the 13 passes. The appearance certainly looked rather odd, although this type of bus isn't new to the number 13 route itself, as London Sovereign operated these buses on the old service from Golders Green-Aldwych.

After operating the new service for a few months, Tower Transit are still struggling to provide a reliable service, with almost every bus arriving with a companion. Curtailments and large gaps are also common, and this inability to operate the service is quite surprising, as Metroline managed to run the 82 significantly better. Whilst it is acceptable for an operator to have difficulty in settling in for the first couple of months or two, it's quite surprising that the service levels are still this poor after nearly 6 months of operation. Patronage along the Finchley Road corridor has decreased considerably as a result of the controversial service changes and unreliability of the "compromise" bus provided. Hopefully Tower Transit eventually get used to running the service, as it shouldn't be too challenging for them, especially because their garage is situated in the middle of the route, which is much more convenient and useful than Potters Bar, which is quite some distance from both termini!

Arriva London T64 stands at the rural terminus of Caterham On-The-Hill in between trips on route 466.
The 466 is one of a few routes that run across Croydon Town Centre, rather than terminating there and reaching further in one particular direction. It starts at the rural village of Caterham On-The-Hill, before making its way through residential Coulsdon and the somewhat substantial town centre of Purley. Whilst providing necessary assistance along the demanding Brighton Road corridor, the 466 travels through South Croydon before reaching Croydon Town Centre itself, although the route only serves the South Side before diverting to serve East Croydon Station. Then, the 466 begins its quietest stretch of route, through Shirley Hills to Addington Village Interchange, where the route terminates.

In general, the 466 is a decent route for variety, with a wide mixture of countryside thrash in Addington, scenic hilltop views in Coulsdon, residential running around Purley, and the urban realm of Croydon, with the two ends of the route being my favourite sections. Despite a brief diversion in between Sandilands and East Croydon (which involved running in some traffic), the route was fairly fast-paced, with no regulation or particularly slow sections. Even though the bus wasn't particularly "thrashy", I was satisfied with the overall speed of the journey and it seems that the 466 is one of a few routes left in London with a fairly tight schedule, which seems to work well as the route is generally reliable from my observations.

Various enthusiasts complain about this route frequently, often stating that the double deck vehicles allocated aren't justified, and that the Addington-Croydon section is unnecessary and superfluous. Although the route does often run empty on the latter section of the route, there is no need to withdraw the service and I can't really find any suitable replacement single deck route. Additionally, there are quite a few cross-Croydon trips (e.g from Shirley-Purley), that would require a change of bus without the 466. In terms of double deck justification, one 466 journey undertaken back on a Sunday in May was very busy, with only a few seats left upstairs! A single deck conversion would be brutal for the Brighton Road corridor, which does need another high frequency DD route like the 466 to cope with loadings into and out of Croydon.  Even though the 466 isn't one of my favourite Croydon-based routes, it's definitely worth recommending for anyone wanting to discover the suburbs of Greater South London and there are no real issues I can find.

Hackney Community Transport 1241 stands at Chingford Hall Estate at the beginning of a route W11 journey to Walthamstow Central.
The W11 is one of the shortest routes in Walthamstow, providing a local link between the dense residential areas found within Higham Hill and the aforementioned town centre, in addition to Crooked Billet Sainsbury's. The route terminates at Chingford Hall Estate, which is just a couple of minutes away from Crooked Billet, although this housing area isn't served by any other route, so the W11 acts a lifeline for residents living here. The roads in Chingford Hall are extremely tight and my driver did struggle with maneuvering the E200 MMC around these difficult roads, but thankfully we were successful in reaching the end of the estate. The rest of the route is pretty dull, with a mixture of housing and dense tower blocks to look at. Like the 466, the two ends of the W11 are the most interesting sections, as towards Walthamstow the route provides an interesting view of Walthamstow Market, emphasising its expansive nature. The W11 is also one of the busier Walthamstow routes, constantly filling up as soon as it enters Higham Hill, with my bus being full and standing at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. Although I probably wouldn't recommend the W11 for you guys, as it can feel quite repetitive towards the end of the journey, it's certainly a concrete example of a successful feeder single deck route, which are likely to make up the majority of the bus network as longer service scontinue to be cut back in favour of reliability and saving money.

