Monday, 31 July 2017

Random Observations: July 2017

Hopefully this post should be a light relief from all the intense service changes that have been happening recently, we'll be reporting on those again from next week though!

Abellio London 8880 pauses at Brentford Station on route 195. What's missing?
 The 195 is pretty long for a London bus, taking an indirect route between Brentford County Court and Charville Lane Estate, travelling through Boston Manor, Southall and Hayes in the process. It's heavily used and hopelessly unreliable, with Abellio London struggling to improve service quality since they took over operation of the route in April 2017. After persistent unpleasant experiences, it's become one of my most hated routes in London and I try to avoid using the service as much as possible, but it's usefulness means that sometimes I have to simply put up with the crowds and long gaps as there is often no alternative. Recently, I needed to catch a train from Brentford Station and rather typically, the 195 was the first bus to show up, but my growing passion for Enviro 200 MMC single deckers made the journey slightly more bearable, plus this particular vehicle was an oddity. Originally, I dismissed the missing front logo as this is a fairly common problem seen on the London bus network, but when I stepped inside I noticed that the bus lacked any iBus equipment (meaning that there were no announcements) and the screen that usually conveys information about the destination and next stop of the bus was also absent. There was no CCTV in operation and it seemed like this vehicle had simply been rushed into service, without any London features added, which is very unusual. I've noticed that the bus has been off-road for a few days, so hopefully the necessary equipment has been installed, to provide an adequate journey for commuters who rely on this important technology!

Arriva London T163 on stand at Thornton Heath Pond, preparing for another 64 journey in South London.
Since Go-Ahead lost the 64 contract to Arriva London, the route has been slammed for its poor service reliability, and the positive comments the 64 received under the old service simply diminished in an instant, with a vehicle catching fire within the first week of operation not helping either! Although the route is no longer praised and respected much in the enthusiast community, the service seems to have improved slightly and I was willing to try out the route a couple of weeks ago. I was pleasantly surprised by my fast Enviro 400, which seemed to tackle the challenging hills in Selsdon with ease and was capable of reaching high speeds, especially around the rural parts of Addington Village, contrary to reports by other enthusiasts that Thornton Heath (TH) garage has persistent poor maintenance. Whether this vehicle is able to keep up its healthy state is another matter, but my first experience on one of their buses was positive, and the routeing is pretty interesting too. Starting off in Thornton Heath, the route travels through urban Croydon, before quickly leaving the town centre and diving into some of the wealthier residential areas of South London, before taking a circuitous route around the extensive complex of Addington, in an attempt to serve as much housing as possible. Although I'm generally not a fan of residential routes, this one stood out because of the sheer variety of areas it passed through, from the hilly upper-class section in Croham Valley, to New Addington, where rural fields and dense tower blocks were seconds apart. I highly recommend this route if you're in the Croydon area and hopefully you get a decent bus like me!

London United MCL30306 on route 203 to Hounslow Bus Station.

Running from Staines-Hounslow Bus Station, the 203 has always been popular in linking the two shopping districts, passing through lots of residential housing in between. This fairly quiet route is now well-known to the enthusiast community, as it's allocated the only Mercedes Citaro buses in the London United fleet; in my opinion they're also some of the best examples in London, capable of high speeds along the Great South West Road, which the 203 serves. Having said that, reliability has always been an issue with these vehicles and I'm slightly worried about the future of them, especially as the equally unique Optare Tempo buses based at Hounslow (AV) garage are at risk of withdrawal. Hopefully the 203 will continue to be a significant, substantial single deck route, rather than an irrelevant residential bus that runs at out of Hounslow less frequently than it deserves, which unfortunately was the sorry state of the route before 2011.

Stansted Express 379018 awaits departure at Tottenham Hale, bound for London Liverpool Street.
I've never been particularly fond of Greater Anglia, due to their ageing, worn-out class 315/317 trains that make up the majority of the fleet, and also tend to work most suburban rail routes in London. Some of the limited modern kit can be found running between London Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport every 15 minutes, with 8 coaches that often carry fresh air! Typically, all three "airport express" services run empty for the majority of the day, with only a few trips that justify the elongated trains. The Stansted Express is unique because you can use your oyster card on this service, as they do stop at Tottenham Hale, providing a handy fast link into Central London for those residents, on a luxurious Electrostar. Thankfully, there's a bright future ahead for the Greater Anglia franchise, as the entire fleet will be replaced with brand new trains by September 2020, hopefully making those occasional trips into NE London slightly more bearable.

Abellio London 8569 pauses at Ealing Broadway Station on the E1 to Greenford.
Due to a severe vehicle shortage at Hayes (WS) garage, the E1 was downgraded to partial single deck operation last Monday, with two Enviro 200's fulfilling these rather embarrassing duties. As this was an unexpected circumstance, neither of the vehicles were blinded, so some paper was stuck in the window and the buses took various trips ferrying the poor passengers between Greenford and Ealing in the evening peak.  I was concerned about how these vehicles would cope in rush hour, especially as I've been on double deck vehicles that have left people behind on this route! Thankfully, these buses haven't returned to the E1 and hopefully commuters will permanently have their much-needed second deck. Personally, I would've sent the single deckers out onto the E9, as this route is generally quieter in rush hour, but I have a feeling that the punishment would be much more significant if these vehicles were sent out onto my preferred route as the contract was renewed much later and only given DDs recently.

A Stagecoach London E200 is seen during a blind change, showing this rather ambiguous destination.

