Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Barnes Buses, Missing Their Victorian Splendour?

Unlike Hammersmith Bridge, which banners have promised will be restored to its 'Victorian splendour', the inner London bus network is quite literally being ripped to pieces. Even in the suburbs, since the aforementioned vital road link closed to traffic over safety concerns, Barnes and Roehampton residents have had their fairly comprehensive array of bus services altered, making public transport almost unusable. There's SWR, but they've been having their own problems lately.

I wasn't happy that this wasn't in focus at the time, but at this rate the shot may not be repeatable.
Hammersmith Bridge has always been a burden to bus service planners, frequently being closed for maintenance over safety concerns, whilst the weight limit prevented routes like the 33 and 72 from using double deckers, even though they were ridiculously overcrowded. Even newer single deck vehicles were banned from travelling across the bridge, which created all sorts of problems during the tendering process. It's probably why Dart Pointers lasted so long on the 72. Restrictions were put in place a few years ago and TfL did curtail the high frequency number 283 to Hammersmith Bus Station, so it no longer crossed the Thames to serve Barnes. However, the policy which only allowed one bus to cross the bridge at a time was quickly abandoned, so five bus routes continued to use the structure into 2019, with three of them being particularly frequent. Back in December, I decided to walk across the bridge and every time a bus gingerly trundled along the whole thing started shaking. It was always enjoyable to take the bus across the Thames this way, but the indefinite closure on Thursday 11th April 2019 was somewhat inevitable, exacerbated by Transport for London and Hammersmith & Fulham council refusing to co-operate with each other.

Double whammy, as this MMC was actually rare. They were banned when Hammersmith Bridge was still open.
Initially, once the bridge closed, TfL decided to curtail every route from the Barnes direction to the South Side of Hammersmith Bridge, whilst route 72 (the only through service to beyond Hammersith) had to forfeit a lengthy diversion via Chiswick Bridge. This arrangement wasn't particularly practical and 72's were losing so much time that the section North of Shepherd's Bush was often abandoned, with the 4bph 272 soaking up the punters for East Acton. The stand by Lonsdale Road would often overflow, but arguably having four extra services terminating at a destination which was only ever used as a curtailment point was never going to work. That said, the locals didn't seem to mind simply alighting at Castelnau and walking along the bridge to reach Hammersmith, or even sitting on the 72 for a good 40 minutes on its painfully slow diversion. On Saturday 18th May though, a new set of long-term changes (for a summary of this, click here) were introduced in an attempt to make the Barnes bus network more sustainable, accompanied by a consultation which seems a tad pointless as the changes were going ahead regardless. One particularly controversial aspect of the package is the fact that the long-established and extremely popular 72 now no longer runs South of the Thames, depriving Barnes and Roehampton residents of their only bus link heading North. It's still pretty well used between East Acton and Hammersmith, still warranting the high frequency, but interestingly instead of giving up at the bus station, walking across as a method of transport has been encouraged. The 72 takes passengers one stop further to the North side of Hammersmith Bridge, with streets like Bridge View gaining a bus service, even though vehicles don't actually stop there. Generally, this change hasn't gone very well, with Roehampton residents furious that their direct bus service to Westfield and Hammersmith has been removed, but even those North of the Thames are frustrated that getting to Queen Mary's Hospital now takes so much longer. The section between Hammersmith Bus Station and Hammersmith Bridge isn't completely empty, but there's been lots of support for a full restoration of the 72 to Roehampton. As usual, information about how the arrangements for bus services has changed was not readily available on day one, with some 72's pointlessly filling up at the bus station, only for everyone to be chucked off again a stop later. TfL have promoted an alternative method for travelling between Roehampton and Hammersmith, but it requires two buses and takes much longer...

TfL usually aren't a fan of scheduled curtailments, but an exception has been made this time.
By taking a 265 from Roehampton to Putney, then changing onto the 220, destinations like Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush are still reachable, but rather atrociously getting to Queen Charlotte's Hospital and East Acton requires catching another bus, which is hardly convenient even with the hopper fare allowing unlimited changes within the 70-minute time window. Due to the predicted increase in demand, TfL decided that some extra 265's running only between Putney and Roehampton would be necessary, but interestingly these are operated out of Shepherd's Bush (S) garage rather than Tolworth, where the main service is based. They've emerged in the form of 11-reg 'classic' ADL Enviro 200s, so are much older than the MMCs they run alongside, but it's convenient (made free by the 72 cut) and the vehicles have been refurbished recently. From my observations, the extra 265s aren't rammed, but are definitely well used and a frequency increase on this section was mandatory, but giving the 220 no enhancements at all hasn't paid off. This route was already exceptionally busy and buses are now frequently leaving people behind, with displaced 265 customers resulting in vehicles reaching their capacity at Putney. It's also a nuisance that people aren't able to walk across the bridge from Roehampton, since there's no longer a direct bus service to Castelnau and getting on a number 33 at Barnes Station is virtually impossible now. People are still determined to walk across the bridge, as ultimately Hammersmith is a far superior town centre for leisure, whilst the tube station boasts four lines rather than just the one. Technically, the 33 can take double deckers now, so it'll be interesting to see if short DD workings are introduced between Richmond and Hammersmith, as even though the 265 extras are well-used, the 33 definitely needs them more.

