Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Enthusiasts United In Negligence

Routes 81 and 211 have both recently changed operators, with the former departing and the latter joining the company London United. Despite running in very different parts of the capital, they're both major services and should've received a good amount of attention on their respective first days, but a number of different circumstances meant that this wasn't the case.

Central London routes are always a nightmare to snap in the sun. Even this spot was so risky...
Even though it hasn't existed for very long, the 211 has become a well-established Central London service, carrying passengers all the way from Hammersmith to Waterloo, via Fulham Broadway, King's Road, Sloane Square, Victoria and Westminster. At peak times, 16 vehicles are required for the bizarre 11 minute frequency, with a drop to 4 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening, which is surprising for a route operating almost entirely within zone 1. The 7 mile trip from end to end can be accomplished in around 70 minutes during the day, although this figure would be much lower if it wasn't for the congestion-filled streets which the 211 unfortunately tries its best to serve. Painfully slow journeys weren't always the norm though - my fastest ever Trident ALX400 was on this route, where the driver used kickdown relentlessly for an astonishingly fast end-to-end trip. The smooth ADL Enviro 400s which replaced them were much less thrilling, but offered comfort and air cooling, so the 211 kept its place in my top ten favourite bus routes. I used the route most regularly when it was allocated these vehicles, being such an enjoyable way to head into Central London after appointments at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. When New Routemasters eventually dumped themselves on the 211 at Battersea (QB) garage, the quality of service seemed to deteriorate rapidly, whilst rides became more of a burden. These LT-class vehicles were found in a common user pool consisting of routes 3 (for a time), 159 and 211, but if a conventional vehicle ever needed to be used the latter service was almost always chosen. Given that Battersea (QB) garage have had the 211 for so long, this could easily have been one of the biggest changes in the bus calendar, but with all routes that use New Routemasters, the allocated vehicles simply transfer to the new company and apart from some different logos, there is almost no noticeable difference before and after the contract date.

Excluding the background, playing a game of spot the difference between the Abellio and LU 211 photos might be somewhat difficult.
On Saturday 29th June 2019, London United (LU) assumed operation of the 211 from their Stamford Brook (V) garage, a perfect location for the Western terminus of Hammersmith. Abellio decided to confuse everyone and swap a load of New Routemasters between Battersea (QB) and Walworth (WL) garages towards the end of the 211 contract, but a fixed batch did migrate over to LU and were ready to work the route from day one. The last ever journey under Abellio was poorly attended, with only a very select group of admirably dedicated enthusiasts bothering to ride it, but if there were any other contract changes that weekend I'm sure even they would abandon the 211. Buses were scarcely photographed on day one too; uncomfortably high temperatures deterred most from leaving the comfort of their homes and I ended up following this trend, despite usually enjoying the chaos of a first day. From my infrequent London Vehicle Finder spot checks, the service was in tatters at first, with almost every other bus being curtailed during the afternoon, but it seems to have improved a little since then. Stamford Brook controllers will have already familiarised themselves with the excruciating task of operating a Central London route with routes 9, 27 and 10 (deceased). A common user pool has already been established with the former two services and the 211, but so far none of the E3's conventional ADL Enviro400 hybrids have been brave enough to show up on the newcomer. They could easily appear if reblinded, especially since the fallback 27 will be departing for Abellio (funny how this tender game works) in November, so maybe the 211 will become the new dumping ground for conventional buses during New Routemaster shortages. Either way, I hope London United aren't defeated by their difficult start and I wish them good luck for the next five years.

This photo was taken on 2019's hottest day, because I cleverly decided to leave my 81 snapping session until the last minute...
In contrast to the 211's territory where bus usage is rapidly declining, routes in the suburbs are thriving, including cross-border ones like the 81. It runs considerably further West than any other TfL bus service, linking the Berkshire town of Slough with Hounslow, via Langley, Colnbrook, Longford, Harlington Corner and Hounslow West. It is an impressive 12 miles in length, taking around 65 minutes to complete, with the peak vehicle requirement being for 16 vehicles. A 12 minute frequency is provided from Monday to Saturday, with 4bph on Sundays and 3bph during the evening, although
there are some enhancements during the school run. It's hard to believe that it primarily used single deckers just under a decade ago - the combination of long distance and local trips, around the Heathrow villages or along Bath Road, mean buses are pretty well-loaded throughout the day, but are noticeably busier towards Hounslow in the evening peak. The convenience and value of an oyster card has clearly driven away custom from the local First Berkshire services around Slough and Langley, which have been drastically cut over the past few years. If you haven't ridden the 81 already, I urge you to take a trip to Slough and back; it has to be one of my favourite routes in West London. It's incredible that the same journey involves negotiating the bustling hubbub of Hounslow, cruising down the Bath Road dual carriageway, admiring the planes taking off at Heathrow Airport and passing through extremely quaint villages, some of which are endangered with the upcoming Heathrow expansion. It'll be fascinating to see what happens to the 81 if plans for a third runway come to fruition - even if a direct service from Slough to Hounslow is retained, I'm sceptical that it'll be anywhere near as attractive.