When I first saw the destination 'Five Ways, Green Lane' on a 314 blind change, I was completely baffled as Stagecoach don't run any routes that pass the infamous 'Fiveways' junction in Croydon. However, I later found out that there is a similar crossing in South-East London also notorious for heavy traffic,  specifically in New Eltham, which the 314 passes through towards the end of its tedious journey from Addington. Blind specificity has been a controversial issue recently, with some being far too vague such as this example on the 314, where I had absolutely no clue where the bus would've been terminating if this was the actual destination, and others being inconsistently specific, like the new 266 blinds that display "Hammersmith Bus Station", which isn't shown on any of the other 10 routes terminating there. Additionally, there are actually two bus stations in Hammersmith, making this blind even more confusing and pointless! If bus nationalisation did take place, this would be one resolved issue, as all blinds would be ordered by the same people!

Tower Transit MV38238 on route 58 to Walthamstow Central.
 Interestingly, this particular vehicle has been accused of "stalking enthusiasts" lately, with a large number of people reporting to have ridden this bus on several occasions, or significantly more than the rest of the batch. After catching MV38238 on the 308 back in May, I was surprised to find this on stand at East Ham Central Park on the 58 last Saturday, even though appearances on the route aren't too common. The 58 has always been hated by the enthusiast community, being traffic-filled, unreliable and pretty overcrowded, providing many useful links across North-East London but also  avoiding Stratford Town Centre, which is the main reason for its popularity. Nevertheless, I attempted to ride the 58 on a Saturday morning and found the actual routeing pretty decent, passing through a wide variety of residential areas and urban high streets, with occasional glimpses of nature like Wanstead Flats. My bus was very busy and some roadworks in Upton Park meant that my journey was anything but fast, although I still enjoyed my experience and hopefully this route shall remain in my good books, which definitely relies on me avoiding it during rush hour! 

London United LT85 on Oxford Street.
Unusually, my number 10 bus was curtailed to the Royal Albert Hall recently, which is a fairly common curtailment for route 9, but not seen much on its sister route. The 10 has had a tragic downfall since the introduction of Wrightbus New Routemaster vehicles, with it's high rating simply vanishing after these horrid buses infested the route. Since its re-route to Russell Square, it's been made even more useful and unfortunately I haven't been successful in avoiding the service, which was my initial plan for all 'LT routes'. With the Oxford Street Bus Reduction Plan in full swing, I've begun to question the future of this route, especially with the alternative routes being largely duplicated by other buses, namely the 9 and 390. An obvious suggestion would be to divert the route via Shaftesbury Avenue between Hyde Park Corner and Tottenham Court Road, although this would match 75% of the routeing of the number 9, and perhaps the aforementioned iconic bus route will be withdrawn, with the 6 being diverted via Pall Mall. Although his extreme change is unlikely to happen due to the sheer number of complaints TFL would receive concerning the "loss of number 9", it would save them a lot of money...

Go-Ahead London LDP183 stands at Kennington Lane Tesco on free bus route 877.
In order to promote Kennington Lane Tesco, a free, commercial bus route numbered the 877 was set up to provide a link for residents living near Vauxhall, specifically in the Black Prince Road area. It runs every 20 minutes in a loop format, with Go-Ahead London running the service with a solitary cream-coloured 9.3m Dart Pointer, which ironically used to work on route 360 that also serves the area. Only operating on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10am-3pm, this route acts as a lifeline to many elderly residents, who like using their free bus service which prevents them from having to face a tedious long walk to the shops. Apparently, the route will be withdrawn from September, which is a real shame as London loses another completely unique bus route, that happens to be well-used too. As usual, it seems that Tesco's introduction of this bus service wasn't entirely altruistic and was simply a method of raising awareness of the opening of this superstore; they're perfectly aware that these residents will continue to visit Tesco after the bus withdrawal, albeit via a less convenient mode of transport. I absolutely loved my ride last Tuesday, passing through some ridiculously tight narrow roads (requiring a very experienced driver whom I most credit) and some unique areas which mainstream London bus services simply don't serve. It goes through some of the most run-down areas of inner South London and is almost like the antithesis of the famous 399 from Barnet-Hadley Wood Station, serving completely different areas but for the exact same purpose. Unfortunately, variety on the London bus network seems to be disappearing rapidly, so if you want to make the most of it make sure that you don't neglect this wonderful service; it's free too!

ADE40308 terminates at Cromwell Road Bus Station, on a rare appearance working route 411.
The 411 is the only bus route that serves West Molesey, a middle-class residential area located on the outskirts of South-West London near the River Thames, in close proximity to Walton On-Thames and Hampton Court. The route only takes 25 minutes from start to finish, but it's very popular due to the cheaper fares that TFL provide, compared to the Abellio Surrey commercial services. An extension of the 411 beyond West Molesey would certainly be welcome, but unfortunately cross-boundary services are being withdrawn rather than instated, so the 411 will always remain a single deck route that has potential to be more useful. Due to the sheer popularity of the service (and some loose allocations at Epsom garage), the 411 occasionally uses a double deck vehicle from routes 406/418, which was certainly justified on my trip, where almost 50% of seats on the upper deck were taken. If TFL weren't on such a tight budget, I'm sure this route would be investigated for full-time double deck operation, and West Molesey residents would be very grateful for their new-found extra capacity, which might even make the service more attractive. Despite the short length, I really enjoyed the 411 and hopefully I won't ever have to experience a crowded single deck journey on this excellent route!

Thanks for reading and stay safe!