Saturday, 24 June 2017

Richmond Town Centre: Evaluating The Bus Network

Unfortunately I've been so busy recently that there simply hasn't been enough time to post about the ongoing changes of the bus scene, although I'm now aware of the events of the past month and ready to provide news and views for you guys. As I haven't been out for a while, there aren't any changes I can talk about, so this post will contain a brief summary of what's happened over the past couple of weeks and then talk about something different, based on my popular Ealing Broadway links post I created last year. Enjoy!

  • In terms of tenders, there have been quite a few announcements recently, as a result of purdah finishing two weeks ago. More detail can be found on the tenders page, but the significant upcoming changes are the 153/214 being lost to Go-Ahead London with electrics (contracts starting in Feb 2018 and August 2019 respectively), the 274 will gain a full allocation of new double deckers from June 2018 and the 138, 284 and 161 have all been lost to Stagecoach with new MMCs from March 2018.
  • TFL have consulted on diverting routes 53 and 363 over the Bricklayers Arms flyover in order to speed up journey times, click here for more detail. 
  • Route 7 will receive new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles soon, sending the current allocation to the 4/17.
  • Route 320 has gained a partial allocation of Enviro 400 Hybrid vehicles displaced from the 436. After a shaky start they are seeing daily usage and will be supplemented by Gemini 2 vehicles from August.
  • Route 258 will see a partial allocation of 4 Enviro 400H MMCs for the new contract next year, being the first examples of the type for RATP.
  • As a result of the Central London Bus Consultation, last week the 6 was re-routed to serve Park Lane and Piccadilly, the 242 was cut back to St Paul's with the 172 being re-routed to Clerkenwell Green as a result, the 390 was re-routed to serve Victoria with the 73 being cut back to Oxford Circus. The next set of changes will take place on 15th July, more detail on tenders page.
  • Existing LTs are starting to takeover routes 48 and 254 and route 137 has seen new examples enter service.
  • The first Enviro 200 MMC has entered service for route 411, coinciding with the merging of Quality Line and London United from today. Identical vehicles have entered service at Shepherd's Bush (S) garage for the temporary allocation of route 70, before electric vehicles arrive.
  • New Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles have entered service for the 120 contract change and these have already strayed onto other routes at Perivale (PA) garage including the 90, 105 and 297. Similar examples are slowly starting to debut at Willesden (AC) garage for routes 260 and 302, sticking to the latter for the time being, as well as other local routes.
  • Since the end of May new MMCs have entered service at Sullivan Buses for route 217 and at Tower Transit the 236 has almost converted to Wrightbus Streetlite operation.
  • It's been confirmed that the 5, 115 and 176 will receive ADL E40H MMCs upon contract their new contracts, the 188 will receive Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH buses and the 22 will receive MCV EvoSeti vehicles.
Quite a lot has happened recently, but now we move on to my analysis of how successful the Richmond bus network is in terms of linking other areas and capacity available. Richmond has quite a large variety of train lines, with the London Overground and District Line both terminating there and taking people to North London and Central London respectively, even if the tube takes quite a while. For those who want a faster option into Central London, South West Trains operate fast direct rail services to London Waterloo as well as longer trips to Reading and Windsor. The bus network is unusual because a lot of the routes follow each other and most of them are single deck, some of them being incredibly busy, with the two daytime exceptions providing valuable links elsewhere. Some routes also see "uncommon" appearances of double deck vehicles, ironically on some of the less busy routes! Unfortunately I don't have pictures of all the routes serving Richmond and some of them might not be of a high quality, but a quick google search should give you a rough idea of what each route looks like if visual representation particularly interests you.

London United DE126 on route 33 to Hammersmith.
The 33 runs from Fulwell, Stanley Road-Hammersmith, via Twickenham, Richmond, East Sheen and Barnes. It's one of four routes running to Hammersmith from Richmond (which is quite excessive) and is the quickest option in most cases, taking a fairly direct route. It's certainly one of the busier single deck routes serving the town centre, running at a decent 8 minute frequency throughout the day and it's also one of the rare SD routes that run 24/7. It doesn't provide many new links, apart from Richmond-Barnes and to some parts of Fulwell, but it's certainly valuable for many people by linking multiple town centres and providing a frequent alternative to other routes.

