Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Busageddon: SD Major Model Change Catch-Up

The ADL Enviro 200 MMC has been very popular with many London bus companies, who have consistently ordered this vehicle type for their new contracts since its debut in late 2015. This post will focus on London United and Abellio, who have pushed these vehicles into service on routes 70, 464, R68 and R70 over the past couple of months, so you may notice that most of the buses illustrated in pictures look pretty similar!

Tower Transit DML44315 on route 70 to Chiswick, Business Park.
The 70 is one of the longest single deck routes in London, taking a very indirect routeing from South Kensington-Chiswick Business Park, via Ladbroke Grove and East Acton. It gets reasonably busy with single deckers and some enthusiasts have requested a double deck conversion of this route, which would make it much more enjoyable! However, the recent extension to Chiswick Business Park hasn't been particularly successful, with buses rarely carrying more than 1 or 2 passengers beyond Acton Town. Tower Transit previously operated the route with a dedicated batch of ADL Enviro 200 buses from Westbourne Park (X) garage, and it didn't receive any odd workings as it was the only single deck route based at that garage. Considering how challenging and long this route is, Tower Transit operated the route pretty well, with occasional hiccups but a generally reliable service, providing much-needed support to the 7 for the majority of the route. However, when the tender results were published many enthusiasts were surprised to find that London United had won the route from Shepherd's Bush (S) garage, being the fourth operator to run this route within five years! Specifically, Metroline ran the 70 for the first half of 2012, but the contract was awarded to First London. However, they sold their London operations in June 2013 and Tower Transit took control for four years until 2017, and now London United are attempting to operate the service, hopefully for more than a couple of years this time!

On the first day of the new contract, an ADL Enviro 200 MMC stands at Chiswick Business Park.
Due to increasing pollution levels in Central London, which this route serves, the contract was awarded with electric single deckers, which will arrive next year in the form of BYD Enviro 200 MMCs, which are essentially the electric equivalent of what currently runs on the route. As the electric buses aren't scheduled to arrive for a while after the contract change, a temporary allocation of Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered as a stop-gap until the new vehicles eventually arrive. These MMCs will then transfer to route H22 to replace older stock after their short stint on the 70. Having ridden on these vehicles twice, I can confirm that (in my opinion) these are some of the nicest Enviro 200 MMCs in London, with a welcoming, comfortable interior and excellent potential for speed. My only criticism is the annoying stop-start feature which pointlessly wastes time at bus stops and traffic lights, but unfortunately this is becoming a normality for all new vehicles. It will be a shame to lose these excellent buses from a local route, but the prospect of electric vehicles roaming around West London is certainly exciting.

The only vehicle to appear on route 70 since the new contract that isn't part of its allocation, DE20096, awaits departure at Acton Town.

London United have been fairly strict with the allocation of route 70, with only one odd appearance since the contract change, in the form of DE20096, which is currently allocated to the C1. In terms of reliability, the route was troublesome for the first few days with some nasty gaps and bunching, although since then London United have developed their understanding of this difficult route and can now operate it better than Tower Transit did for the previous contract. Due to space constraints at Shepherd's Bush garage, the 272 was shifted to Stamford Brook (V) garage, with the 419 moving from there to Hounslow (AV) garage, one of the only London United garages with space after their recent losses. Personally, I think the 70 has a bright future ahead, with even more new vehicles, and hopefully a reliable service if London United can keep up their excellent start. I wish them luck for the next five years and maybe they'll actually retain the route for the next contract!

Abellio London 8171 arrives at New Addington, ready for another 464 journey to Tatsfield.
One of the quieter single deck routes in London is the 464, running between Tatsfield Village and New Addington via Biggin Hill, on the edge of South-East London, acting as a lifeline for residents living on the border with Surrey. It's one of my favourite single decker routes in London, passing through some very rural areas and offering some spectacular views of the countryside that are pretty unique for a TFL bus service. The route only takes 20 minutes from start to finish and contains a mixture of residential and rural thrash sections, but in general it's a very fast-paced route and well-suited to all enthusiasts who prefer non-London bus services; it even tackles a hill with a 15% gradient! This particular road is also the reason why it's impossible to increase the frequency of this route; the buses simply can't meet each other on Saltbox Hill and the route has a special timetable with a "do not proceed" rule for the Northbound vehicle; it simply has to wait in Biggin Hill until the Tatsfield-bound bus has departed.  It has a peak vehicle requirement of two vehicles and runs every 30 minutes during the day from Monday-Saturday, and hourly for evenings and Sunday, although there are special school trips which between Biggin Hill and New Addington during term time which are timetabled very closely to the normal service.

8171 waits at the rural terminus at Tatsfield Village.
Previously, the route was run by Go-Ahead London from Orpington (MB) garage, with a general allocation of Mini Dart Pointers, although any vehicle small enough could appear, such as ADL E200s or even Optare Solo's from the R8. They had lots of experience with running this route and many enthusiasts were gutted when the route was lost to Abellio upon contract renewal, who were expected to have a difficult time in getting to know the 464. The route is now based at Beddington Cross (BC) garage and three brand new Enviro 200 MMCs entered service on time, although a couple of buses from the 367's allocation have strayed onto the route since then. In terms of reliability, there have been no issues apart from on the first day, where one of the buses (8172) was experiencing difficulties with the infamous stop-start technology, which caused some delays. Naturally, the new drivers struggled with the route for the first few days, not being aware of the need to accelerate sharply before attempting Saltbox Hill, therefore causing the buses to struggle with the steep incline. Stop-start technology will never be ideal for such a fast-paced route, but thankfully the drivers can simply by-pass this annoying feature by leaving the handbrake on at bus stops. The local residents are certainly appreciative of their new vehicles and hopefully Abellio can run the service well for the next five years, with the teething troubles ironed out as they get to know this very quirky route!

Abellio London 8878 stands at Kew Retail Park preparing for departure on route R68 to Hampton Court.

The R68 is one of two "Richmond prefix" routes, running between Kew Retail Park and Hampton Court via Teddington and Twickenham. It can get extremely busy with many visitors to Hampton Court Palace liking the service which conveniently transports them to a wide variety of areas in South-West London, providing some unique links. Abellio have always run the route well, providing a reliable service even with some of the capacity issues this route faces; a frequency increase would certainly be welcome. Nevertheless, brand new Enviro 200 MMCs were ordered for the new contract and they've slowly started to enter service at Fulwell (TF) garage, where the route is based. However, a common user pool arrangement also involving routes 350 and 195 means that the R68 vehicles spend most of their time away from their allocated route, and the majority of vehicles found on the R68 are still the former allocation, which will still be used at the garage to eventually replace older stock.
Abellio London 8881 pauses at Richmond Station en route to Nurserylands.

The R70 has also been retained recently with ADL Enviro 200 MMCs, but these vehicles haven't entered service yet. However, some of the existing MMCs at the garage have already worked the route, so I can already give an accurate representation of the future! The R70 can also get quite busy, linking the dense residential area of Nurserylands and Richmond quickly and efficiently, operating in a one-way loop to turn around at the end. Like the R68, the former allocation of Enviro 200 vehicles will be used to replace older stock, namely Dart Nimbus and Dart Pointer vehicles which are somehow still roaming around the garage. Hopefully, residents of Hampton and Richmond will enjoy their new vehicles and I wish Abellio good luck for the next five years in running both these routes. This change concludes the recent single deck contract renewals, but there will certainly be more to come as the successful Enviro 200 MMC becomes even more common in London. Thanks for reading and stay safe!