On the 209 it's quite fun seeing if any buses have more than 5 people on board....harder than you might think.
This is probably the most controversial re-routing, with a ridiculously high number of official complaints, along with some grumblings on twitter. I believe that the 209 actually exists because of Hammersmith Bridge, as the 9 originally went as far as Mortlake but eventually double deck vehicles could no longer use the crossing. It's always been very busy, as a convenient shuttle from Mortlake to Barnes High Street and Hammersmith. Buses were still pretty well loaded even when they were curtailed to Castelnau and an end-to-end journey often took less than ten minutes, but stand space was an issue and now the 209 terminates at Putney Bridge, with buses rather stupidly turning off at Barnes Pond, not serving the main high street, and continuing along Lower Richmond Road. In theory this change was all well and good, since buses would bring Mortlake residents quickly and efficiently to a tube station, but also pretty close to the shops around Putney. In practise, this change has been a complete disaster, with the main problem being that buses hardly stop anywhere in Barnes, so not only has a link to most of the high street been lost, but people who live near the Southern end of Castelnau can't take advantage of their frequent link to Putney. Buses are carrying no more than five people in the middle of rush hour, whilst the remaining services to the South side of Hammersmith Bridge are crush loaded. The lack of passengers could also be down to Putney not offering anywhere near as many train services as Hammersmith, whilst shopping facilities also aren't great. It's also frustrating that the 209 continues to run every five minutes, being excessively frequent in comparison to almost every other Barnes bus service. To make matters worse, the 209 changes operator in just a few weeks time, so any last minute diversion would be slightly awkward. In short, the re-route to Putney is a complete flop and residents of Mortlake/Barnes would much rather have a usable service that takes them close enough to Hammersmith, which remains to be their desired destination.

Whilst Metroline quickly sorted out their blinds for the 209, RATP are still lagging behind.
In an attempt to compensate for the loss of the 209 and the frequent link from Barnes High Street to Hammersmith Bridge it used to provide, route 419 has been diverted at the South side of the Thames, down Castelnau to terminate at Barnes Pond. This means that it almost completes an entire circuit of Barnes and is by no means direct, but the round-the-corner link is an incredibly popular one and the 419 has been overwhelmed recently, with the 15 minute frequency being inadequate. I'd argue that the route is actually busier than when it reached Hammersmith, not because the absurd routeing in Barnes is convenient, but simply due to the fact there are no supporting services. The 209 is now useless, there's no point in trying to get on a 33 along Castelnau, whilst the 485 and 533 (see later) are horrendously infrequent. It's also struggling as Mortlake residents, who do still have the 209, are refusing to use it as they'd rather go to Hammersmith, so effectively a 4bph service is having to fill in for one which used to have 12bph, as well as handling its own passengers.

The 533 did actually exist before the indefinite closure of the bridge, but London United operated it on a temporary basis.
It's interesting that TfL have assigned a number in the 500-series for this potentially long-term service, which also went through the formal tendering process. Nonetheless, Metroline at Brentford (AH) garage have been successful in gaining a one-year contract for this small route, slightly offsetting the loss of route 209 in August, but ironically it uses existing ADL Enviro 200s which are no longer required by the latter service as a result of its infamous diversion. The 533 runs at a dismal 30 minute frequency and is the only route connecting the North and South sides of Hammersmith Bridge. Starting at the lower bus station, which really does feel quite desolate with the loss of four terminating services, it runs non-stop down the A4 to the Hogarth Roundabout, before serving Chiswick Bridge and Mortlake High Street. Buses then operate in a one-way loop from Barnes Bridge Station, almost identical to the incomplete circuit of the 419, serving Lonsdale Road, Castelnau and Barnes Pond, before returning to Hammersmith. It only operates every 30 minutes, as TfL assumed it'd only be used to transport the elderly (even if this was the case, it's unfair to make them wait for so long in the cold). What they failed to realise is that the 533 has many other responsibilities, offering residents of Chiswick South, where public transport services are limited, an extremely fast and useful link to Hammersmith. It also gives a half-decent alternative to the 419 if you live near Mortlake or Barnes Bridge, either for walking across the bridge from Lonsdale Road, or reaching Hammersmith itself via Chiswick Bridge. The 2bph service is completely inappropriate - at the start almost every 533 was oversubscribed, with poor Barnes residents having such high hopes that it would be a saving grace, but recently the uncomfortable travelling experience and diabolical reliability has resulted in much emptier buses. It only has a PVR of 3, but I see the route bunching on a daily basis on LVF, which just shows how much traffic chaos has been created as a result of the closure, but also emphasises how urgently the frequency needs to be upped. Legend has it that a golf buggy service will commence on Hammersmith Bridge to transport the elderly, but the 533 is still a useful route and also a very scenic one - if a bus does actually show up I don't doubt the ride will be enjoyable.

Although I haven't managed to sample the newly created N33/N72 yet, I've heard many reports that buses are carrying healthy loads. The two routes did run 24/7 before the cutback and it would be unacceptable to cut people off from Hammersmith even in the middle of the night, but the Castelnau area has lost its 24-hour service as a result of the alterations. The N33 turns off at Barnes Station to run via Putney Bridge, whilst the N72 also goes this way after starting from Roehampton.

Overall, the Hammersmith Bridge related bus changes are a shambles. The general public were clueless for several days after they were implemented due to a lack of publicity, whilst almost all of the modified routes are either over-provided (209) or under-resourced (33, 419, 533). By closing the main road link out of Barnes, residents who are trapped inside the meander will already struggle to get out and about, but having an appalling public transport system just makes the problem ten times worse. I really hope TfL take on board the advice they've been given by bus users, as at the moment the network around Barnes is such a mess, it's easier to just walk everywhere.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

The Great Catch-Up

It's true that from March to June, not a single 'changes' post appeared on the blog, but now I'm attempting to merge all of them (and some other postworthy events) into one, extremely lengthy catch-up. It's worth noting that I got the train stuff out of the way in my last publication, whilst the Hammersmith Bridge debacle and any contract changes after March 30th will be covered separately. Still, there's a lot to get through and I'll try to be as brief as possible. First up, it's operator changes.