VH45186 works route 65 on a curtailed journey to Ham. Unfortunately the picture looks blurry on this page for some reason, however if you click on it you should be able to find a clearer version.
The 65 is undoubtedly the most useful route in Richmond and also the busiest by a considerable amount, being one of the two double deck daytime routes serving the area. It also runs 24/7 at an every 6 minute frequency during the day, from Ealing Broadway-Kingston via South Ealing, Brentford, Kew Gardens and Ham. It's popular because it's essentially a North-South trunk route and Richmond is the middle point; there are also no other routes like this serving the town centre. It encounters lots of long distance riders from the town centres of Ealing and Kingston as well as residents who only have this route as a local. It's very direct and without it Richmond would be isolated from much of West London and is in need of some additional support, even with the current high frequency.

Metroline DM969 is curtailed at Hammersmith, before starting a 190 trip back to Richmond. The 190 is the only route that uses this type of bus in London.

The 190 is mostly a single decker route, but occasionally Metroline send out one of their various Gemini 2 vehicles out for the day. It doesn't get particularly busy, partially due to its low frequency of 4 buses per hour. It runs to West Brompton via Chiswick Riverside and Hammersmith and mostly follows other routes, providing one unique section near the infamous Hogarth Roundabout, which causes the route to be frequently delayed, making the 391 more attractive for trips to Hammersmith or West Brompton. Some residents around Chiswick use the service, but for the rest of the public, this service is slow and pretty useless, having quicker alternatives for the majority of the places it serves. The 190, 337, 391 and 419 are the only routes that terminate inside Richmond Town Centre, because there's no stand space elsewhere and routes coming from the West would have to negotiate a complicated one way loop to serve both the shops and the bus station, so only these four routes have gained this privilege, which is why so many routes run empty East of Richmond (more on that later).

A rare working showcasing PVL232 on the 337 to Clapham Junction.
The 337 is the only other full-time DD route in Richmond, providing a few unique links to other town centres in SW London. It only runs every 12 minutes and doesn't get particularly busy, partially because the 33 and 493 follow the route between Richmond and Barnes Common, but afterwards the 337 serves the major transport and shopping hubs of Putney, Wandsworth and Clapham Junction. If South West Trains didn't offer such a frequent, fast and attractive service, I suspect the 337 would be much more popular than it currently is, but it's certainly a useful addition to the Richmond bus network, and I'm sure it can become very busy if the parallel rail line experiences delays. It also terminates at the bus station, avoiding any unnecessary running to the West of the town centre.

An Enviro 200 works the 371 on a rainy day in Kingston.
The 371 is a very indirect route running from Richmond Manor Circus-Kingston, serving all the side roads in Petersham and Ham that are outside of the 65 catchment area, running every 9 minutes. It's a very interesting little route running through some leafy, posh areas and taking a very convoluted route to Kingston, significantly longer than the 65. However, it gets pretty busy due to the large amount of residents who use this service to transport themselves to Richmond and also boasts an eclectic mix of bus types, ranging from the bog standard E200s and Dart Pointers, to the more obscure Hybrid E200s (the only batch in London) and some double deck appearances in the form of ALX400s, Scania OmniCity buses and OmniDekka vehicles. Due to insufficient stand space in Richmond Town Centre, the 371 is forced to run for an extra few minutes to Manor Circus Retail Park, which is essentially a dumping ground for all the Richmond routes that can't terminate in the bus station (the 371, 493, H22, H37 and R70 all do this) as there are multiple stands near Sainsbury's and Homebase. All of these routes hardly pick up any passengers here and shoppers could easily fit onto the 190, 419 and R68 which all serve the retail park. Nevertheless, the 371 is certainly one of the more interesting routes in Richmond and I highly recommend you try it on a DD.

This working only happened once and it shouldn't happen again, whilst the E3 allocation was temporarily used on the 391 whilst its Optare Versas transferred to Fulwell (FW) garage.
The 391 uses a wide variety of single and double deck types, the same ones commonly found on the 371, but the main allocation consists of Optare Versa buses, which are also diminishing in London and I believe these are some of the last examples in London (bar the 283 batch), with the 411/465 buses departing soon. It runs every 8 minutes, from Richmond-Fulham Sands End (Imperial Wharf) via Kew Gardens, Chiswick, Hammersmith and Fulham Broadway. It serves a decent amount of housing close to Richmond before linking the town centre with Chiswick, which is the main purpose of the 391 for the Western end of the route and it's quite a popular link too, with lots of people wanting to travel between the two upmarket town centres. It takes a while to reach Hammersmith and not many people want to get to North End Road from Richmond, but the Chiswick Town Centre link makes the route quite popular and a nice addition to the Richmond network.

