Friday, 26 May 2017

Busageddon: Misfits All Over London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The glamorous new bus stop at Leamouth.

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

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