Contrary to the registration plate, this bus was certainly not my best friend and refused to exceed 20mph during my trip.
Route 158 switched company on Saturday 2nd March 2019, with this being the first operator change in well over a month. Stagecoach London ran the route from West Ham (WH) garage, predominantly using Trident ALX400 vehicles, but ADL Enviro 400s and sometimes Scania OmniCitys made up the numbers. After losing the 158, a large number of Stagecoach Tridents were withdrawn from London service. For the most part, this route was operated poorly under Stagecoach and infamous for bunching and long gaps, but it's a pretty demanding one. Running from Stratford to Chingford Mount, the 158 is very popular for people living in Leyton, Blackhorse Road and Higham Hill as rail links in these areas are quite poor. It runs every 8 minutes from Monday to Saturday, with this dropping to 5 buses per hour on Sundays and 4 during the evening. The route can usually be completed in under an hour, being only 7 miles in length, but 18 buses are required at peak times. It is one of a handful of services to run 24/2, on Friday and Saturday nights, but there is no night service during the week. This was introduced in conjunction with the introduction of the night tube on both the Central and Victoria lines.

The Citaro in the background doesn't usually serve Stratford Bus Station, but the 108 is diverted here during events at the London Stadium.
Arriva London run the 158 from Edmonton (EC) garage, with buses frequently running light to this base from Chingford Mount instead of taking stand time. This change has also introduced the company to the Stratford area again, with their presence completely fading away after the 678 was lost a few years ago. No new vehicles were ordered for the 158, but a split allocation of existing buses is in place. Around half of them are Arriva's only Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs, with these originally being First London (and later Tower Transit) vehicles allocated to the 266. The rest of the buses are also on a Gemini 2 body, but are native DB300s in full Arriva livery. At first, hybrid Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LHs - officially for the 259 - worked the night service, but in recent times the diesel buses have been more likely to show up. Predictably, the service was very rocky at first, but recently Arriva seem to have learnt from their mistakes and the 158 definitely runs better than at Stagecoach, which is pretty promising. Hopefully, the new operator can keep up the good work and maybe receive a good performance extension, as they've not done too well in the recent tenders. I wish them the best of luck for the next five, or hopefully seven years.

X-large size wouldn't be appropriate for when I used to take my pictures portrait!
Before Saturday 23rd March 2019, Go-Ahead London operated the 8-mile long 20 from Northumberland Park (NP) garage. A mixture of types could be found, but Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs dominated ; these were seven years old by the end of the contract. ADL Enviro 400s and Wrightbus Gemini 1 B7TLs also made frequent appearances, particularly in the last few months. Generally the operation wasn't great, with punctuality being a particular struggle for Go-Ahead, although the number of traffic hotspots may contribute to the unsatisfactory service levels. The route hadn't been at this base for very long, so the enthusiast community felt more excitement at the prospect of the smaller, successful operator gaining some work.

The sun came out intermittently on day one, making my City picture slightly less dreary.
CT Plus ordered nine brand new ADL Enviro400H City vehicles for the new contract and these entered service promptly on day one, despite only arriving at Walthamstow Avenue (AW) garage a few days before. Given that the route has a PVR of 10, as well as taking spares into consideration, this left a deficit of two vehicles which were scheduled to be made up for by the curtailment of route 388 to Liverpool Street Station, so it could donate two of its existing City's. However, this was delayed until June 15th, so during this period two vehicles had to be loaned from another operator, but interestingly this wasn't from the old allocation at Go-Ahead, which I don't remember happening for a couple of years at least. Unfortunately, for the sake of variety, these temporary vehicles are now back with their original operator.

It was almost as if the 20 went to two operators on the first day...
The buses in question are Stagecoach London's 10113 and 10114, 'classic' Enviro 400s which usually operate out of Leyton (T) garage. Their period with CT Plus allowed the limited number of Trident ALX400s to stay on the Leyton-operated 215 and 275, but with their return they're now endangered. I'd recommend riding the 20 for the contrast between the  'London-look' City's and rural Essex which this route passes through. It conveniently runs between two tube stations, Walthamstow Central and Debden, via Whipps Cross and Loughton. The frequency is every 15 minutes from Monday to Saturday, halving on Sundays and during the evening, whilst the average journey time is around 60 minutes. I wish CT Plus the best for the next few years, hopefully with no more single deck workings!

This photo was actually taken under Metroline operation, but the buses are identical to when they were at Arriva.
 Also on Saturday 23rd March, Arriva were forced to bid farewell to route 393, running between Chalk Farm and Clapton Pond. Under the old contract, it was run from Clapton (CT) garage, using some battered ADL Enviro 200s in both 9.3m and 10.2m (less common) configurations. It's quite busy for an inner-suburban backstreet route, running through Kentish Town, Holloway, Highbury & Islington and Stoke Newington at a 12 minute frequency on Monday to Saturday. 4bph are provided on Sundays. Being 8 miles in length, 14 buses are required at peak times and the end-to-end journey typically takes around 65 minutes. Odd workings couldn't really occur as no other single deck routes were found at the 393's garage, but on the whole its operation was half-decent, even if the vehicles weren't so presentable.

The sunset really was something on March 23rd ; I'm sure you didn't even realise there's a bus in the frame!
Theoretically speaking, the 393 change should've been quite straightforward, as Metroline ordered a full batch of brand new DEM-class 9.6m ADL Enviro 200 MMCs, or so we thought... A few weeks prior to the change, pictures of these vehicles on delivery revealed that they were actually 10.8m buses, which TfL deemed too long to safely operate on the 393. A new batch has been ordered by Metroline, who are apparently to blame for the mishap, but these won't be arriving until October. In the mean time, some of the half-dead ENS-class E200s from Arriva have been loaned, whilst a few of Metroline's own 9.6m E200s have transferred down from Potters Bar (PB) garage. The 393 is operated from King's Cross (KX) and sometimes the DEM-class native E200s have strayed onto the 214, which is a significant downgrade in overall capacity. On the first day lots of bunching was present, but since then service levels have improved and I'd say the 393 is operated better than at Arriva. However, Metroline do need to realise the importance of ordering the correct bus type, as since the mess up those shiny new MMCs are just rotting away in storage, apart from one which was randomly showcased outside Southwark for having external cameras instead of mirrors.