One good thing about snapping the 81 is that lots of the route is exposed, so finding a sun spot is never difficult.
Hounslow (AV) garage intermittently operated the route for 84 years, and solidly since 2005, so its departure was quite remarkable. It's certainly questionable as to how London United have lost three major double deck routes which so conveniently terminate in the depot forecourt - Metroline have certainly taken advantage of their generosity in allowing interlopers to stand there. Some garages simply wouldn't have it. Nonetheless, RATP have done extremely well elsewhere and were still extremely competent on the 81, having the necessary experience to take appropriate action in times of disruption, particularly if it was M25-related. Even on the last day buses were curtailed to locations like Langley and Hounslow West when required, contrasting the increasingly common sense of abandonment felt before a route changes operator. I first started using the 81 on a regular
basis in the late 2000s and vividly remember the variety of bus types that appeared, along with the accompanying looks of disappointment whenever it was a Dart Pointer, given that it was usually too full to stop. Volvo/B7TL ALX400s and Plaxton Presidents dominated afterwards, but even towards the end of the contract there was usually a 50/50 split between ADL Enviro 400s and N230/UD Scania OmniCitys, with the former type being preferred for long distance journeys, since they're equipped with comfortable Esteban Civic seats. Occasionally you could find one of the unique low height 56-reg N94/UD Scania OmniCitys (to the right), famous for their deafening iBus speakers and ability to sustain speed. Only four remain in regular service, so I'm delighted that SP8 ended up being my last ever London United 81, with the presence of other enthusiasts and wonderful external surroundings making it a fabulous trip. Having experienced difficulty snapping one throughout the last week due to their erratic behaviour, it was especially rewarding to have one turn up by chance. Thank you Hounslow garage, for providing so many fantastic experiences on the 81. I hope that they can actually find some success when the next West London services are up for tender!

One advantage of snapping in the early evening is the lack of traffic - usually this spot would be impossible!
Naturally, you'd assume that such a respectable trunk route changing operator would result in an army of photographers descending upon Hounslow, but the turnout of first day photos was substandard. Saturday 27th July 2019 was pretty rainy and miserable, although this usually only discourages a handful of photographers who only snap in full sun (I don't entirely blame them, but there is only one changeover day!). Having to share with the number 208 in South-East London could've forced busy enthusiasts to prioritise, but having direct trains to/from London Victoria means a Lewisham to Hounslow journey is hardly torturous. However, the Essex Bus Rally & Londoner In The Country show also occurred on this date, occupying several precious hours for those who attended. It was a thoroughly enjoyable affair and definitely more satisfying than an uneventful first day, so the vast majority of enthusiasts understandably didn't put themselves through a commute excruciatingly lasting for nearly two hours. Frustratingly, the Hammersmith & City Line wasn't running from Liverpool Street, which meant I couldn't habitually avoid the deep level tube, but I was still crazy enough to cover all three events. These factors meant that only those truly dedicated to obtaining first day photographs actually bothered with the 81, especially because snapping bus routes  in the evening is an absolute pain - buses are infrequent and the more exotic vehicles tend to be subbed early on, so I ended up returning to the route on the following Monday.

I'm really happy that a 222 showed up in the background, as these sister services are once again at the same company.
Instead of joining the other double deck services at Brentford (AH), Metroline decided that it would be better to operate the 81 from a brand new base, known as Lampton (SG) garage and conveniently only five minutes away from Hounslow Bus Station. It's a pretty compact site, with no room for any other substantial services, but Metroline have obviously considered it to be a worthy investment. Buses often run to the depot and back between trips to make driver changeovers even easier, with the potential to send buses out at short notice being very reassuring, especially when there are delays. Metroline presumably undercut London United as they had a large pool of VW-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs collecting dust, but as these were from several different batches they decided to over complicate everything and send them to Harrow Weald (HD) garage, so the 186 now has an extremely messy allocation. This allowed the pool of 62reg VWs to leave HD and deposit themselves on the 81, presumably because Metroline wanted a neat allocation for positive first impressions. If that was the motive, I'd argue that they haven't been entirely successful, since only a handful of these VWs have received a refurbishment, with the others looking slightly knackered inside. In addition, heavy maintenance is undertaken at Brentford (AH) anyway, who have to loan a couple of buses to the 81 on a daily basis, with the ex-First VW1833 almost always doing the honours. As usual, the service was horrendous on day one, with a break down early in the morning not helping matters, but my brief experience was still positive, since the Gemini 2s are very fast and offer a much smoother ride than pretty much everything Hounslow sent out. The service has improved drastically over the past couple of weeks and will almost certainly match the high standards set by London United. I don't think I'll ever associate the 81 with Metroline, given my childhood memories, but I still wish them all the best, mostly so the passengers don't have to suffer!

