Thursday, 19 January 2017

London Buses On The Go-4th Birthday

Four years ago, a fairly inexperienced bus enthusiast decided to document their sights on the London bus network on a website, in brief posts containing pictures that weren't exactly photogenic! Nevertheless, the blog has developed and my photography has improved and somehow this blog still survives today, although posts did grind to a halt for about 18 months in 2015! Before you carry on reading this post, please pay a visit to the successful London Connected blog (they now have the bus blogger's dream, top of the search list of "London bus blog" on google, whilst I'm in measly 7th) who also started their blog four years ago today! Click here to see their celebratory post (assuming it's out already, which isn't at the time of writing). In this post I'll reflect on my year of bus extravaganzas and share the high and low points of everything significant! Enjoy if you can!

In 2016 I rode a lot of enjoyable bus routes, with quite a few entering the almost sacred top 50, which gets increasingly rare as I ride around more of the network! The 180 managed to enter the top 10, but the 199, D7, 240, and W7 all managed to earn their place in the top 20% of routes completed. In general, I didn't ride any atrocious bus routes in 2016 (thanks to careful planning!), although my worst was the E5, which crawled around the depressing streets of Dormers Wells at 10mph and got increasingly boring until Greenford, where I gave up and went to a newsagents, seeing as the other half of the route was already complete.

The E5 managed to score a 4/10 on my route ratings, although 2 of the points are for the excellent Enviro 200 MMCs this route has been blessed with.

I returned to the blogging scene in May 2016, when three local routes of mine changed operator, and one was extended to become a whole lot more useful! I covered the E8 extension to Hounslow in such great detail, that it was impossible to fit it all onto one tiny flickr caption, so I decided to return to the world of bus blogging, even though my monthly viewings had plummeted since 2015! However, the E5/7/9 post came out first, as no other blog had covered those changes as of May 2016. I made a few changes to the layout, updated the polls and introduced the popular new Busageddon and Random Route series posts, which have generated quite a few viewings since their birth. To keep some sense of tradition, the Random Observations series soldiers on, even though posts aren't exactly once a month! The E-route changes were my first bus journey for over a month and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my favourite company (Abellio London) roaming around the streets of Ealing on a regular basis! The E7 and E9 were most enjoyable and I started to look forward to an action-packed summer, rammed full of ventures across every part of London.

My random route series kicked off with the 122, a fairly interesting and long route from Crystal Palace-Plumstead, Bus Garage, where I shared my experience of my trip in the Easter holidays. It went pretty well and since then, routes 483, Breezer 50 (non-TFL), 56 and 180 have been reviewed and hopefully your local will steal the limelight soon! Unfortunately, all of the routes selected have been good ones and I am hoping that the random number generator gives me one where I can have a nice, long rant. In July the Random Observations series kicked off again, with 10 pictures selected from the folder on my laptop. An interesting array of photos were presented for members of the public to read, where I briefly wrote about any experience I had of the route. Generally, I only take pictures of routes I rode (because I always forget to take snaps of observations on other routes), so there's nearly always something about the photo that relates to me!

On Saturday 23rd July 2016, I set off on my first long-haul bus journey since Easter , in which I covered lots of Central London changes, but also ended up in Catford. Due to a last minute cancellation, I was able to leave even earlier, so I got even more done! It was a beautiful sunny day and I discovered many brilliant bus routes. The 53 ride was extremely fun, but the 199 was one of the most enjoyable end to end rides I've ever had. The combination of riverside views, residential sections, thrashy main road sections, tourist attractions (Greenwich always looks spectacular from any bus apart from the 386), gradients near Lewisham and urban high streets. I was not bored for one second and I honestly recommend this route if you love short, but constantly interesting routes around South London. It earned it's place in the top 25, but has now slipped to 27th, with the additions of routes 210 and 180. Being a Summer day, I was sincerely grateful for the powerful air-conditioning on the Enviro 400H City buses allocated to route 26. It was a fabulous day and the start of an epic summer holiday.

Refreshing. 2520 pulls into Waterloo Station/Waterloo Road, on an outbound 26 journey.