Another spotter happened to be at Stratford when I was snapping 262s, so I knew instantly where the sun would cooperate. Cheers!
Stagecoach London used to dominate the Stratford area, but they really blew it on March 30th. Both the 262 and 473 were lost, with these being fairly busy double deck services too. Both were operated out of West Ham (WH) garage and they were officially allocated Scania OmniCity vehicles. That said, on most days both services saw a mixed bag of buses, ranging from the older Trident ALX400s to almost new ADL Enviro 400 MMC smart hybrids. The 262 runs from Stratford to East Beckton Sainsbury's, via Plaistow, Newham Hospital and Gallions Reach, sometimes feeling very busy when shoppers and commuters use it simultaneously. A bizarre 11 minute frequency is provided on Monday to Saturday, dropping to 4 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening. Only 11 buses are needed at peak times for the 6 mile route, whilst an end-to-end journey can typically be achieved in around 45 minutes. Stagecoach were fairly experienced and managed the 262 quite well, but it did have a tendency to fall apart when the A13 closed down or an event was taking place at Stratford. Nonetheless, this would've been a major loss for West Ham, who seriously need to reconsider their approach to bidding after having given up so many services over the past few years.

This is the fourth picture taken at Stratford Bus Station in this post, although I did try to alter the angle for this one.
Youthful members of the enthusiast community often refer to the 473 as the 262's 'sideman', being arguably less important and often having to pick up angry passengers along the Stratford to Newham Hospital corridor when the 262 was misbehaving. That said, the 473 is much more scenic and does offer some unique links to Prince Regent, London City Airport and North Woolwich, with this latter destination being the Southern terminus. The frequency is the same as the 262 all week, hypothetically providing a 5.5 minute service along the shared section. However, the 473 is only 5 miles in length and end-to-end trips can usually be completed in around 35 minutes, so only 9 buses are needed at peak times. Its shorter nature presumably justifies the overall superior reliability of the 473, but this route and the 262 really are inseparable so they usually crumbled together when faced with a challenge. Usually, some dedicated enthusiasts cover the last ever journey under a certain operator, but an entire route was being withdrawn that night so no one actually bothered, which is a shame but absolutely understandable.

I believe this was the first time an all-over-ad bus had the honour of gracing the 473.
The first day of routes 262/473 at Tower Transit was undermined once again, this time by a nearby running day in Barking, although I did find time to stop off at Plaistow on the way home and see how they were doing. Given that West Ham were playing at London Stadium, both services were a slight catastrophe ; I saw more vehicles curtailed than running full route. Since then, they've been doing alright, but there's still considerable ground to be covered until the services are anywhere near up to scratch, even with Stagecoach setting the bar pretty low. The number of turns has increased exponentially, but hopefully with each meltdown the controllers can understand these services better and ultimately provide a superior service than under the old contract. Both the 262 and 473 are operated out of Lea Interchange (LI) garage, but as usual with Tower Transit the allocation policy is extremely strict and no odd workings have appeared so far. Brand new HEV96 Wrightbus Streetdeck micro-hybrids were ordered for the 262/473 to share, but these have been diverted due to the ultra low emission zone and displaced Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs work the pair instead.

I decided to take advantage of the 25's diversion to Fenchurch Street and grab an easy snapping location. Now, buses don't serve this stretch of road.
Despite the hefty cutback to City Thameslink, route 25 was still forced to convert to hybrid operation before 8th April, so the twenty-eight Streetdeck micro-hybrids were a perfect fit, whilst some MCV EvoSeti B5LHs make up the numbers when necessary. It is the 25's old Gemini 2 B9TLs that have been deployed on the 262/473, whilst the new WH-class Streetdecks entered service very rapidly in the week leading up to the change. They are the only examples of this configuration of Streetdeck in London, with the engine being very whiny and sounding, to me, like a combination of a Streetlite, DB300 Gemini and MMC smart hybrid. Although inclines do seem to be a struggle, on flat sections the WHs are very quick and are quite appropriate for the 25, which only has to contend with Ilford Hill. It'll be interesting to see how extensively this type of bus is ordered in the future - for now though, I wish Tower Transit the best of luck in improving the 262/473, as well as maintaining the 25 with its upgrade.

King George Hospital is pretty good for taking hassle-free bus photos ; the sun usually works too.
The 396 is pretty short, running only between Ilford Broadway and King George Hospital, a distance of 4 miles. Intermediate points of interest include Gants Hill and Newbury Park - the route only really exists to bolster the Eastern Avenue corridor and prevent the trunk 296 service from having to undertake an excessive, traffic-filled double run through the Little Heath triangle. With a PVR of only 5 and a 20 minute Monday to Saturday frequency (2bph evenings and Sundays), this wouldn't have been a particularly hard-hitting loss for Stagecoach London at Barking (BK) garage. End-to-end journeys usually take under half an hour. An eclectic mix of vehicles could be found on the service, with the last batch of Optare Versas at the company officially being allocated, but they were pretty unreliable so ADL Enviro 200s, as well as double deck E400 MMCs and Trident ALX400s also appeared regularly. This change occurred on Saturday 30th March too, so was once again overshadowed by the C2 withdrawal, but it operates near enough to the Barking area so I was easily able to cover the change despite the running day taking priority.