Thanks for reading and take care!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Go-Ahead Parade The South-East

It's pretty convenient that I have the opportunity to lump two similar service changes together, even though they occurred some five weeks apart...

There was something uncanny about the blinds on these Citaros, particularly when displaying Penge.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 227, I've misled you with the photograph above. It actually runs between Crystal Palace and Bromley North, with intermediate destinations including Penge, Beckenham and Shortlands, taking around 35 minutes to complete a 6 mile end-to-end trip. At peak times, 12 vehicles are required for an impressive 8 minute frequency, with a modest drop to 5 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening. A low bridge at Shortlands Station infuriatingly prevents the use of double deck vehicles on this intensely busy service, still regarded as a South-East London trunk route despite its short length. Under the old contract, high capacity 12m Mercedes-Benz Citaro vehicles were operated out of Stagecoach London's Bromley (TB) garage, although shorter ADL Enviro 200s also ended up appearing quite frequently. The Mercs were the only examples at Stagecoach London and were adored by bus enthusiasts for their power, being well-suited to the hilly nature of the 227, but their reliability did start to decline towards the end of their seven years on the road. These exotic buses sadly do not have a future within the capital, being a non-standard type, whilst their length deems them inappropriate for the majority of London bus services. This was a rather significant loss for Stagecoach, who (sort of) operated the route for an impressive twenty one years. They were pretty competent too, even though roadworks in Penge caused the service to fall apart during their final week.

The rear door is really far back on these Streetlite max vehicles, something I only noticed after opting for a nearside shot.
Only a few years ago, Go-Ahead at Orpington (MB) garage seemed to be on a losing streak, but recently they've started to become successful again, grabbing some fairly substantial routes over the past year, usually from Stagecoach. One advantage of this change is the union of the 227 and 358, since the latter route operates in very similar territory, also being exceptionally busy and restricted to long single deckers. Brand new Wrightbus Streetlite max vehicles, the first examples of this length in the capital, were ordered for the new contract. All of them were available for day one (Saturday 22nd June 2019) and have remained dedicated to the 227 since then, with only one stray onto the 358 so far. They are slightly shorter than the Citaros and given their less commodious interior arrangement, enthusiasts questioned whether they would be appropriate for such a heavy duty service. From my observations, the reduced capacity isn't a problem when the service is running well at regular 8 minute intervals, but when the gaps become longer travelling on them becomes much more unpleasant, whilst at rush hour people are being left behind frequently. They are also no match for the Citaros when it comes to climbing hills, so are generally disliked by both enthusiasts and the general public.

If Citaros weren't banned due to their lack of stop-start technology, by adding 1.5m and some Go-Ahead logos you could imagine an alternative future for the 227.
To my amazement, the service has been consistently decent since day one, although the 358 will have given controllers some practise. That said, the changeover hasn't been smooth, the most obvious problem being with the iBus system, where buses would display the non-existent destination 'Crystal Parade.' This caused dysfunctional announcements
heading Westbound and even Citymapper claimed buses were serving this alleged location. It took a while to fix, but buses are correctly advertising Crystal Palace now. Another questionable move by Go-Ahead is their confidence that only one spare Streetlite will be adequate for the next five years - on day three a break down and accident proved that this was not sustainable, so an ADL Enviro 200 and short Mercedes Citaro K (MBK1, seen above) demonstrator were thrown out, a custom which has continued regularly since Go-Ahead took over. These buses have an even smaller available capacity than the Streetlites and having sampled MBK1 during the evening rush, it is by no means suitable for the 227. It may be allocated to the equally busy 358, but it is so long and indirect that passengers tend to be dispersed. One final issue, again relating to the Streetlites, is their poor turning circle, which results in some difficulty when it  comes to navigating the roundabout at Bromley North. In short, Go-Ahead operate the 227 very well, but their choice of buses could bring them to their downfall...