Arriva London's refurbished HV19 pauses at Streatham Hill Station at the start of a 133 journey to Liverpool Street.
The 133 is one of London's busiest routes, running between Streatham Station and Liverpool Street. It's an extremely popular commuter service, providing a handy link between the residential areas North of Brixton and the City of London. Patronage has decreased significantly on the 133 recently for a variety of reasons, mostly involving some sort of roadwork causing delay and an unreliable service, with more passengers switching to the Northern Line. Despite this, the 133 is still one of my favourite London routes. I love how the route starts in the suburban area of Streatham, with its famously long high street, before taking the direct route through Rush Common and the thriving Brixton town centre. The residential section just after is brief but still provides another contrasting view to the rest of the service, which is always a bonus. Leafy Kennington is always a pleasure to travel through, whilst the nightmare of Elephant & Castle is always amusing to travel through! However, my absolute favourite section of the route lies just after Borough, where the beautiful landscape of the City of London reveals itself.

The 133 takes a unique routeing to reach Liverpool Street from the scenic London Bridge river crossing, opting to travel via Bank Junction and Old Broad Street, which is always brilliant to travel down on a double deck vehicle without tiny windows at the front, due to the somewhat daunting nature of the massive skyscrapers towering over you on this fairly narrow road. With the forthcoming curtailment of route 23 to Aldwych, the 133 will be the only non-LT route to travel down this stretch of route, making it even more special to travel down.

Although straight-line direct routes are usually fairly boring from past experiences, the 133 is completely different, with a change in scenery every few minutes, ensuring that you're entertained throughout the lengthy journey. It's also one of a handful of South/Central London routes that haven't been infected with the disease known as the New Bus For London, which is why it remains in my top 20 favourite routes. It's current allocation consists of a mixture of "rip-off LTs" (officially called the E400 City, which are considerably better in my opinion) and existing Wrightbus Gemini 2 B5LH vehicles, which are in the process of being refurbished and upgraded to Euro 6 specification, making it compatible with the tough emission standards in Central London. In short, the 133 is a brilliant route with fantastic buses, so I definitely recommend you try this one out if you want to explore the depths of inner South London.

Stagecoach London 19782 stops at Barking Station at the end of a 169 trip from Clayhall.
The 169 is part of an experimental scheme in Barkingside involving route branding, which results in 80% of the vehicle allocation receiving advertisement for the service on the bus, including some colour-coded green stripes and route summaries. I wrote about the scheme in more detail here. So far, there has been no indication on whether the trial has been successful or not, although my sceptical views on its effectiveness still haven't changed. Personally, I feel that the attempts at decorating the bus on the exterior are pretty pathetic, with unnecessary random stripes and massive numbers blocking the passenger view and wasting space when the number is clearly shown on the blinds! In my opinion, the route record is the only useful feature found on these vehicles, but there are even discrepancies with this. For example, the 128's route advertisement ignores the termination point at Claybury Broadway and the key interchange point at Gants Hill, although every other Barkingside route passing through the area advertises the aforementioned location.

 In addition, a colour-coded stripe has been added to the flag of every bus stop along each route, which works rather well in Barkingside High Street where every route involved in the experiment has been assigned a colour. However, in further areas such as Romford or Barking, having one random route with a stripe on the flag compared to 15+ other plain stickers looks pretty daft and unprofessional, almost as if it has been placed accidentally! Unless I find that annual patronage for the Barkingside routes has increased considerably, I refuse to call this scheme successful or effective, as at the moment I'm struggling to see how this is going to increase bus awareness, as currently the vehicles running around are in a pitiful state. Unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to talk about the 169 itself as this branding experiment has stolen the limelight for now, but hopefully I'll be able to express my opinion on the service in more detail in 2018, when it receives its brand new E40H MMCs for the contract renewal.