Little Heath was gridlocked so it's a miracle that this improvised location actually worked, even if it's a bit full on.
Go-Ahead London now operate the 396 from River Road (RR) garage, with four existing ADL Enviro 200s being officially allocated to the service. These were previously found on route D6 (lost to CT Plus last September), before being refurbished and sent further East. Three were present on day one, but since then the 396 has operated almost completely with double deck vehicles, since a large pool of older Enviro 400s are found at River Road for part-time school routes. It's quite ironic that the single deckers have now essentially become spares for the 364, which is far busier than the 396, but I'm sure people along the Eastern Avenue corridor appreciate the extra seats. The route wasn't operating brilliantly on day one, but since then Go-Ahead seem to have matched the excellent operation by Stagecoach and I hope this continues for the next five years.

My phone completely misjudged the colour balance here, although the photo is clear at least.
An even more forgotten change on March 30th was the 317's move from Arriva London to Metroline. It's one of the quietest double deck services running in the capital, only warranting the extra floor due to school loadings. An end-to-end journey can usually be completed in around 25 minutes, with the route linking Enfield and Waltham Cross, via the Southbury Retail Park and Great Cambridge Road. Like the 396, 5 buses are required at rush hour for a four mile service, with even the frequency matching up nicely. Arriva operated the 317 from Enfield (E) garage, with Wrightbus Gemini 2 DB300s and ADL Enviro 400s usually appearing - it is the latter type which Metroline have continued to use for the new contract, albeit with their own existing vehicles. Occasionally, an MCV EvoSeti officially allocated to the 134 at Potters Bar (PB) garage can appear, but usually it's wall-to-wall Enviros. The 317 isn't too difficult to operate, apart from when the A10 goes down, so generally it's been running well and I wish Metroline all the best in keeping this up.

Heritage Stuff:

Most spotters chose the roundabout, but I went for the easy option on the island at Sainsbury's.
For some wonderful reason, London bus operators really upped their game in regards to running heritage vehicles on Friday 15th March, raising money for comic relief. Although the school strike for climate change protest meant any sort of schedule couldn't be adhered to, special services ran throughout the day and most enthusiasts who did attend really enjoyed themselves. Classic routes like the 24 and 159 were given a Routemaster, but interestingly one London United journey on the number 9 ran all the way to Liverpool Street, where the route used to terminate. Tower Transit also threw out their RTW onto the 228 during the evening, which is usually a single deck service and I chose to cover this one over anything else. Going up the hill near Holland Park was great fun, really pushing the bus to its limits, whilst the atmosphere on board was fantastic, with members of the public loving the exotic vehicle too. However, this running day can be considered quite minor in comparison to the mammoth event at Barking two weeks later.

For a few minutes Barking Town Centre was just wall-to-wall RTs, as seen above.
Saturday 30th March 2019 celebrated the 80th anniversary of the introduction of the RT bus type, in addition to 40 years since the RTs and RFs were withdrawn from public service. Barking (BK) garage was the main attraction, with several static buses on display as well as stalls, but River Road (RR) garage had a much smaller-scale, but quite sweet lineup of vehicles and merchandise available. Frequent trips ran between the two locations every few minutes, using RTs and RFs on the 62/23C, but special trips also ran to Creekmouth Power Station, Little Heath, Chadwell Heath, Ilford and more, using historical numbers like the 291, 87 and 722. After an eventful day of riding, the procession of RT vehicles that happened after they were withdrawn from service on the 62 in 1979 was recreated, albeit with even more buses for the modern day version. I didn't even know that so many RTs existed before March 30th and I can honestly say it was the best transport-related trip out I'd had in years. Words and images can't describe how fun every moment was, from hurtling along the industrial Creekmouth roads, competitively taking photos with crowds of enthusiasts, or simply admiring the endless number of RTs bringing the whole of Barking to a standstill. I genuinely think this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I urge you to go to any large-scale event like this in the future ; Go-Ahead, Stagecoach, TfL and everyone else involved did an absolutely incredible job in organising something which could so easily have ended in disaster, but everyone I've spoken to definitely agrees that this will always be a day to remember. Here are some photos which only begin to give an insight into the event.







The vehicle above displaying 164 is actually RT1! I was beyond lucky to see this on the road
After a few months without much heritage action in London, on Saturday 15th June 2019 the Central London changes diverted lots of attention away from the Ensignbus mini running day, using RT8 on Brentwood routes 21, 31 and 81. This occasion celebrated their presence in the area on local services for many years, but now another independent operator, NIBs, operate instead. This tour brought a double decker onto these routes for the first time - the 31 to Bishops Hall had
challenging trees, which resulted in the second trip being cancelled and I missed out on ticking off some mileage. Nonetheless, my one trip on the 81 to Hutton was very enjoyable and even though the bus wasn't particularly well loaded, both surprised regular passengers and enthusiasts seemed to have a good day out, regardless of whether they attended only a single trip or sat on it for the whole day. RT8 itself has a remarkable history, about which the conductor kindly enlightened us on the trip. I hope that Ensignbus continue to prosper in other parts of Essex, where operation is clearly more sustainable, because they do seem like a great company, from an outsider's perspective.