One shortfall with photographing in the dark is that vehicles almost always have to be stationary, unless your camera is exceptionally competent.
The 208 also has a fairly long-standing history with Stagecoach, so its move to Go-Ahead on Saturday 27th July 2019 was also pretty remarkable. Enthusiasts of a certain age will typically associate this route with Trident ALX400s, although the enforcement of a green bus corridor back in April meant that they could no longer appear, despite two remaining at Bromley (TB) garage right until the 208's last day. The long wheelbase 56-reg Trident E400s also visited the 208 regularly, but were withdrawn in January; some still remain in London, but they've been converted to open-top and operate on the mega sightseeing bus tours. Their indirect replacements, ADL Enviro 400 MMC 'smart hybrids', occasionally wandered onto the 208, though officially allocated to the 261. Most commonly, the 208 used some rather uninteresting 'classic' ADL Enviro 400s, equipped with the generally disliked voith gearbox, but I don't doubt that their inability to provide a clickbait youtube video was overshadowed by their comfortable lazzerini seating and functional air cooling system, which I don't doubt that the locals appreciated. These vehicles will be refurbished and redeployed onto the 128 from October, which Stagecoach have managed to pick up in East London, where they have been far more victorious as of late. One more exotic feature under Stagecoach was the single crosslink from Catford (TL) garage during term time, which was often in the form of a Volvo/B5LH Enviro 400 MMC, but disappointingly on their last day of operation a voith E400 was sent out instead, being almost identical to the 208's regular diet.

My luck was pretty poor during this snapping session, where the sun either hid behind clouds or a vehicle passed by at the worst possible moment.
Often regarded as the backbone of South-East London, the 208 is certainly no picnic. It operates between the key destinations of Lewisham and Orpington, via Catford, Downham, Bromley and Petts Wood. It stays urban throughout and only properly becomes residential in between Bromley Common and Orpington, which is the only part of the route that isn't also served by other high frequency double deck services. Despite this, the 208 is oversubscribed, with the 12 minute Monday to Saturday daytime frequency being completely inadequate. Even the drop to 4 buses per hour is questionable on Sundays, but actually pretty generous during the evening. Amazingly, only 16 buses are required at peak times for the 11-mile trek, which takes around 80 minutes to complete. Stagecoach managed the route very well, having several years of experience on their side, as well as the convenience of a garage situated almost on the line of route. I don't doubt that this will be another major loss for them, but a few more routes around the Bromley area are up for tender in November, so perhaps they will strike lucky then.

Lewisham was actually pretty busy at 8am on a Saturday morning, emphasised by the trio of buses in this photo.
For the seemingly invincible Go-Ahead, this win probably didn't mean as much as it would to any other London operator, but complacency is never desirable. The company ordered another batch of brand new ADL Enviro400H MMCs for this contract change, having stuck religiously to this type over the past year, contrasting their habitual indecisiveness. This batch arrived prematurely, but were sent to work straight away on the Wimbledon tennis shuttles, helping out alongside Go-Ahead's commercial services fleet when they weren't sat outside the station broken down. So far, they have not appeared on any other routes at Orpington (MB) garage, but I don't doubt that one will sneak onto the 320 sooner or later. As usual, the service was in bits on day one, but with each random check on the London Vehicle Finder I've noticed small improvements and I'm confident Go-Ahead will be able to match the high standards set by Stagecoach. The new MMCs are equipped with intelligent GPS technology, which prevents buses from exceeding the speed limit specific to each street travelled on, and have been described as gutless by enthusiasts, but a functional service is surely all that matters for such an important route.

I wish Go-Ahead all the best in operating both the 227 and 208 for the next five years. Thanks for reading and take care.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Great Western E-routes

Conveniently enough, there wasn't much bus activity at the end of May apart from local changes. Living nearby makes snapping so much easier, plus being familiar with the route means sunshine locations easily come to mind, especially for one of the services which has had several first days over the past few years.

I remember struggling on a randomly hot day in April, but I still ended up spotting last week...
Being only seventeen years old, the E11 is one of Ealing's newest bus routes, replacing part of the E10 when it was re-routed via Scotch Common. It runs at a modest 20 minute frequency from Monday to Saturday, with a typical drop to half hourly on Sundays and during the evening. The termini are Ealing, Warwick Dene and Greenford Broadway, with intermediate destinations including West Ealing, Drayton Green, Castle Bar Park and Elthorne Heights. 5 buses are needed for the 5-mile route at peak times, whilst an end-to-end journey can usually be completed in around 35 minutes. Only mini single deckers can be used due to the ridiculously tight turns near Copley Close, although the smaller capacity usually isn't an issue. That said, the E11 is extremely popular around Castle Bar Park, being the only bus service remotely near the very dense housing, whilst the train now only takes people as far as West Ealing, which is no good for most. It's also pretty handy in the morning at the busy Broughton Road stop, as there's usually enough space to accommodate passengers waiting for any bus which takes them directly to Ealing Broadway - the 207 and 427 often just sail past. Even though it's predominantly residential, there are some quirky aspects, including the ridiculously steep and twisty Studland Road, delving right into the estate at Castle Bar Park, or the affluent run by Ealing Common.

