Saturday, 25 June 2016

Wright Extension, Wrong Route?

 Or is it the other way around? That's your decision, my views are explained in detail later on.

The E8 is a route run by Metroline from Brentford (AH) garage. It was very short and had much more potential to be a useful route. TFL responded to this on Saturday 28th May, when the route was given double deckers and extended to Hounslow, Bell Corner.

Before the changeover, the E8 had lots of different buses running on it. This included Optare Tempo Hybrid vehicles (which were sadly withdrawn in 2013), Enviro 200s, Dart Evolutions, Enviro 400s, 2010 Wright Gemini B9TLs and Plaxton Presidents. Recently, the Presidents were withdrawn and a bunch of MAN Evolutions displaced from the decking of route 90 were transferred down to Brentford to work the E8. They certainly did bring variety to the Ealing area and it was a shame to have to let them go so soon.

Metroline Travel MM783 at Ealing Broadway Station on a Thursday night.
Although the E8 was short, it was certainly very busy, with buses reaching full capacity from the first stop in the evening peak. When the tender result was published, it was rumoured that Enviro 400 Hybrids from Cricklewood (W) would transfer to Brentford (AH) for the extension, which would have been amazing, but unfortunately Brentford simply cannot be trusted with Hybrid vehicles, as all of the other buses they own seem to be broken...

By the end of 2015 everyone was still unsure what was going to happen to the E8, until Christmas Eve, where something very peculiar appeared on the E2.

Metroline London VW1213 with an odd front blind.
It remained the only EC-Spec Gemini at Brentford for months and people began to speculate what was actually going to happen to the E8 and why only one of these buses had transferred, given that no Brentford (AH) route was due to receive a PVR increase. However, this issue was fixed when I started seeing new style blinds in Ealing Broadway, on more than one vehicle.

Metroline London VW1215 on Northfield Avenue
It became clear that an array of Gemini 2s from various garages were quickly being rushed in for the E8 conversion. A few managed to sneak out onto the route before the changeover, but I decided to make the most of newer buses on the E2 first.

Time flew by and all of a sudden, Saturday 28th May was here and I was preparing for a unique journey, all the way from Ealing-Hounslow in one bus.

VW1262 approaches the bus stop on Boston Manor Road.
Initially, I was all for this extension, it meant that I could complete some journey's in one bus rather than two. It also meant I could avoid using the second busiest single decker route in London,  unless the E8 was running badly. There was finally going to be an indirect link between two town centres that were agonisingly close, but before the extension it required a change to travel between them, even by using the train.

On the first day, not that many people used the extension. I didn't see any bus that had more than a couple of people on board. However, I let this go seeing as the first day of an extension of a bus route always tends to be fairly quiet, as members of the general public are too scared to try out where a new local bus route will take them. However, I've been using the service for four weeks now and the journeys have still been eerily quiet. It was while I was daydreaming on the way home one Saturday, that I realised the thinking behind the extension.

The 235 is the second busiest single decker route in London, with over 5m annual riders. The busiest section is from Brentford-Feltham, with the infrequent 117 following a similar route. However, earlier this year the 116 was given Gemini 3 B5LH buses, an upgrade from the old Dart Pointers. The 116 is very busy, so this was understandable, but I later found out that it was only upgraded because this meant that TFL "didn't have to double deck the 235". The extension of the E8 was a similar story. According to TFL, extending the E8 would help the London Road corridor and its capacity problems. Coincidentally, it provided a very indirect route from Hounslow-Ealing.

An empty VW1048 overtakes a 117 at West Thames College
However, I was very upset when I found out that the 235 had been awarded to Metroline, with new single decker buses. The frequency of the 117 has not been changed either, with that going to Metroline too. The fact that a route with 5m annual ridership has not been given double deckers is downright stupid and there are a number of reasons why this will not work.

  • The 235 is busiest between Hounslow and Feltham, the E8 and 116 do not provide this link
  • The 117 and 237 are too busy to assist it, hence it gets packed all the time.
  • This route will only get busier as time goes on.
  • The E8 will not help this route apart from at school rush hour.
If TFL wanted a link from Hounslow-Ealing, the E8 would not be popular because it takes 50 minutes end to end. If the 235 was given a frequency increase and double deckers, I would be tempted to send that to Ealing Broadway. North Brentford Quarter is only 10-15 minutes away from Ealing, meaning that the total journey time would equal 30-35 minutes. This would provide a much more direct link to Ealing Broadway and assist the very busy 65, which definitely needs support between Ealing and Brentford.

There are many good things about the extension of the E8, such as new links south of Brentford Station and Boston Manor, but it really was the wrong route. For me, it's very useful, but the majority of people travelling from Ealing-Hounslow would find that the 235 would definitely be quicker than the E8.

However, it's been extended now and we can only hope that people start to use the service soon!