My North London trip was another brilliant adventure, which started with a pleasant 113 journey through the heights of North West London and a thrashy experience on the countryside route 107, which I surprisingly enjoyed, even though nature is my nemesis. Bar the horrific experience on the 491, all of the routes were decent, although my highlight was riding the 389/399. These two routes have a combined PVR of 1 (as they share a bus), running from Barnet to two contrasting estates. The 389 runs to the deprived community of Underhill, which really does deserve a more regular bus service, whilst the 399 trundles around upper class mansions in Hadley Wood, where the driver knows exactly where regular bus passengers live! The experience was so unique I wrote a special post about the two routes; I'm nowreally looking forward to riding the W10, the Enfield equivalent of the 399!

Go-Ahead London SEN23 stands at Barnet, The Spires, whilst it flips the number blind from 389-399.

The Kingston temporary routes were interesting and I loved the 65 diversion over Richmond Bridge and through Teddington, although that was quite a low-key day out compared to my next adventure, which resulted in waking up at the unearthly hour of 3am. At this point in the Summer I was rather embarrassed at the lack of East London routes I'd completed, so I organised an extravaganza involving the completion of route N205 and the East London Transit, especially after the tender result which implied that the routes were converted to New Routemaster operation. Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, I was shattered by the end of it and desperately wanted to be asleep, which was a shame seeing as I was halfway through a 368 journey to Chadwell Heath. The day didn't start very well, purely because the N7 to Oxford Circus departed Acton Old Town Hall 5 minutes early (this shouldn't be allowed), resulting in a missed connection that was vital to make the N205 from Paddington. Waiting 30 minutes simply wasn't an option, so I had to use initiative and jump on an N207 (which was 10 minutes late) and catch a Circle Line at Shepherd's Bush Market. Unfortunately, I didn't make the N205 at Paddington, but I did manage to intercept the last journey at Liverpool Street, where the beastly E40H took me on a tour of the Olympic Park just as the sun was beginning to rise.

The last N205 of the day arrives at Liverpool Street, Leyton bound.

The buses after that were pretty miserable. The 238 was depressing for most of the short journey and the 5 was rammed in the morning peak. The EL2 was incredibly boring until the last two minutes, which are absolutely brilliant! The road is isolated, with an industrial area looming in the distance, with thrash pretty much guaranteed. The oversized Dagenham Dock Bus Station is in the middle of nowhere and it's going to be really weird having New Routemasters, which were only meant to be deployed on Central London routes, out in Zone 4 in an industrial wasteland! The 387 and 396 were pretty dull and I was really hungry by this point. East Beckton smelled of sewage and I was grateful that the 262 came immediately. The views around Beckton were brilliant, although it was raining by this point and I could barely see anything out of the front window! The 147 from Ilford-Canning Town was my favourite end to end ride of the day, even though I was falling asleep by Custom House. I barely remember the 368 and visiting Barking six times on one day really wasn't a good idea, I was so sick of seeing thousands of ELT-branded Gemini 2's everywhere. TFL Rail came quickly, although the Class 315 train was grim and I couldn't wait for the ride to be over. Just as I was looking forward to relaxing at home, the Hammersmith & City Line decided to have a signal faliure and I endured a 60 minute Scania 205 journey all the way to Paddington. I couldn't even appreciate my favourite route as I had my eyes closed for half of it! Even though the day wasn't as enjoyable as I intended, I've learned now that waking up earlier than 5am is not tolerable and never a sensible idea!

WVL471 stands at Dagenham Dock. Deserted, right?
Before my blogging reduced in September, I ranted about the lack of links from Ealing Broadway- I'm hoping to write a similar post about another area soon, but I'm keeping that a secret until the day of publishing. Despite my sorrowful emotions at the loss of route 83 to Ealing, new local route 483 grabbed my attention and I dedicated a random route post to the long-winded Harrow-Ealing trunk route. After that I enjoyed fantastic rides on the 340, 240 and 153 and it was a fun day, just before the start of a torturous 14 weeks. Halfway through, I sampled the brand new Electric BYD E200 MMCs now working routes 507/521 in Central London and I wrote a very brief review on flickr/the blog. I also managed to get lost in the new London Bridge concourse, which is incredibly confusing! By this point I really didn't have much to write about, although the random number generator threw up the number 50, which wasn't very helpful seeing as the Croydon-Stockwell route is still on my "to-do" list. However, I used my imagination and discovered that there was a number 50 bus service that I rode in the past, I even managed to moan a little about the timetable!