The sun was shining here, but typically it decided to make itself scarce as soon as the bus arrived.
From 2007 to 2019, it seemed like three operators had attempted to run the E11, but its contract was not reassigned through the formal tendering process at any point. Transdev London United acquired the NCP Challenger operations in 2009, whilst RATP-group purchased Transdev LU in 2011. Seven 07-reg ADL Enviro 200s entered service under NCP, equipped with a very uninspiring interior, but they proved to be extremely reliable and pretty fast too. Two of them worked the E11 until the very last day, lasting for twelve years without a refurbishment, whilst one (SDE13, now known as SEN38) still survives in London, but at Go-Ahead's Northumberland Park (NP) garage. For some bizarre reason, in 2014 London United decided to replace the 07-reg examples with slightly newer 08-reg native buses, which had been at both Fulwell (FW) and Epsom (EB) garages before their move to Park Royal. The bubbles moquette found on these buses was very popular, but unlike the 07-reg they turned out to be really troublesome, so two of the older vehicles had to be reinstated. Since no other routes at Park Royal used short 8.9m vehicles, the E11 has a pretty bland history on the London Vehicle Finder, although its buses frequently made appearances on the 440, which was beyond inappropriate at school chuck-out time. Still, London United superintended the E11 very well and it was a shame to see them go, in the early hours of Saturday 25th May, after such a successful twelve years.

Sadly Abellio have ditched the 'Common' on the blinds, but it does mean the displayed destination matches the iBus message.
Abellio London have dominated the Ealing bus scene recently, picking up so many new services in such a short time frame. Given that space has always been an issue for their West London operations, the enthusiast community naturally questioned how Abellio would fit in another two services (see later). Eventually, it was revealed that a brand new depot would be opened on the Great Western Industrial Estate, with a much larger available capacity than both Hayes (WS) garage and the temporary outstation at Southall (AB). This base is strategically positioned, being just around the corner from Ealing Hospital. where several bus routes converge. Naturally, it was assumed that the E11 would operate out of the Great Western (GW) depot, but later it was revealed that this would not be ready until Saturday 13th July, a full seven weeks after they commenced operating the E11. Luckily, only six new ADL Enviro 200 MMC vehicles had to be squeezed into the Southall outstation, with some making appearances on the E5 and E7 before the E11's first day. Interestingly, they seem to have been fitted with tinted windows. Even though the garage was by no means complete, enthusiasts were greeted with a full turnout of new vehicles on day one and shortly afterwards some older 16-reg MMCs from the E5 began to sneak out onto the route. Now that the permanent depot is open, a more flexible common user policy with all the other 9.0m vehicles has been assimilated. To start with, operation was on the wobbly side, but a fairly chunky diversion which involved skipping all of Castle Bar Park and Bordars Road couldn't have helped matters. Admittedly, I was sceptical that Abellio would be able to handle this route well, especially after seeing an E11 training bus going down Bordars Road, which led to sewer works at the time, less than 24 hours before they took over. Having voith E200s with stop-start technology was also a cause for concern, since the Greenford hail and ride section is littered with speed humps and often involves a hill start, but surprisingly these vehicles seem to have coped well with the challenging road conditions. The service seems to run like clockwork and hopefully with their more appropriately sized new depot, Abellio can continue to strengthen their well-respected plethora of West London bus routes.

I would only recommend snapping along Ruislip Road East in sunny conditions, as otherwise the reflections are horrible.
Both the E10 and E11 share similar territory, so trekking to West London on two consecutive weekends must've been quite frustrating for non-local enthusiasts, especially as the routes have switched between the same operators. Usually, services are given to companies on a five year contract, with a potential two-year extension awarded for consistently good performance, so it's pretty disturbing that the E10 has been run by five, or arguably six distinct bus companies since 2013. With Metroline acquiring Greenford (G) garage after the sale of First London, an operator change here was inevitable, but upon tender the E10 was unusually awarded to Tellings Golden Miller (TGM), from Heathrow (HE) garage. They were a subsidiary of Arriva at the time. The situation regarding the E10 became much more complicated when TGM was returned to family ownership at the end of 2014, so it effectively became a fully Arriva service, with the now defunct Garston (GR) garage controlling the service, whilst Dartford (DT) were responsible for maintenance and providing spare buses. The practice of buses dead-running a distance of over 20 miles on a regular basis clearly wasn't viewed as sustainable, so eventually Arriva surrendered the service. London United, at Hounslow Heath (HH) garage, assumed operation in December 2017, but this base was still some distance away and it was evident that taking on such an unfamiliar route at the last minute was no easy job. Hopefully, this next period with Abellio can offer some stability for a theoretically peaceful back street route - no other service in London has had such a turbulent recent history.