Changes in routeing:

It's a good job the parked car didn't want to leave, otherwise I'd have been toast...
On Saturday 2nd March 2019, TfL implemented some controversial route changes in order to prevent 'overbussing' of the Chiswick High Road corridor. The main victim in this case has been the long-established number 27, which used to run all the way from Chalk Farm to Chiswick Business Park, but the absence of a bus stop towards the front of the latter destination made bus travel quite unattractive and perhaps has caused its curtailment. Along the high road itself, buses often loaded well - sure, the other routes were busier, but apparently it's now a struggle to get on anything at rush hour. It also means one can't travel further East than Kensington Olympia from Chiswick, which is pretty atrocious. The 27 now terminates at Hammersmith Grove, simply because there isn't any space at the bus station, but TfL have used it as an excuse to claim that links to Ravenscourt Park haven't been broken and that people can now catch a bus around the corner instead of having to walk through the Hammersmith one-way system, although the latter option is far quicker. This change and resultant PVR reduction has allowed the 27 to fully convert to New Routemaster operation, making it an even more infuriating change for haters like myself. TfL have provided some form of compensation at least...
When the Piccadilly line was closed Abellio decided to colonise Chiswick Business Park, so 70s and 440s would often get stuck. Here is a moment of calm.
I'm pretty sure at one point the 440 featured in three seperate open consutlations - almost every section is being restructured in some form, but the first change did actually take place back in March. It involves buses turning right at Bollo Lane to run all the way through Chiswick Business Park, then serving Gunnersbury Station and Wellesley Road, before terminating at Turnham Green Church. Previously, buses terminated at Power Road and went to Turnham Green via Chiswick Park Station, which now lacks a bus service as a result of the re-routing. On the first day, buses weren't actually making it to the business park or Gunnersbury due to roadworks - even today, the 440 isn't used very well along its new route. It's not very convenient for anyone and the modification only happened to shut people up about the 27, as it means you can still get from the business park to the high road. Overall though, very poorly executed, as usual.

It's sad that the C2 has quite literally joined the angels pictured above. An 88 also managed to sneak into the frame.
Ever since the C2 stopped running through to Victoria, ridership slowly declined as links were broken and journey times incresaed. It still played an important role in transporting Parliament Hill Fields commuters to the West End, as well as providing Albany Street and London Zoo with a bus service, but TfL thought that another route could achieve this more effectively. Therefore, from March 30th, the C2 was no more. Abellio London operated the route from Battersea (QB) garage until its demise, mostly with 12-reg ADL Enviro 400s, but towards the end it was converted to hybrid operation, which allowed the refurbishent of its allocated E400s for use on the newly acquired 207. Locals and enthusiasts alike weren't happy with the change, even though the replacement service covers the exact same routeing. The C2 clearly had sentimental value, with friendly drivers and a reliable service, leading to people from all over London taking a farewell ride on the last day, as well as attending a gathering at the Southampton Arms in the evening. Unfortunately, the dedication of many spotters didn't pay off as the last ever scheduled C2 did not operate, with the bus simply returning to the garage, which made for a rather disappointing end to a much-loved bus service. 

It was surprisingly dark here, but my camera didn't actually crumble under the pressure.
In theory, re-routing the 88 via Albany Street and extending it from Camden Town to Parliament Hill Fields should've offered an even better service than the C2 - the frequency is the same and a night service would continue to be provided, but the 88 goes much further South and could potentially offer some fantastic new dircet journey opportunities, including links to Tate Britain, Trafalgar Square, Vauxhall and Clapham. The one trade-off would be the loss of the fast and useful direct Warren Street to Oxford Circus link, but the 73/390 do continue to provide for customers wishing to travel between the two, albeit via a longer routeing. In reality, residents of Parliament Hill Fields are pretty hacked off with their new 88 bus, because it's hopelessly unreliable. I think it's more than twice as long as the C2, having to contend with relentless diversions and congestion around Parliament Square and Whitehall, where demonstrations are all too common. Gaps of over half an hour are worryingly frequent nowadays and to add insult to injury, during times of disruption Go-Ahead tend to abandon the section North of Camden Town, where the C2 used to turn up without fail. I was initially quite excited for the 88 extension, as it would result in the route receiving conventional Enviro 400 hybrids again, but what's the point in having great vehicles when the journey is so slow that by the end you're just fed up and want to get off. My 106 minute trip was enjoyable at times, but overall I was left disheartened, just like the residents. 

In this image Nelson's Column appears to just emerge from the top of the bus...the light was quite interesting also.
A slight drawback of taking away LTs is that they have to be deployed elsewhere and ultimately ruin other services, with the 87 and 176 being the victims this time. Funnily enough, until March 30th the former route was using the ADL Enviro400H vehicles ordered for it in 2013, but they were actually diverted onto the 88 at first until its NRM conversion. Now, these same E40Hs have been robbed from the 87 again, for the same pesky route. Stockwell (SW) tend to throw out some conventionals onto the 87
every day, but from March 30th it has mostly been LT-operated, which is quite annoying as with the 53 cutback Whitehall is now one route away from being only served by New Routemasters ; ironically, the one remaining conventional service is the 88. A few of the displaced NRMs have been assimilated by Camberwell (Q) garage for use on the 176 - initially only a couple of buses would make it out each day, but following further frequency reductions in the Central London area conventionals are now in the minority on this route. I dread to think how many more allegedly safe services will become infected with all this restructuring in Central London. Of course, if you're a fan of the LT then this must be delightful news, but I think I've made my views explicit...

Conveniently, the new 125 stand at Colindale couldn't get any closer to a Sainsbury's. It's only useful for the drivers though, passengers are picked up around the corner.
TfL have promised that all these cuts in Central London will be made up for by improving services in the suburbs, where bus usage is apparently still thriving. This has been manifested in the hefty extension of route 125 from Finchley Central, through Hendon and Greyhound Hill (previously unserved by bus), so that it now runs all the way from Colindale Station to Winchmore Hill. This will become particularly useful when Barnet Council relocates a load of offices to the Colindale development area, where loads of new housing is also being built. It was initially proposed to decrease the 125's frequency with this change, but the current 6bph has actually been maintained. This means four more buses have been added to the PVR and interestingly one of these is a Gemini 3 B5LH on the revamped 'frog-face' body, with this being an odd one out as every other example at Potters Bar (PB) garage is of the smiley-face variant. I don't doubt that the investment will pay off, since loads of orbital cross-North London journey opportunities have been opened up, but that'll only be possible if TfL actually make locals aware that they have a new bus route. On day one, Saturday 25th May, only two vehicles actually had blinds for the Colindale extension, whilst only one bus stop actually had its tiles updated to advertise the new service. One month on and the new stops on Greyhound Hill have been installed, replacing the dolly's put in place on May 25th, but I did not find any other timetables or tiles on the extended section, which is an absolute joke considering how well they managed the mammoth Central London shake-up. Two stops have also been missed out on the iBus heading North and it's no surprise that buses are still pretty empty, considering there hasn't been any publicity. It truly is a secret extension and TfL need to rectify this quickly, before all their efforts turn out to be for nothing.