A convertible EvoSeti, without the horrid seats!
Before my month of absence, I published a boring post summarising the upcoming events of December, which all took place whilst I looked through revision notes for 4 weeks. I also managed to sneak in a review of temporary route 563, which was a 3 minute shuttle from Upper Holloway-Holloway, Nags Head, with only 1 stop between the start and end! Sadly, this route has now been withdrawn following the completion of works on Holloway Road (damn, I forgot to update the tenders page).

My first major comeback was the completion of my first London mobility route, the 931, which is up for withdrawal "this month", but TFL still haven't bothered to confirm an exact date or update the consultation yet. A catch-up trip in South London enabled me to ride the lovely new Citaro K vehicles at Quality Line and I also managed to find a brand new top 10 route, the 180. However, my favourite trip of 2016 came at the very end, where I ventured into the depths of East London again, to ride around on some bus routes which were involved in a rather controversial set of changes. I arrived in Docklands at 8am on a bank holiday morning, which was completely deserted. It's a bit like being in the City Of London at weekends, when there are no workers around, except that in the Isle Of Dogs there are no tourists to contend with either!

The view from my bus stop, where I waited impatiently for my 135.
The 135 ride was fantastic, speeding around the Isle Of Dogs completely empty, with constant views of futuristic buildings. I published a post about the D8/108 changes and how they had so many negative impacts, even though the D8 roueting is now quite nice. I discovered two brilliant routes known as the 248 and 275, which unfortunately didn't have any changes so I couldn't write about them in detail, although I remember my experience riding them every day! The day was brilliant because of the reasonable pace, variety of great bus routes and the compulsory Costa hot chocolate- Romford's branch is pretty decent! One final journey on the 7th January covered the 235 contract award and the almost surreal experience of sitting upstairs whilst being driven through Holloway garage on a Not In Service Volvo President! The driver on the number 4 didn't serve the last stop at Archway and left me on board and decided to drive through right to the other end of the garage, the look on his face when I came downstairs was priceless!

Unfortunately I've had to rush this post, as otherwise it wouldn't have been published today, although I hope you've enjoyed this, as it's been very useful for me to reflect over how successful 2016 was for riding buses, even if it wasn't so great in other areas (I think you all know what I mean). Thanks for reading and fingers crossed this blog survives until its 5th birthday in 2018!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Random Observations: January 2017

Unfortunately the last Random Obs post was in October and since then I have been on many outings. However, the format will be exactly the same and I hope you enjoy it.

Metroline VW1385 on route W7 to Muswell Hill Broadway.
The W7 only takes 15 minutes end to end. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, with brilliant views of the London skyline as the bus descends down various hills down to Finsbury Park. It's very frequent and links residents from Crouch End to the tube as quickly as possible, therefore it can get extremely busy at peak times! Also, if you ever consider riding this route and want to appreciate the views, avoid VW1385! The bus is so dirty that I could barely see anything out of the front window, and the bus honestly sounded like it was about to break down, completely different to a normal Gemini 2! Also be prepared to let one bus go at Muswell Hill, these members of the public are ruthless and you won't get the front seat unless you know exactly where the bus is going to stop!

Short Routemaster LJ16NUV on route 13 to Golders Green.
The most recent bus type to enter the London scene is the two door, Volvo B5LH New Routemaster. 6 of these are allocated to route 13 (which will be withdrawn soon, with the 82 being renumbered to compensate), but these will move onto the 183 soon. Although the windows are still the same size, these are slightly better than the LTs, because the engine noise is a little louder and the acceleration is great. Also, as there is no third door or second staircase, there is now half a window at the back, which makes the upstairs slightly brighter. However, the front window is still the same size and these buses aren't good enough to trump my third least favourite type, the ALX400.

Go-Ahead London SE230 stands at Shadwell.
The 100 is definitely one of my favourite single deck routes, passing through very interesting areas such as the London Wall and Wapping, full of cobbled streets and docks, reminding me of the Dickens era! It is unique for many reasons and managed to score an 8 on my route ratings, which is rare for a single deck route! The Enviro 200's are splendid too with their ZF gearbox, they really rev on acceleration!

Reading Buses 758 on route 205.
The tube strike last week meant that extra buses were sent out on routes such as the 205, which follows the Hammersmith & City Line for most of its journey. To partially make up for the terrible traffic conditions, passengers were treated to a luxurious bus ride home, with free wifi and USB charging! Unfortunately, this technology is too advanced for Transport For London and the capital city's buses don't provide many things that town-based operators do!

Stagecoach London 19770 stands at Barkingside on a route 247 journey.