Abellio London 8332 terminates at Camberwell Green at the end of a route 484 journey.
 Surprisingly, the 484 is one my favourite single deck routes in London. This route didn't look particularly interesting when I first viewed the service, as it has a rather boring allocation of bog-standard E200s, the routeing is mainly residential and the route can get extremely busy with crowds form Lewisham Shopping Centre; unfortunately the 484 is restricted to fairly short single deckers due to the tight turns found on the route. Towards the end of a long trip out on a Summer Sunday, I found myself in Lewisham and was pondering over which route to complete before heading home. I originally decided that the 380 would be fun, although works at Lewisham High Street meant that the first stop was closed and the arrangements in place were a little confusing, so I decided to leave the route for another time. I was also feeling quite tired by this point, so a short route that took me to a fairly convenient location seemed sensible, and the 484 was coming in 3 minutes, so I jumped on board. Abellio have done a fantastic job with the refurbishment of this batch of E200s; the seats are very comfortable and they can get up to some high speeds. My driver was extremely friendly, sometimes pausing a considerable distance from the bus stop to let people on who were struggling to run for the service; a mother with a buggy had almost given up trying to board the bus as she climbed up Vicars Hill, but this lovely driver let her on halfway up instead! He also wasn't afraid to use the accelerator, getting up to some amazing speeds on the back roads, so it was a very enjoyable journey.

Rather foolishly, I chose to board the service just after Lewisham Shopping Centre closed, so my bus was absolutely rammed leaving the high street, with standing room only! Thankfully, the 484 is one of those "short hop" routes, where people tend to only board for a few stops before alighting again, so eventually every passenger left managed to grab a seat. All these positive factors (apart from the overcrowding) contributed to the brilliant experience, but the routeing is what made the 484 stand out for me. The areas it travels through are very affluent, including the heights of Telegraph Hill and Peckham Rye Common, where the beautiful and bustling green space supplements the terraced housing very nicely. The journey was truly fascinating, delving into some areas of London that you simply miss out by only travelling on mainstream double deck routes. As well as the lovely residential areas, some urban areas like Camberwell Green and East Dulwich provide a satisfying contrast, but I didn't find myself bored at any moment on this 40 minute journey, something rare for a single deck route! This brief description can't fully describe how much I loved this journey, and how interesting the areas that it passes through are. This post has contained quite a few decent routes, but if you like travelling through the more expensive part of London, but also like ocassional outbreaks of green spaces or busy shopping streets, then the 484 is for you. You might find it boring, and you probably won't receive such a fast or spritely journey, but if you're a keen London explorer who wants to expand further into the residential part of the city, then try this route out, as I didn't find the houses became relentless or uninteresting at any point. Hats off to the 484, one of the best single deck routes in London!

Metroline Travel TE838 pauses in Barnet Town Centre towards the end of its journey.
The 107 is quite a strange little route, running between Edgware and New Barnet at a 15-minute frequency with ADL E400s. It provides the only direct bus link between the popular North-West London shopping districts of Edgware and Barnet (other than the non-TFL 614, which runs at an unattractive frequency and boasts expensive fares), although it takes a rather indirect route between the two, travelling via Elstree & Borehamwood in the process! It's a rare example of a London bus route that terminates within the Greater London Boundary at both ends, but takes a brief interlude into Hertfordshire towards the middle. It's one of the more exotic TFL bus services, being one of the few DD routes to venture into the depths of the countryside. The 107 is a decent mix of urban high streets and residential areas (namely in Barnet, Edgware and Borehamwood), and some fast rural sections, like in Arkley (situated West of Barnet) and towards Elstree, where some of the roads near the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital feel like they're situated on the outskirts of the woods containing the infamous Blair Witch!

Nevertheless, the 107 is generally quite an enjoyable fast-paced ride, taking you through the outskirts of North West London, sticking to the edge of the London boundary for the majority of the journey. Unfortunately, the once-powerful Enviro 400 vehicles that work the service are starting to deteriorate a little, but there are a few fast examples found at the garage and thankfully I managed to catch one of these buses when I rode the route last year. Being a Saturday morning, the journey was pretty quiet and the "thrashy" trip through rural London was certainly fun, and even if your journey isn't particularly fast, the external surroundings are somewhat interesting, especially as the 107 is a lone wolf for a considerable amount of the journey, which should mean you end up travelling through a large number of new areas.