I've not taken too many nearsides recently, but the H1 decided to buck the trend.
This doesn't really have much to do with TfL, but they did at least have to approve the commencement of the route. The H1 has run for a while as an inter-site staff shuttle bus, running between Epsom, Sutton and St Helier Hospitals, but in February it was usefully opened up to the public. Funded by the NHS and operated by Quality Line, using Optare Solo SR vehicles, it runs every 35-40 minutes and costs only £1.50. Although the service is still predominantly used by hospital workers, I don't doubt that it'll become very popular as it even stops at Rainbow Leisure Centre in Epsom, which is near all the shops. It's a very quirky route, with the most bizarre feature being the ridiculously tight passageways in the hospital grounds which you would not expect a bus to fit through at all (do it towards St Helier for lots of this!), but there is also an excessively long double run, very posh housing and a thrash section on the dual carriageway. Although hospitals generally have disparaging connotations, the H1 will certainly cheer up your day and I'd definitely recommend riding it.

Vehicles:

©EastLondoner, don't use without their permission.
Despite my best efforts to catch-up on everything during my absence, this annoying little demonstrator decided to ditch CT Plus in April, but EastLondoner from the lovely London Connected Blog has kindly approved the feature of their photo in this post.  OM1, captured above, is an Optare Metrodecker which randomly turned up at Ash Grove (HK) garage in February. Usually, trial vehicles like this tend to stick to one route, but CT Plus were very adventurous and proceeded to chuck out OM1 onto the usually single deck D6 and W13, with the former working attracting enthusiasts from all over London. Although I didn't get to sample the bus, it did seem like an odd vehicle and I'm hoping that eventually another operator in London decides to trial it on their services. Its presence at Ash Grove definitely reduced the likelihood of single deckers being thrown out onto the 26 and 388, when the garage were in a bit of a DD crisis, which is another bonus.

The miserable weather meant snapping the Tempos took around an hour, which is pretty bad for an every 6 minute service!
Unfortunately, London no longer has the pleausre of possessing any Optare Tempo vehicles, since the last remaining examples at Hounslow (AV) garage have been withdrawn recently. They were very quirky buses, having quite loud engines and an unusual interior layout, but their superior length and capacity made them very appropriate for a busy route like the H37, which frequently has to carry standing loads. However, London United have become obsessed with standardising their fleet recently, so a new batch of dull ADL Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered to replace the Tempos, with these entering service in April. The maximum available length was chosen, but the overall capacity is still lower than for the previous buses, whilst the planned frequency reduction for the H37 has rightfully been postponed (hopefully forever), so four of the Optare buses actually stuck around for a bit longer than the rest. That said, they did have to depart eventually, which is when the complications started to arise.

This shot could've been a great promotion for Asda, if it wasn't for the scaffolding.
For some absurd reason, the equally non-standard Mercedes Citaros at Hounslow (AV) garage have been refurbished and will continue in service for the foreseeable future, despite their far inferior reliability levels. For a period of time, they were unofficially banned from the 203 as they simply couldn't hack the dual carriageway. Therefore, with the departure of the four additional Tempos, the H37 is using a few of the Mercs every day to make up the numbers, whilst the 203 has partially converted to double deck operation again. London United seem to have quite a few spare Scania OmniCity vehicles lying around, especially when the 65 received its new Gemini 3 B5LHs in April (see next paragraph), so this wasn't too difficult. The 203 does get really overcrowded so this is a plus, but why the unhealthy buses deserve to stay is beyond me. That said, I've been left to question a lot about this company in recent times...

Everyone's favourite spot at Ealing Broadway - if you want to be original, go somewhere else!
The 65 has become quite special recently as it's the busiest service in London, and probably one of the only remaining trunk routes to still be allocated Scania OmniCity vehicles. RATP have been on a mission to rid as many as possible lately, with Trustybus using some ex-E3 ones, but the examples at Fulwell (FW) seem to be staying. Nonetheless, ten Wrightbus
Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles ordered against the 406 contract have been diverted away from Epsom (EB) garage and made their debut on the 65 in April, making the proportion of allocated B5LHs much higher. The reason why these buses are somewhat interesting is that they're fitted with 'intelligent' GPS technology, that controls the bus so it adheres to the distinct speed limits of each road it travels on. This is technically flawless, as speeding only makes journeys more unsafe (even if there is some joy to be found in thrash), but from this testbed enthusiasts have come to realise that this approach only works if all the buses allocated to a route are fitted with the system. Given that the 65 is prone to congestion and disruption, the nippy Scania OmniCity vehicles often end up speeding to make up time, so the service has just fallen apart as they catch up to the new Gemini 3s and cause bunchings to occur. This has reduced in recent times, but is still a problem and it'll be interesting to see if these buses are diverted back to the 406, or more are ordered to convert the 65 fully, before the performance line graph falls off a cliff.