This bus only recently joined the Romford bus fleet, as a result of the 53 conversion to Enviro 400H MMC vehicles. The 247 is a fairly interesting route, which links the residents of Hainault and Barkingside to Romford, the closest town centre to this particular part of Essex. The frequency is poor (especially on Sundays) and the bus was surprisingly busy for a route that spends most of its time in the countryside. The views around Marks Gate were spectacular, something you wouldn't normally find on a London bus. Admittedly, the sections in Hainault and Collier Row were boring but overall this route isn't bad at all.

Go-Ahead London LT50 pauses at Vauxhall Bus Station
The livery makes this particular New Routemaster stand out from the rest, even though they're all the same inside. They also come out surprisingly well in the dark, seeing as the lights upstairs are so dim. Here is LT50 on the now ruined 88, which used to be in my top 10!

Stagecoach London 12282 stands at Croydon Town Centre.
The 75 is a decent trunk route, linking two of the main town centres in South London. It runs through urban, residential and hilly areas, making it very interesting to ride on. However, my trip was slightly ruined by some works that are taking place in Croydon Town Centre, meaning that the bus spent almost 15 minutes trying to circumnavigate West Croydon Bus Station! The trip took 90 minutes in total, which is a bit too long for my taste (I honestly did feel stiff by the end of it, those Lazzerini seats are annoyingly comfortable), but this route still managed to score an 8/10 on my route ratings. For me, the optimum length of a route is 45 minutes (which may seem ironic as my favourite route is the 205, which takes over 90 minutes end to end), although the Aldgate-Paddington section is so good that the 60 minute section alone deserves the top spot! I've only used it to Bow Church once, for the sake of completing the route!

Stagecoach London 17885 works route 5 to Romford Market.
The 5 is another major trunk route which gets extremely busy, running from Romford-Canning Town via Barking. Many enthusiasts are waiting for the tender result of this route, especially as there are rumours of Tri-Axle buses being ordered for this route, given that an Enviro 500 vehicle was tested for the route recently. I do hope this rumour is true, as the only Tri-Axle vehicles in London are owned by tourist companies, who charge a stupidly expensive fare for a ride that's stuck in traffic most of the time!

A rare appearance of a Gemini 3 on route 607, back in November.
The Gemini 3 vehicles at Uxbridge (UX) allocated to the 114 rarely stray onto the other double deck routes at the garage, so the appearance of one on express route 607 on a Saturday attracted a lot of bus enthusiasts! I can only imagine how amazing the kickdown was on Uxbridge Road between Hayes and Uxbridge! I'm also loving those blue blinds, they look brilliant in the dark.

A Heathrow Connect service at London Paddington.
The Heathrow Connect is a very useful shuttle service from London Paddington to Heathrow Airport, stopping at all intermediate stations apart from Acton Main Line. These 5 car trains severely reduce crowding on the Great Western Main Line and provide the only train service at Hanwell Station, where GWR can't be bothered to run any of their own services. However, the more profitable Heathrow Express service is always prioritised (even though it's always empty) and the 2/3 car GWR services simply can't cope with the loadings (thankfully some 8 car Electrostars are beginning to enter service)! Also notice the funny sign on the front of the train, "Preinst aborted", which still baffles me to this day.

That's the end of the post, thanks for reading!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Busageddon: Elephant, Lewisham, Isle Of Dogs, Morden, Croydon, Ilford, Upminster

The original plan was to have all of these Busageddon posts published separately, although some posts would be over 5 months late if I stuck to it. This post should summarise all of the significant service changes and I hope you enjoy it.

Go-Ahead London MHV40 works route 63 to Honor Oak.
 Route 63 has been given a full allocation of Hybrid buses upon contract renewal and Go-Ahead London chose MCV EvoSeti's for the route. The 63 is a very frequent commuter route which can be really busy, so the 59-reg Gemini 2's that used to work the route are fairly worn out now. However, I'm not sure if the commuters will enjoy the rock hard seats these EvoSeti's have! The Gemini 2 vehicles have been displaced to other routes, which will be covered later.

