Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Northern Piccadilly Changes

The area surrounding the North end of the Piccadilly Line has seen a decent number of bus service changes over the past couple of months, with Holloway Road, Turnpike Lane, Southgate and Cockfosters stations all welcoming various enthusiasts who recently covered the respective contract changes and new route introductions. Chronologically, the first change we're documenting occurred on Saturday 3rd June 2017, concerning the 217, running between Waltham Cross and Turnpike Lane Station.

Sullivan Buses E77 arrives at Waltham Cross Bus Station on a route 217 journey from Turnpike Lane Station.
Sullivan Buses are London's only independent bus operator, based at South Mimms (SM) garage. They operate a mixture of commercial routes around the Potters Bar area, and TFL services such as the 298 and W9, as well as contributing to weekend rail replacement services using their spare double deckers that are officially allocated to school work. They successfully won their third TFL contract in November 2016 for route 217, which was previously run from Metroline's Potters Bar (PB) garage. The former allocation consisted of ADL Enviro 400 double deckers, part of a common user arrangement at the garage, with routes 82 and W8. The service under Metroline was pretty decent for such a difficult route; even though its physical length is quite short (Waltham Cross-Bush Hill Park-Edmonton-Turnpike Lane), the route sticks to the Great Cambridge Road for the majority of the journey, which is home to road traffic accidents fairly frequently, resulting in tailbacks and chaos that  can rapidly deteriorate the service of the 217.

The batch of brand new ADL Enviro 400 MMC diesel double deckers (the last non-hybrids to enter service in London) arrived early, allowing them to venture onto route 298 before the contract change, to iron out any teething issues. Sullivan Buses have ordered personalised number plates for the vehicles, with the last three letters "SUL" abbreviating the company name, and the first two letters standing for the initials of drivers who work for the company. The vehicles will also contain posters documenting the history of route 217, suggesting that Sullivan Buses really take pride in their brand new batch of E400s. The first day produced a poor service, with lots of bunching and curtailments - at one point there wasn't a single bus heading towards Turnpike Lane, although the customary accident along the A10 wasn't helpful for the controllers.

Since the contract change, the service has improved slightly, but the company are evidently still struggling with this service, a massive step up from the much quieter 298 and W9. Having said that, customer service is brilliant, with lots of friendly staff members, such as the driver of E77 on Saturday 29th July 2017. The route itself is fairly interesting, passing through a mixture of residential and commercial areas at high speed along the dual carriageway. The extremely tight running times in the early morning hours mean that a fast-paced journey is guaranteed, with drivers struggling to keep up to their schedule! The buses themselves (E70-E81) seem to be a little underpowered from my limited observations, but I'm sure they will be popular with enthusiasts as the last diesel double deckers to enter service in London! Occasionally, other double deck vehicles found at South Mimms (SM) garage have strayed onto the route, such as the Scania OmniCity buses normally allocated to school work. It seems that Sullivan Buses are trying their hardest to improve service levels and I think they will get there eventually; we must remember that running a major trunk route between two town centres for the first time isn't easy!

Metroline Travel DEM1351 stands at Millbrook Park, before starting another 382 journey to Southgate.
On Saturday 15th July 2017, route 382 (Millbrook Park-Mill Hill East-Finchley Central-Friern Barnet-Arnos Grove-Southgate) was awarded to Metroline Travel, with some existing single deckers. The previous operator, Arriva London, ran the route from Edmonton (EC) garage with some 8.9m ADL Enviro 200 single deckers, which were only introduced on the route recently following the loss of the 192 to Go-Ahead London. Under the previous contract, the service was pretty poor, with frequent gaps and a noticeable lack of buses in service on many occasions. Many enthusiasts predicted that the route would pass to Metroline upon contract renewal, especially with the rumoured closure of Edmonton (EC) garage, which still hasn't happened yet! Existing single deckers were compatible with the latest contract standards, which gave the route a modest capacity increase to 9.3m single deckers, involving the addition of a second door. The 15 minute frequency of the 382 is suitable for this quiet route, providing some useful round-the-corner links in North London, as well as serving housing areas that main bus routes simply cannot reach. The route was recently extended to the Millbrook Park housing development site, which is a couple of minutes further than the previous terminus, Mill Hill East Station.