From the outside, there really isn't much difference between the 14-reg and 12-reg E200s.
The current E10 runs between Northolt, Islip Manor and Ealing Broadway. It navigates the back streets of Smiths Farm before briefly meeting the Ruislip Road, but then takes another lengthy detour to serve the Ferrymead Estate, which is quite vast despite its low density. From my observations the E10 is well used here, especially as after Greenford Broadway it takes the quickest possible route to Ealing, via Scotch Common and Cleveland Road. Given its usefulness, the E10 is heavily oversubscribed, with buses often carrying standing loads even in the middle of the day. A much needed capacity upgrade was promised by TfL, with a proposal to increase the frequency to every 12 minutes and modify the Islip Manor terminus, so that longer vehicles could be used than at present. Infuriatingly, neither of these have been delivered. Even though the E10 is crying for help, TfL are seemingly obsessed with the notion of extending it beyond Ealing Broadway. The initial plan to send the route to Chiswick Business Park was rightfully cancelled, as creating a useful link using buses with limited capacity has disaster written all over it, yet recently a new consultation regarding the E10 was released. This time, it's proposed that the E10 will run as far as Osterley Tesco, via South Ealing Road and the Sky office complex, but with short vehicles being the indefinite allocation, this seems like another ridiculous idea. For now, 8 vehicles are required for the 4bph Monday to Saturday frequency, with typical reductions to 3bph on Sundays and 2bph during the evening. It takes around 45 minutes to complete the 6 mile journey.

London United continued to use the nine ADL Enviro 200s ordered by Tellings Golden Miller in 2014, being the first euro 6 examples to grace the streets of London, but the ridiculously long dead runs meant that these vehicles were knackered and two spare 12-reg E200s were purchased for the E10 - ironically, these came from Arriva. This meant that only the logos truly revealed that the E10 was run by London United - the interior definitely suggested otherwise to the regular passenger and ultimately they wouldn't have noticed any difference when they took over. One native 08-reg Enviro 200 from the E11 made an extremely rare appearance in January 2018, but otherwise the E10 solely used its allocated buses. Although Hounslow Heath (HH) garage clearly tried their hardest with the route, I'm sure they're grateful that it has found another new home.

Having flopped attempt#1, it was quite funny to see one driver almost turn down a dead end road on the first day...
Abellio London started their new contract on Saturday 1st June 2019, with all nine new 19-reg ADL Enviro 200 MMC vehicles being ready for day one. They are identical to the E11 buses, but the two batches could not intermingle at first, due to the aforementioned delayed opening of their new garage on the Great Western Industrial Estate. The E10 is slightly more substantial than the E11 and could not possibly fit inside Southall (AB) or Hayes (WS), so ended up starting out at Twickenham (TF) depot. Dead runs from here were probably more time-consuming than those undertaken by London United and Arriva, but it was a temporary arrangement after all and the E10, along with other outcasts like the 195, 350 and U5, have returned to their respective home garages. The first month wasn't smooth, with some pretty nasty gaps in rush hour, but each week I'm seeing an improvement and soon I don't doubt that the E10 will become more reliable than it has been in years. Now that all of Abellio's E-routes are under one roof, the similar 9.0m MMCs allocated to the E5 and E11 can frequently escape onto the E10. I should also hope that they won't be as foolish as Twickenhem depot, who decided to dump a 10.5m vehicle from the R70 onto the route on one Saturday morning, with no indication whatsoever that it was actually an E10. A paper sign wouldn't hurt. Needless to say, the bus was subbed quickly. That aside, Abellio have had a promising start on both E-routes and I wish them all the best in strengthening their West London operations even further.

This Optare Solo was incredibly rapid and sounded healthy, but was withdrawn just four days after this shot was taken.
With the E11 I couldn't really discuss any fall-out as all of its buses were simply withdrawn, but the E10's ex-Arriva E200s have quickly been redeployed. If you've read my other posts on RATP, you'll know that they've become obsessed with standardising their fleet as of late, so it's no surprise that the remaining Optare Solos became a target. They predominantly worked the K5 at Epsom (EB) garage, although the ex-E10 buses have settled in comfortably and work pretty much everything, from the busy outer-suburban S1 and 463 long-distance routes, to the more localised S3 and K5. For some reason, two of the Optare Solo vehicles are still in service, but they could disappear at any moment and I urge you catch one while you still can, especially on a route as fun as the K5.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Random Observations - July 2019

I felt like doing one of these, so here is your supposedly monthly dose of ten randomly selected pictures, straight from the album.

Even though my camera often throws a hissy fit, cloudy weather does allow more photo opportunities.
After another PVR cut, the E3 predominantly uses the 60-reg ADL Enviro400H vehicles from the 94, rather than its own newer 62-reg examples. This did result in some all-over ad buses appearing on the route, which felt quite strange as usually non-red buses are confined to the streets of Central London, especially on services like the 94. The oyster hopper bus, ADH22, lasted for considerably longer than the others before having its wrap removed, so it didn't actually escape my camera. Locals were slightly bemused whenever the blue bus trundled along Northfield Avenue, rightfully questioning why the red all over rule seemed to have gone to put. I know some enthusiasts are determined to capture every advertisement wrap, but I hadn't gone after one on purpose until that grim March afternoon. Even then, this is just TfL trying to get people back onto the buses, after tearing up the network. I'm not convinced it'll work, since having a hopper fare is useless if there isn't a second bus to hop onto...