Go-Ahead London EH67 works route 363 to Elephant & Castle.
Unfortunately, the powerful Plaxton President buses that used to work the route were too old to last for another five years, so new buses were ordered for route 363. The 363 isn't as busy as the 63 and doesn't venture into Central London, although it does go further than Honor Oak and terminates at Crystal Palace. It provides a valuable link between Peckham and Sydenham/Crystal Palace and is well used in the peak hours. The route has to contend with lots of hills and the E40H MMCs climb them with ease, confirming that they were a suitable choice for this particular route. The buses themselves are nice (I prefer them to the ones on the 35/40) and I enjoyed riding the route very much, despite waiting 20 minutes for the bus to show up! However, I won't blame Go-Ahead for this as the traffic in Peckham was terrible. If you enjoy residential, fast routes with lots of hills, the 363 is for you!

LT851 stands at Lewisham whilst on route 21 duties.
At the moment, the 21 is converting to New Routemaster operation, knocking it out of my top 10 with the 180 taking its place. The conversion has been really slow and most of them aren't even in service, even though the first examples have been around for almost a month! The 21 is a very long trunk route linking North and South London and if you like routes which pass lots of sights, but are over 90 minutes in length, this one is for you. However, if you don't like New Routemasters, make sure you catch a Gemini 2 soon, they're probably not going to be around for much longer. Some of the Gemini's will stay for route 321, whilst others will transfer to Belvedere (BV) garage, enabling the withdrawal of the VWL and PVL class buses currently allocated to route 180.

VWL9 will be withdrawn within the next month or so, with a Gemini 2 displaced from routes 21/63 taking its place.

If you read my last post, you would know how much I love route 180! However, I will miss these Eclipse Gemini's, as they are far superior than the examples that were allocated to route 1. They are fast and powerful and the Gemini 2's won't bring as much character to the 180, although I am grateful that the route hasn't been poisoned with MCV EvoSeti's with stupidly large pillars at the front! VWL9 represents one of the last 02-reg Gemini's in London; they will be sorely missed!

Go-Ahead London SE147 works route 152 at South Wimbledon.

The 152 is a busy single deck route running across South London, from Pollards Hill-New Malden. Before the contract was announced, the 152 was run very badly. Large gaps were a common occurrence and Abellio frequently put out Mini Pointer Darts on the route, which didn't help with the crowding at all! In terms of reliability, Go-Ahead are doing a fairly decent job with the route, although there is certainly room for improvement. The allocation is strict (although one double decker sneaked out a couple of weeks ago), which means that higher capacity existing ADL Enviro 200s and Optare Esteem vehicles work the route full time, from Merton (AL) garage. Overall, a successful operator change!

Arriva London T108 stands at Morden, working route 157.

The 157 is an extremely long and indirect route from Morden-Crystal Palace, running via Croydon. The total journey time can be over 2 hours on a bad day, making it very hard to run. Abellio London tried their best when running the route, although large gaps and bunching were frequent. Arriva London were very brave and submitted a bid for the route, with existing Enviro 400 vehicles displaced from route 133. Buses are parked up at Norwood garage, although the route is based at Thornton Heath. The route used to run with a mixture of ALX 400s, Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini 1 vehicles and a couple of E400 MMCs from route 109. The E400s haven't been refurbished and are fairly worn out after their seven year stint on the 133, although they are a suitable replacement for the ageing Tridents. The reliability has been reasonable, considering the length of the route and the amount of traffic hotspots it serves. I wish Arriva success for the next 5 years!

Quality Line MCS08 stands at Bushey Road, working route 413.

Small operator Quality Line managed to win another route from Go-Ahead, which should partially make up for the loss of route X26. The 413 is a short route from Morden-Sutton, serving the houses around Gander Green Lane in the middle. The route stands outside Go-Ahead's Sutton garage, much to the annoyance of all the staff working there, watching another operator intrude on their property (although the 413 stands outside now)! Quality Line were brave enough to order non-standard vehicles for the new contract. The Mercedes Citaro K vehicles are lovely buses, with an interesting moquette, comfortable seats and an interesting interior design, including bells which literally wrap around your hand. The route is running reliably and on the whole, this is a successful operator change. However, Quality Line have given the route far too much running time, meaning that the drivers are being forced to regulate at every stop, making the journey much longer than it needs to be! The extra running time has helped the reliability, although it can be frustrating for the passengers.

Arriva London SLS14 terminates at West Croydon on route 450.
Route 450 has received brand new buses, to replace the Dart Pointers that used to work the route. The 450 runs from West Croydon-Lower Sydenham, through various side roads around Crystal Palace. Wrightbus StreetLite vehicles are currently my least favourite single deckers in London, although they do suit the route quite nicely. However, there have been complaints that some of the buses are quite unfit already, struggling to climb the hills this route has to contend with. The reliability has always been substandard and in order to improve the service, I would curtail the route to Crystal Palace, meaning that it would no longer run between there and Lower Sydenham. However, a route that Transport For London want to axe could make a suitable replacement, with an obvious increase in operating hours and frequency.