Unfortunately, all of my 419 pictures are terrible, but click here for an accurate representation of the current allocation of the 419's current allocation, which is currently full of Dart Pointer vehicles. It's one of the shortest routes in Richmond, terminating at Hammersmith and running through Mortlake and Castelnau, Lonsdale Road. It's not very frequent, running every 15 minutes throughout the day, but it's one of the faster options into Hammersmith and it also provides a handy link to Mortlake and Barnes Bridge, as well as the residential area around Lonsdale Road. Even though I've never used it, I'm sure it has a valuable purpose in Richmond Town Centre for the locals and perhaps it's one of the most suitable routes for extending to create new links, or for swapping to improve reliability. (more on that later).

Abellio London 8512 works route 490 to Heathrow Terminal 5.
The 490 is one of the busiest (and most useful) single decker routes in the area, running from Heathrow Terminal 5 via Feltham, Hanworth and Twickenham, before terminating at Pools On The Park, which is just a couple of minutes away from the town centre, as an alternative to sending the route to Manor Circus. The link to residential Hanworth and the busy broadway of Feltham makes this route very popular and it runs every 10 minutes, which is an attractive frequency that should probably be increased, as this route is currently pretty crowded. A decent number of people use the route to reach Heathrow, especially because there is currently no direct train service. With a frequency increase, the crowding issues should be sorted, so this is certainly one of the most successful routes in Richmond Town Centre for long distance travellers.

An Enviro 200 serves Richmond Bus Station, nearing completion of a lengthy 493 journey.
The 493 has the potential to be one of the most useful routes in Richmond, but unfortunately it seems to be overlooked by the locals, partially due to the single decker buses and lack of advertising of other popular locations. It's quite busy at the moment, but it copes well with an every 12 minute frequency, but I suspect if people knew about the links this service provides, it could be much more popular. After the quiet run from Manor Circus, the 493 follows the 33 and 337 to East Sheen, but after that the routeing is unique, running through Roehampton, Southfields and Wimbledon before terminating at Tooting, St George's Hospital. With the number of useful links that can't be made by train, theoretically this route should be at bursting point in terms of loadings, however it seems that most people prefer taking the car, perhaps due to unreliability or lack of awareness of the route, or maybe I've misjudged the amount of demand from Richmond-Wimbledon and Roehampton. If it was given a full allocation of double deckers, it would certainly encourage me to use the service more and it would have an immediate effect on locals, who would instantly notice the change and (hopefully) research where the route goes. I think this route has so much potential that isn't quite being fulfilled, so hopefully TFL can upgrade the route and make it as popular as it could be, ideally with DDs!

The 969 is the most elusive bus in the Richmond area, only running twice a week, providing one return trip on each day. As a result, I don't have any pictures of the service, but click here for an accurate picture of the current allocation of the service (I've highlighted the most relevant one). It doesn't provide any new links, apart from to the residential area in Whitton and to Roehampton Vale Asda (after taking a roundabout route through Barnes) and it doesn't run frequently enough for anyone else to take notice of it, but it's a unique addition to the Richmond area and I'm sure some elderly residents along the route greatly appreciate the minimal amount of service.

The H22 is another route that has escaped my camera and is also one of my most hated routes in London, for being a particularly tedious residential route running between Hounslow and Richmond, via a seemingly endless assortment of side roads in Whitton and Twickenham Town Centre, using neglected Dart Pointer vehicles. It's definitely worth avoiding and the only useful link it provides is to the area of Whitton, which is only used by local residents. It does terminate at Hounslow, but using the H37 is much more sensible. It can get pretty busy and it runs every 12 minutes, but I tend to just ignore the route in Richmond.

London United OT2 pauses at West Thames College en route to Richmond, Manor Circus.
The H37 is probably the busiest single decker route in Richmond and is one of the shortest ones too. It takes the most direct route possible between Hounslow Blenheim Centre and Richmond Manor Circus, through Isleworth and St Margaret's and some dense residential areas, in which the H37 is the sole bus route, running every 6 minutes throughout the day and all night on Friday and Saturday. It uses unique Optare Tempo buses, the only ones in London, partially to cope with the immense number of passengers that use this route. Even with the high frequency, buses are frequently packed and finding an empty one is a rare treat (apart from at Manor Circus), with the combination of (basically) e2e riders and local users. It's in need of support urgently and I think another route from Richmond should be extended to cover part of this wonderful and unique, yet terrible at the same time route!