 Interestingly, the 107 travels through some parts of Hertfordshire where the planned Northern Line extension to Bushey Heath was meant to serve, although this project was cancelled, protecting the picturesque countryside for the forseeable future. If these tube stations were built and became operational, I'm sure you'd all be familiar with "Brockley Hill" and "Elstree South", as these would probably be outer-London residential areas contributing to the vast amount of suburbia found in this City. It would also make the 107 a very different route (if it existed) and perhaps less enjoyable, as travelling through housing for long periods of time doesn't impress me very much. However, the 107 is safe for now and if you like viewing the countryside from the top deck of a bus, but don't want to wait for services with appalling frequencies or extortionate fares, then trying the 107 isn't a bad idea, even if there are some better examples found on the other side of London.

Go-Ahead London WVN30 stands at Concert Hall Approach, between trips on the extra 77 services.
 The infamous "Waterloo Blockade" caused chaos and some significantly longer trips for South West Trains commuters, as platforms 1-9 were closed between Saturday 5th August and Monday 28th August 2017, although the former "Waterloo International" Eurostar terminal was reopened temporarily during this period to help accommodate some of the train services. As well as the reduced services, some stations were partially or fully closed (e.g Earlsfield and Queenstown Road) whilst some train services were replaced by a bus service (e.g between Chessington South and Malden Manor). In order to partially compensate some passengers, extra buses were drafted into service on routes that closely mirror the South Western network, such as the 77. As well as being the fastest route between Waterloo and Clapham Junction, a popular journey by train, the 77 also serves Earlsfield Station, which was closed during rush hour throughout the works. So, this bus service received a significant PVR boost, with these rush-hour only extras running between Tooting Broadway and Waterloo, rather than continuing to the Station where the normal service terminates. The extra buses came in the form of some ADL E40H MMCs, which were transferred from Putney (AF) garage following the substantial PVR reduction on route 14. However, the other buses didn't contain blinds and were simply banditised with sheets of paper displaying the route number, and the destination in some cases, in the windscreen. These Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles were unrefurbished WVN-class buses, which were transferred from Northumberland Park (NP) garage following the loss of routes 259 and 476. These buses should hopefully be working route 131 from Saturday 30th September 2017, although in recent months they've been used for a wide range of last minute duties, such as covering for late MMCs on route 5, or providing extra buses on route 161 during the Southeastern blockade at the end of August. The unrefurbished examples still contain the First London moquette from when they used to operate these vehicles, so the sighting of the WVNs  on Go-Ahead routes can look a little odd. Despite being a little worn out, they've certainly been useful over the past few months, and maybe Go-Ahead wouldn't have been able to step in so easily for all this cover work, especially as making the 77 one of the most frequent routes in Waterloo isn't an easy task!

I must apologise for the short formation today. As you may have noticed, this post only contains 8 picture reviews instead of the usual 10, which is due to time constraints on my part; this post was meant to be published last weekend! Unfortunately, I can guarantee that there won't be any updates on the blog until Saturday 14th October 2017, and after that there should be regular posts for a decent amount of time. I'm sorry to disappoint you all, especially with the rather erratic postings recently and the almost incomplete post today. I also haven't had a chance to update my sliding "latest news" information recently; although the idea of regularly keeping all of you aware of what's going on in the bus scene, unfortunately this blog simply isn't the place to do it. I don't have the time to check my sources on a regular basis now, and this doesn't work anymore like it used to in the Summer holidays. This cut back is a shame as I do enjoy writing, but hopefully my postings on here won't disappear completely for a while and the London Buses On The Go blog can maintain it's recent boost in popularity!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Busageddon: Croydon Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Five Changes For The Corresponding Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Random Route: 252

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Northern Piccadilly Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!