I never ask for blind changes, but it's always great to take advantage when others do!
Offering redemption is never a bad thing, but the Dart Pointer pictured above has been given a ridiculous number of chances despite its somewhat reckless behaviour. Until a few months ago, two 51-reg AT545 Darts still survived at Bexleyheath (BX) garage, but when the gearbox of LDP206 packed up, the other one sacrificed its life in order to donate its own gearbox. This worked for a couple of months, until this one also failed. Given that the refurbishment programme at this garage is still ongoing, whilst the number of spare E200s is limited, it was a miracle for Go-Ahead that the engine of the last Marshall Capital in London, DMN1, blew up at around the same time LDP206 failed. This has resulted in the latter vehicle seeing its third gearbox in the space of a year. It's really enjoyable to ride, especially as it sports the ancient Go-Ahead moquette, but I really hope that it doesn't fail again, for the sake of being able to hear the classic AT545 whine within London. In regards to the significance of the blind display above, the B12 has been operated by Arriva for many years, but I believe this very type was used when Bexleyheath (BX) garage did house the route, from inception until 2009.

Although regulation is usually a burden, in this case I beat the bus on foot and managed to snap it here in Welling.
There's been a lot of hype surrounding this particular Go-Ahead vehicle within the enthusiast community as of late, being the last PVL-class Volvo/B7TL President still at the company, coincidentally also at Bexleyheath (BX) garage. Even though it's technically designated for school services, it seems to be very popular among drivers and regularly appears on routes like the 89, 132 and 486. More recently, the 51 transferred into this base from Orpington (MB) garage, in order to accommodate the recently acquired 227 at the latter location. Bexleyheath were very eager to reblind their vehicles for this gain and within a few days, the iconic Plaxton President strayed onto the route during one evening peak. It probably wasn't as significant as it could've been though, since a couple of months earlier a farewell tour using this very vehicle involved traversing a fair chunk of the 51, with many photos on flickr after the event. There's even a poster inside the vehicle explaining the significance of PVL284 to passengers ; it's evident that Go-Ahead are determined to have the last President in London. What will be quite funny is if Metroline, with their three remaining examples, take the crown instead...

There really is a lot of yellow in this photograph, but this was another improvised spot.
Another situation where Metroline could quite easily rob an operator of their glory, is with the remaining Trident ALX400s. Most enthusiasts naturally associate this type of bus with Stagecoach London, who ran a very large number on pretty much all of their double deck services throughout the 2000s. At the moment, a few are clinging on at Bromley (TB), Plumstead (PD), Romford (NS) and Leyton (T) garages, but there are also two remaining workhorses at Metroline's Cricklewood (W) garage, primarily on the 210 service between Finsbury Park and Brent Cross. TA648 still seems very healthy and is out and about on an almost daily basis, also having the advantage of a newer Euro 4 engine. After all these years of the Metroline ALXs being forgotten, perhaps in a few months it could be their time to shine.

Comparing the generations of Wrightbus vehicles...
Over the past month I've dedicated most of my trips out to snapping and riding the elderly London buses, given that so many types will presumably become extinct later in 2019. Go-Ahead London are now the sole operator of Wrightbus Gemini B7TLs, although the ones at Northumberland Park (NP) and Croydon (C) garages seem to have no intention of leaving any time soon. One still remains at Merton (AL) garage, with WVL119 significantly outliving the two others which survived into this calendar year. It was an enjoyable ride, but I'm left to question why this particular vehicle was granted a stay of execution, given that it's so unhealthy. Seriously, that engine does not sound happy, yet several enthusiasts commented on how competent its companions were. I'd still recommend going after it, but if you want a fast ride then expect to be disappointed.

Go-Ahead are the biggest operator in London, but they do seem to be abnormally dominant in this post.
Scania OmniCity vehicles are still relatively new in comparison to the other relics seen earlier, but I'd certainly class them as endangered. Every operator that still has them seems to want them gone as soon as possible, which is frustrating as I really like their quirkiness. London United and Stagecoach still have a long way to go, but Go-Ahead are almost there with just 6 examples remaining. Initially, they were all at Silvertown (SI) garage, staying on after the D8, which they were contractually allocated to, was lost to Tower Transit in September. However, the enforcement of the ultra low emission zone meant two of them could no longer act as spares for the 135 after its PVR increase, so a direct swap occurred at the last minute. Two compatible 'classic' ADL Enviro400Hs were sent up North, whilst the transfer of two OmniCitys reintroduced the type to Orpington (MB) garage. They seem to like the 353 more than anything, but by complete coincidence I managed to snap one on the 654 school service, which actually offers a quicker route between Addington and Orpington than the mainstream 353. One did sneak out onto the 320, but it couldn't travel beyond Downham due to a green bus corridor in Catford. For all of the bus youtubers, 969 was very fast when I rode it one month ago, but the same can't be said for its sibling.