On Saturday 15th July 2017, Metroline took over the contract for route 382, with some existing ADL Enviro 200 DEM-class single deckers based at Potters Bar (PB) garage, made available from the loss of the W9 to Sullivan Buses earlier in the year. As usual, the first day produced a terrible service, with constant bunching and curtailments, even worse than the previous operator. Thankfully, this was only temporary and since then the service has improved drastically, with buses generally maintaining an even service. Hopefully, local residents are grateful for their new-found reliable service and longer buses, which should make travelling on the 382 much easier, if Metroline can keep up their excellent work.

The route itself isn't that interesting, passing through lots of residential areas that look fairly similar to each other. Additionally, the DEM-class single deck buses have astonishingly powerful heating, which might be useful in the colder months, but managed to almost send me to sleep last week! As there weren't enough ex-W9 vehicles to cover the Peak Vehicle Requirement for routes 382 and 384, a couple of DEM-class single deckers have transferred over from Alperton (ON) garage, the only other Metroline garage with this type of vehicle, with some longer DE-class E200 buses replacing them in West London. I wish good luck to Metroline for the next five years, who have become the second operator to attempt running this rather neglected route in North London.

Metroline West DEM1916, one of the recent transfers from Alperton (ON) garage, is seen at Barnet Hospital on route 384.
Metroline also retained route 384 (Cockfosters-Bevan Estate-New Barnet-High Barnet-Quinta Drive) on Saturday 15th July 2017, with a controversial frequency reduction to every 20 minutes. Many enthusiasts were angered by this preposterous change, with the 384 being fairly busy under the previous contract. It serves a lot of dense residential housing, especially near Cockfosters and I was gutted when the frequency reduction was announced, as this emphasises the sorry state TFL are in, being forced to make bus cuts with their limited amount of money. The only good news is that longer buses are now being used on the route, partially compensating for the loss of 1bph. Like the 382, the 384 now uses DEM-class vehicles displaced from the W9, but the Alperton transfers also appear on the route fairly regularly, such as DEM1916 illustrated above.

Even though the routeing is heavily residential and quite mundane at times, the sheer number of twists and turns make this route quite unique, especially as they are all concentrated in one small part of Barnet. Most of these indirect routes are forgotten by transport enthusiasts, but this one is famous for destroying the dreams of those undertaking the Tube Challenge, where the main aim is to visit all 270 London Underground stations in one day. The close proximity of High Barnet and Cockfosters (the termini of the Northern and Piccadilly lines respectively) means that a short bus connection is incredibly useful for tube challengers, but only the number 307 travels between the two quickly. Many have made the awful mistake of taking the 384 bus between the two, and losing out on what could've been a world record finish. Knowing your bus routes well really does help sometimes!

Go-Ahead London WVN14 is seen at Holloway Nags Head at the start of a route 530 journey to Islington Angel.
The most valuable section of Upper Street (near Angel Station) is closed Southbound until November 2017, for "essential works." As a result, a large number of bus routes have been diverted away from the area and a new temporary route has been set up to act as a lifeline for residents who are currently isolated from the majority of the rest of the bus network. However, the buses are still using their normal line of route heading Northbound. Heading in the opposite direction, routes 4, 19, 38, 56 and 341 have been diverted via New North Road, Old Street and Clerkenwell Road, avoiding the Angel area entirely. The 73 has been diverted via New North Road, Old Street Roundabout and City Road, so it still serves Islington Angel, but doesn't travel along some of Essex Road to get there. The 43 and 274 have been diverted via Caledonian Road and Pentonville Road, with the former no longer serving Upper Street or Highbury & Islington and the latter no long serving Copenhagen Street or Barnsbury Road. The 153 has been diverted via King's Cross Road, no longer serving some of St John Street, whilst the 30 and 476 have been diverted via Tolpuddle Street and Chapel Market. These routes still serve Islington Angel and Upper Street/Essex Road respectively, only missing out the first two stops along Pentonville Road.

 A temporary route, numbered the 530, is running between Holloway Nags Head and Islington Angel Southbound only, every 12-13 minutes from 6am-11pm. This route maintains the link between Nags Head and Islington Angel lost by the 43 diversion, and also serves all stops along Upper Street, which have lost three bus routes due to the works. The 530 has a peak vehicle requirement of 3 buses and refurbished WVN-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 vehicles are being used, based at Northumberland Park (NP) garage. From my observations, the route is extremely popular for a temporary service, picking up lots of passengers at every stop along the way, which justifies the use of double deck vehicles, something I questioned when the service was introduced on Wednesday 16th August. There has been some disruption and I do suggest you avoid the area, but Angel was surprisingly traffic-free when I visited on last Saturday.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

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