I always said to myself that I'd come back to snap the 391 again as this shot is so gloomy...didn't happen.
Continuing with London United trying to make their fleet as mundane as possible, a batch of ADL Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered off their own back in order to kiss goodbye to their last remaining Optare Versas on the 33. This allowed the 'classic' E200s on the 391 to transfer down to Fulwell (FW) garage and return to their original route, whilst Stamford Brook (V) garage could be niced with shiny new kit. I remember these buses entering service quite slowly for some reason, but other than that there's not much to report. Apparently the 391 has been busier since the 27 was curtailed, so perhaps we can have some more double deck workings in the future?

We can move on from RATP after this one, I promise.
Also at Stamford Brook (V) garage, the relatively young 272 route was retained by London United back in May, with more new MMCs replacing 07-reg 'classic' Enviro 200s, which did feel very worn out by the end of the contract. It's quite fascinating that RATP now possess every possible length of Enviro 200 MMC, with this operator being the first to hit the achievement, but funnily enough the middle configuration was the last to be purchased. These 10.5m vehicles have entered service on both the 272 and 440, but the latter route already has a feature in this post. The DME-class buses have also occasionally wandered off onto the 391, giving it a slight downgrade in terms of capacity, whilst a couple of old 07-reg E200s managed to hang around for a considerable amount of time after the new MMCs made their debut. Overall, another pretty boring change, which I doubt the locals even took notice of.

Surprisingly the road outside IKEA's brand new store in Greenwich is brilliant for snapping buses in the sun, even if reflections aren't so great.
Stagecoach London randomly ordered a single batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles in 2014, so they somehow took the crown of being the first operator to invest in them despite historically being very loyal to ADL. They were ordered for the gain of routes 54/75, but as usual with any new buses they were diverted to Plumstead (PD) garage so the 53 could hog them. In 2019 though they took a particular liking to the 96 which runs as far out as Bluewater.

Blogger just wasn't going to allow the side format to work this time, so you can have two tiny paragraphs instead.
With the introduction of brand new smart hybrids at Catford (TL) garage for routes 54 and 75, the non-standard Gemini's have been withdrawn from London service after only five years, apparently destined for another Stagecoach division up North. Once all the new buses hit the road, after what seemed liked an eternity sitting around in the depot, the 14-reg E40Hs could make themselves at home at Plumstead (PD) garage, where they fit in quite nicely with slightly newer examples of the same type. It's funny that the pretty new Wrightbus vehicles were ousted instantly, yet the ageing Trident ALX400s at this base are still going strong on the 472, but I'm certainly not complaining. All this old stuff won't last forever, and it's incredible that some of them are still around today, way past their expiry date.

Warning: if you're heading to Lakeside for buses don't ever take the c2c, you'll spend a good 15 minutes wandering through the shopping centre.
For a route which runs beyond the Greater London boundary, it's very surprising that the modest batch of brand new ADL Enviro 400 MMC smart hybrids ordered against the 372 contract (at the last minute) weren't actually diverted to anywhere more important, giving Rainham (RM) garage some brand new kit for the first time in years. These buses were put to test on the incredible DLR replacement between Canary Wharf and Beckton, which offers some stunning scenery, but turned up on the 372 on the Tuesday after the closure. Whilst Stagecoach were tentative at first, they've started to spread these new MMCs onto other routes like the 248, 252 and 256 - this change should see off some Scania OmniCity vehicles in the long run. One 372 bus, featured above, has a rather brilliant registration plate and these vehicles have really impressed me overall, proving that my previously woeful journeys on smart hybrids have been down to the route they're on, rather than the buses themselves. With rural countryside, the 372 offers a perfect opportunity for buses to be pushed to their limits and I can only imagine how much fun a Trident ALX400 would've been back in the day.

This particular Enviro is so much of a glow-up, it's transformed from just TE732 to an entire garage.
Metroline, at Holloway (HT) garage in particular, ran into some trouble when the ultra low emission zone was introduced on April 8th. They still had a load of non-compliant buses roaming around on Central London routes, so a major reshuffle had to take place rather hastily in the last couple of weeks before the changeover. Route 43 has temporarily been converted to MCV EvoSeti B5LH operation, using buses originally destined for the 90 and 607, whilst some ADL Enviro400H vehicles from Edgware (EW) garage have permanently transferred down for use on the 271, although one or two have been sneaking out onto the 4 during the evening. When the all-new electric BYD Enviro 400 City vehicles enter service on the 43, it is expected that the EvoSeti's will return to the routes they were destined for, but until that happens the allocation system at Holloway (HT) garage is still pretty messy.

During my 40 minute wait here I kept mistaking oncoming white vans for 812s. The old livery was a classic!
The yellow minibus vehicles previously allocated to the 812 always seemed quite incongruous in the busy Islington area, usually filled with red double deckers. However, that has now changed with the introduction of the ultra low emission zone, so brand new Volkswagen buses have been ordered as a replacement, with no more LED destination displays and a new white livery, presumably to reduce the amount of paint needed. They're almost silent and the interior is quite plush, with sufficient air conditioning, though you really feel every speed hump when the driver is going for it. The timetable for the 812, run independently by Hackney Community Transport, also received some modifications in coincidence with the enforcement of the ULEZ. This involves some earlier journeys in the morning as requested for by the hyper-local user base, in addition to some slack built into the schedule for certain trips which were particularly prone to disruption. On my trip last week the route didn't seem as busy as a few years ago, but its operation is clearly still seen as sustainable as otherwise all that investment in overhauling the 812 will be fruitless. Although it arguably has less character now, it's still an incredibly unique route which I urge all of you to ride if it's still on your to-do list.

We've finally made it! Thanks so much for reading, I know it must've dragged towards the end, but now you're (almost) fully caught up and hopefully this post can refresh your mind over what's happened in the busy first few months of 2019. I'm going away for the next few days, but there'll be a fairly in-depth analysis/rant for the next publication.

Thanks again and stay safe for next time!