Abellio London 8211 at Lewisham Centre.
Although I covered this route in great detail previously, I just want to remind you guys that this route will be axed within the next couple of months, so if you have a spare Friday, please make the most of it and ride the 931! Coming back to the 450 idea, I think that this route could replace the section of the 450 between Crystal Palace and Lower Sydenham, running via Hillcrest Estate and Sydenham. From Lower Sydenham Sainsbury's, the route could run through Catford and up to Lewisham, perhaps every 10 minutes as a starting frequency. It would significantly improve the reliability of route 450 and give Hillcrest Estate and Sydenham Hill the bus service they deserve!

The next set of changes are about the results of a consultation TFL published a few months ago, concerning changes to the bus network around Isle Of Dogs. In short, these are the changes that took place:

  • Route 135 was re-routed between Mudchute and Crossharbour, to serve Spindrift Avenue and Cubitt Town, replacing route D3 on this section.
  • Route D3 was withdrawn between Canary Wharf and Crossharbour and extended to Leamouth via Billingsgate Market, replacing route 277 on this section.
  • Route 277 was withdrawn between Canary Wharf and Leamouth and re-routed to Crossharbour via Westferry Road, following the former 135 routeing. All of these changes were to bring additional capacity to the Westferry Road corridor.
  • Route 108 was re-routed between Poplar and Bow Church via Devons Road and sent to Stratford International through the Olympic Park, instead of running to Stratford (main) Bus Station. 
  • Route D8 was re-routed away from Devons Road and sent to Stratford (main) Bus Station via the A12. It was converted to double deck operation.
Two changed bus routes stand at Crossharbour Asda.

The re-routeing of the 135 has been successful, with the extension into Cubitt Town proving popular with the locals, assisting route D7. The 135 now almost serves the whole of the Isle Of Dogs, making it even more scenic and a better route in my opinion. The 277 extension has also been popular, with Westferry Road benefiting from a more frequent bus service with vehicles that have a higher capacity! The lightly used Leamouth-Canary Wharf section now has a bus service more suited to the small demand on this section and the D3 is more reliable now that it is shorter. For these three routes, it's been a great success! It's a shame the same can't be said for the other two routes involved...

MEC10 departs North Greenwich, in the middle of a tortuous journey on route 108.
Since the re-route, the 108 is now an exceptionally long trunk route, taking over 2 hours end to end. Bearing in mind this route has to use one of the most incident-prone roads in the country (the Blackwall Tunnel) and it has to deal with significant crowds, given that it is the only route linking North and South-East London, sending it through a dense housing area was never going to be a good idea, considering the route doesn't run North of the river when the Tunnel is closed (at least once every day). As a result, the residents of Devons Road have an extremely unreliable bus service which doesn't turn up regularly. When the bus does show up, it is often crowded following the long gap. Given the extended journey time, the route is now unappealing for passengers travelling between North Greenwich and Stratford, as well as the fact that is does not serve Stratford Town Centre anymore. People of Devons Road are starting to use the DLR and commuters travelling from North Greenwich-Stratford are using the Jubilee Line, as I have noticed the buses aren't as crowded as there were a couple of months ago. Transport For London are now receiving more money following the move to the tube, and it's a win win situation for them. In other news, the route has been upgraded to 12m Citaro buses displaced from routes 507/521, which are being fitted with additional seats during refurbishment. Overall, the refurbishment has been overlooked and the 108 change has been a total failure!

The D8 change has also been unsuccessful, but for completely different reasons. Since the re-route, it now doesn't serve any housing in Devons Road, but it goes through a couple of industrial estates with barely any passengers needing a bus service along this section. A busy route like the 108 was well-suited to this section, as crowded buses could speed past the bus stops and reach Stratford quickly. However, many links have been broken and people from Canary Wharf have no choice apart from to use the DLR. The double deckers are not carrying any passengers, and a driver said that the most amount of passengers that boarded his bus in the evening peak was 14. For a bus that can carry 87 passengers, that is ridiculous. The route now has no purpose and could easily be withdrawn, which just goes to show that these two changes were a big mistake!

CT Plus 1224 works route W19 to Walthamstow.