This location was a massive risk, but I somehow didn't get bowled and could move on after my first attempt.
Unusually, for around a week at the start of July, Holloway (HT) garage started chucking out a load of Volvo/B5LH MCV EvoSeti vehicles onto the 390, a very high profile New Routemaster service between Victoria and Archway. Usually, whenever there was a shortage of the LT-class NRMs, the 91 would receive the spare conventionals, but for some reason this practise seems to have been dropped since the introduction of the ULEZ - only one EvoSeti has worked the route since the type was drafted into Holloway. Nonetheless, I feel that these buses really suit the 390 and the odd appearances can perhaps give us an insight into what this service would be allocated if the proposal to build a large number of New Routemasters wasn't acted upon. I'd really love to see one on the 24, especially as it passes to Abellio in November, but this even more significant route has somehow only seen one conventional vehicle in the six years of its New Routemaster operation, so such a working is incredibly unlikely.

For once, Metroline heavily invested in refurbishing a vehicle. Ironic, considering it's hardly used.
Those of you who know me well will be familiar with my struggle in catching this elusive vehicle - I finally managed to tick it off in July, having been at the top of my priority list since it emerged in December. Most spare buses tend to be used pretty regularly, but this one is quite literally only sent out in emergencies, often having two to three months off road at a time. Its track record on LVF is astonishingly poor, having made only six appearances since the end of March. The reason why OS68 is so important is because it has only recently been with Metroline. It used to operate the Hampstead Garden Suburb services at Arriva's Garston (GR) garage, but as the new Metroline Optare Solo SR vehicles arrived so much later than the contract date, the old OSs were temporarily assimilated by Cricklewood (W) garage. Metroline were pretty honest about their feelings towards these knackered vehicles, which would break down all the time and made operating these pretty straightforward routes immensely difficult. Despite all their nightmare experiences, the company soon realised that having only one spare vehicle was a major risk, especially as no other buses can physically fit onto the H-routes. This resulted in OS68, which was clearly their favourite, being heavily refurbished, returning to service in December 2018. It still sounds very unhealthy, with the roaring being particularly concerning, but from an enthusiast's perspective more variety can only ever be a good thing. It's also quite funny watching the bemused locals as they board the bus, recognising that it's ancient, but also having the Metroline interior, which they would see as new.

The fares for these shuttles was extortionate, but they do look very fun.
The annual Wimbledon Tennis championships are a fascinating time for enthusiasts, even for those like myself who aren't particularly interested in the sport. Go-Ahead are given the responsibility of operating the shuttle bus services which carry spectators to the event from many different locations, such as Wimbledon Station, Southfields Station and South Thames College (Park & Ride). There's even a direct service all the way from King's Cross St Pancras, but a single fare was a tenner for that one. The commercial services fleet has a plethora of different bus types, with almost all being put to use during the tennis. Brand new classic E400s run alongside open top Gemini B7TLs and even AEC Routemasters, whilst the convenience of having brand new Enviro400H MMCs for the gain of route 208 meant there were never any vehicle shortages. The main 840 service seemed to be almost always rammed, whilst the other routes were less heavily used, but their loads are still clearly seen as justifiable.

Wow, the 390 really is an attention seeker. Two pics in one post! This one didn't even make flickr as I have so many of the vehicle, at a number of locations.
Enthusiasts always rave about the Showbus event that happens in September, but until Sunday I hadn't appreciated the scale of the Alton Bus Rally. It seems like a truly spectacular event, with hundreds of vintage and modern vehicles on display, as well as rides to the stunning Hampshire countryside. I was only able to attend for 50 minutes, but in that time I took over 200 photos, with most of these taken on a rather small patch of grass which rather brilliantly allowed spotters to witness buses leaving the site, as well as those running to the stands on feeder services. I highly recommend going next year (there are even free connecting bus services to London), as this sort of variety and the number of rides seems to be pretty unique. It's quite hilarious that out of all the photos, another 390 was chosen, but I'm really glad that I managed to snap these RMLs with the skirt, as they've avoided me for ages. It's also quite a significant route in regards to Routemaster history, as it was only created in 2003 but used these vehicles from birth, albeit only for a year. It was definitely the last brand new service to commence with this London icon.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

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.


©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!