Abellio London 8511 works route R68 to Hampton Court.
There are only two routes with an "R for Richmond" prefix, both starting vaguely near the town centre and ending up somewhere in Hampton. The first route is much more useful in terms of links, serving Kew Retail Park and The National Archives, before running down to the popular tourist attraction of Hampton Court via Richmond, Twickenham, Teddington and Hampton. The route gets pretty busy as it serves a decent amount of housing and is faster than the 33 for reaching Teddington, and the unique Richmond-Hampton Court link means that the bus is often filled with long distance travellers. It's certainly useful and if the demand continues to grow it may receive a frequency increase to every 8 minutes.

An Enviro 200 works the R70 to Hampton, The Avenue.

 The R70 runs from Richmond, Manor Circus-Hampton, The Avenue (which is in Nurserylands) via Twickenham, Fulwell and Hampton, taking a reasonably direct route to the residential area. The loadings are inconsistent but sometimes it can get incredibly busy, notably on Saturdays, where residents in the R70-only area come out to Richmond for shopping. It's also the fastest route to Fulwell and Hampton which is why buses can turn up packed if you're waiting in Twickenham. It runs with bog standard E200s at a bog standard 10 minute frequency, but instead of having a fixed turning point in Nurserylands, buses run in a massive clockwise loop around the housing area, providing an efficient method of quickly serving everyone in the catchment area. It can be considered useful and this concludes the somewhat detailed analysis of each route in the town centre.

On the whole, we can infer that each route in Richmond has some sort of functional purpose, from constantly transporting large numbers of people to town centres (65), to serving a few houses and a gridlocked roundabout only (the 190), or only running twice a week for the benefit of a few people in Whitton (the 969). Generally, the bus network in Richmond should be commended, even if some routes are in need of a capacity boost, it proves that the routes are successful and people are recognising the bus as a method of transport for shopping/commuting purposes, even with the high quality train service on offer. Buses often parallel this (four buses go to Hammersmith despite it being on the District Line), although many bus routes cater for where the rail lines don't reach and at an adequate "replacement" frequency. However, there are a couple of missing links and this is what I propose to sort it:

  • Extending the 337 from Richmond-West Middlesex Hospital, via the H37 routeing through St Margaret's and South Street and then up Twickenham Road for a couple of stops to WMH. The route isn't particularly long at the moment and this 20-25 minute extension would effectively cease overcrowding on the H37 and you could possibly cut the frequency on the H37 with this new extension. The link to the hospital would also be greatly appreciated by locals.
  • Double deck route 493 (provided that there are no restrictions, there aren't any low bridges I think) to make members of the public aware of this potentially useful cross-London route.
  • There currently isn't a link from Westfield to South West London, so I suggest modifying the following routes to solve this issue: re-routing route 391 so it runs from Richmond-Chiswick and then runs via the 237 to White City, giving that overcrowded route some well-deserved support. There is also room for an extension further into South West London, although there are multiple options to consider and I don't have time to make a substantiated judgement, so I'm just going to leave it as the core section for now. Then, I would extend route 283 to Fulham, Sands End from Hammersmith (it's very short now and has a similar frequency to the 391) and extend the 419 to West Brompton to Hammersmith, providing a more reliable service on this section than the traffic prone 190, which I would curtail to Hammersmith to improve the quality of service in Chiswick Riverside and ideally make the service more attractive. Even though a number of links are broken, some valuable new ones are created here (North End Road-White City, White City-Richmond etc etc) and I feel that overall, it would improve travel patterns in West London.
My views might be controversial and I have no doubts that I will receive negative feedback on these, but go ahead and comment on one of my flickr page to express your views and see if you can persuade me to change my mind. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Busageddon: Misfits All Over London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glamorous new bus stop at Leamouth.

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

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

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Busageddon: Heathrow-Hayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Random Observations: May 2017

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

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

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

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

TFL Destination Discrepancies.

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

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

Tower Transit VH38104 on route 212 to St James Street.

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

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

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

The only B-route in Orpington

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Busageddon: Uxbridge Road

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

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

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

The first day of a temporary new era...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe!

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

Monday, 17 April 2017

Busageddon: Arriva Central South, In The City

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arriva London HV311 on route 249.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and stay safe!