 The W19 is a busy single deck trunk route running from Ilford-Walthamstow, providing many key links between town centres and residential areas. Go-Ahead London ran the route terribly, with huge gaps and extremely short buses working the route. However, it was a shock to all enthusiasts when CT Plus managed to win the contract for this route, from a brand new garage in Walthamstow. However, the length of the buses was a disappointment to everyone, especially as 10.8m had worked this route in the past. 9.6m vehicles aren't big enough for an overcrowded route like the W19 and people are being left behind frequently. The frequency has been increased to every 12 minutes, but the decrease in capacity has not done the route any good. The service has been pretty poor, with lots of bunching and gaps, but the "classic" E200s do look very smart in the TFL interior. On the whole, not a great service change, but I wish CT Plus success for the next five years.

Go-Ahead London 232 stands at Upminster Station.
The operator change on route 346 was neglected by most enthusiasts, as it is a very quiet route running on the outskirts of London, and the contract change coincided with the Isle Of Dogs changes. However, I got a chance to ride the route over Christmas and I was very impressed. It is a 20 minute shuttle service between the tube station and the estates at Cranham/Upminster Park and Arriva London managed to lose this service to Go-Ahead. Three Optare Esteem vehicles were drafted in from Orpington and have been the main allocation of the route since October. They have excellent manoeuvrability and are well-suited to a residential route like the 346, which has to contend with some very tight roads. The bus drivers are very experienced and have no problem with thrashing the bus at 40mph and even accelerating whilst turning round a corner! The service hasn't been great, with the two buses running the route bunching quite frequently! However, the 346 certainly has more character now and has scored highly for a single deck route on my ratings page!

Now, we have finally caught up with the service changes at the end of 2015 and I hope I don't have to cram all of these posts into one again! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Random Route: The 180

The 180 was probably my favourite ride of 2016. It flew into the top ten with me awarding the route 9/10, something only 13 other routes managed to achieve. My ride at dusk on VWL9 was spectacular, with stunning views and brilliant thrash. I highly recommend this route to anyone who hasn't ridden it yet, and if you're still not convinced, you will be by the end of this post!

VWL9 at its last stop, Crabtree Manorway North.
The 180 runs from Lewisham Shopping Centre to Belvedere Industrial Area, via Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood. It runs every 10 minutes with a PVR of 17, with the total journey taking around 70 minutes. The allocation consists of Wrightbus Gemini 1's and B7TL Plaxton Presidents, although these are being phased out in favour of Gemini 2 vehicles displaced from route 21 following its conversion to New Routemaster operation.

I waited nervously at the bus stop in Lewisham, intrigued to find out what bus type I was going to ride. Every other route had passed by except for the 180, but at 15:34 VWL9 emerged from the bus jam and I strode on, taking a front row seat. The bus took a long time to leave Lewisham Town Centre, seeing as the gyratory is currently a pile of mud and all the buses have to work their way round it. After picking up some more passengers at the DLR station, the 180 started to head up Greenwich South Street. This section is fairly residential, but very interesting with Greenwich Park being very close by and many of the roads having a steep gradient. One thing that caught my eye was that all of the apartments were multi coloured, bringing some light and life into this area between two town centres. This road contains some unusual bus stop names, such as Sparta Street, where VWL9 overtook an Enviro 400 MMC on the 199, another brilliant route passing through this area.

After a few minutes the 180 was at Cutty Sark Station, with a lovely view of a bustling Greenwich Market, packed full of shoppers and beautiful christmas decorations, as well as the Cutty Sark ship and the River Thames, whilst an MBNA Thames Clipper glowed in the sunlight, cruising along the River Thames. After a few more passengers boarded the Gemini, the 180 turned left onto Trafalgar Road, where the interesting building of the National Maritime Museum is visible in Greenwich Park. East Greenwich is a mix of small shops and houses, containing some very modern apartments with a Costa in the basement! I wish I had the luxury of walking downstairs to have a Costa hot chocolate every morning, the Costa Express machine in Tesco is broken most of the time! The Greenwich Centre is situated here, offering a range of facilities such as a gym, swimming pool and a library and has some lovely architecture. At this point Trafalgar Road turns into Woolwich Road, and the 180 ducks under the A2 before it turns into the Blackwall Tunnel. I glimpsed a look at the new Sainsbury's Charlton Superstore, which makes up for the closure of the "eco" store on Greenwich Penninsula.

Nearby is a massive retail park, containing shops such as Wickes, Marks & Spencer and a huge Asda, which exists because the O2 Centre and Greenwich Town Centre have very limited space. Next door is Stone Lake Retail Park. which is a scaled down version of the other one, but somehow gets a bus stop named after it! In between you get glimpses of the River Thames, as the sun begins to set, with industrial estates and the dangleway (cable car) in the background. As the 180 approaches Woolwich Dockyard these glimpses of the river become more frequent and in the far distance I could make out an E400 MMC dead-running from Silvertown garage, in the middle of the factories on the other side of the river. In between buildings vessel James Newman could be seen taking a break from duties on the Woolwich Ferry, before the queue of cars and Iceland lorries could be seen waiting to board the free service to transport them to North London.

Then the 180 turns into Woolwich Town Centre, where the bus regulated on Powis Street, whilst a Gemini 3 working route 96 started up and departed, bound for Bluewater. By this point the sun had set and the sky was a beautiful orange, towering over the busy town centre of Woolwich, full of tired shoppers heading home. The 180 stopped outside Woolwich Arsenal station, while the bus continued to load up until most of the seats upstairs were taken. The green space on Thomas Street is interesting, with a massive screen in the middle, broadcasting BBC News to everyone in the town centre. The A206 provided some thrash where the B7TL really showed off its ability to run at high speeds, before the 180 arrived at Plumstead. There is a bus priority scheme in place in the middle of the roundabout, which is particularly effective when the roundabout is full of traffic! Stagecoach London's garage was pretty empty, with a couple of 53's getting ready to head out for the evening peak.

The definition of Plumstead is the smaller version of Woolwich, although the high street does linger on and on for quite some time. One particular shop that caught my eye sells discount fireworks, completes watch repairs and has an "experienced barber", but the windows were covered with posters, making it impossible to see inside. The shop was very versatile, considering the building itself was no larger than an average-sized newsagents!

PVL371 departs Lewisham Clock Tower, bound for Belvedere.
McLeod Road is mainly residential, but the stunning sky distracted me from staring into the houses. This section of road only has a link to Thamesmead Town Centre at night, even though it is very close to this area. However, the best view of the night was in Abbey Wood, where the 180 stops outside the station on a bridge above the railway tracks. I turned to my left to watch the workmen make progress on building the Crossrail station here, but further up Canary Wharf and the Shard could be seen gleaming in the orange sky, just before darkness enveloped the landscape. I was gutted when VWL9 pulled away from the bus stops, but that is a moment I will treasure for a very long time!

Yarnton Way provided some more thrash, with sparse housing and lots of lanes for overtaking! There were lots of bridges connecting the apartments on either side of this road, before the 180 passed some gasometers, suggesting that the terrific journey was coming to an end. Unusually, there is no bus stop for Belvedere Station, despite it being right next to Yarnton Way. Clearly TFL don't think Southeastern run a good enough service to warrant people to actually use it. After navigating two large roundabouts, the 180 turns onto Mulberry Way, delving deep into Belvedere Industrial Area. Ironically, the new blinds for the 180 show "Belvedere INDUSTRIAL ESTATE", although it is called an Industrial Area for a reason. There are two Industrial Estates here (with the 180 serving both of them), so it is not right to include one and not the other!

For some reason, I love going past factories on buses. It feels like you are a world away from the hubbub of Central London, despite still being part of the capital city. The 180 was completely empty throughout this 2 minute section, but I absolutely loved seeing hundreds of lorries parked up, awaiting delivery to relevant stores. The buildings are ancient but extremely satisfying to look at, while the river lies a couple of minutes away. It was almost dark, but in the distance the sun provided some light whilst trucks departed the Lidl warehouse at Belvedere. It was extremely hard getting off the 180, but that's why it's earned its place in the top 10.

The 180 was absolutely fantastic. It contains pretty much everything you'd want from a route: fast buses that keep you on the edge of your seat for the whole journey, a frequent service, stunning views of London, residential sections, thrashy sections, industrial sections and a view out of the window that is never boring. The 180 trumped the C2 and has charged straight in at number 10 on the route ratings page, which is why I seriously recommend you ride this route if you haven't already!

Note: A tender page will appear on the blog in a few days, seeing as it was so popular back in the day. I hope it fascinates you and is as reliable as possible, seeing as 2017 is full of so many service changes! Also, Happy New Year!