Tuesday, 26 December 2017

West London (United)

London United, a part of RATP Dev London, have been busy in West London as of late, with their recent work including the introduction of New Routemasters on the 267 and a mid-contract takeover of route E10 following a surrender by Arriva.

3428 pulls into Greenford Broadway en route to Ealing, sporting the old Arriva logo.
 Before London United stepped in, the situation regarding the E10 was rather complicated. Technically, Tellings Golden Miller, a subsidiary of Arriva London, had won the contract from Metroline with the vehicles based at their Heathrow (HE) garage, although anything TFL-related (iBus etc) was controlled by Arriva Southern Counties. However, in 2016 the route was transferred to Arriva London operation, in an attempt to integrate all of the operator's TFL routes. Tellings Golden Miller became a family based operator once more and sold Heathrow (HE) garage to their management, OFJ Connections, who then gave their depot to Rotala. This meant that there were a bunch of Arriva London E200s sat in a yard full of non-TFL vehicles belonging to a different company. Additionally, the dead run to Ealing Broadway was exhausting and involved excessive usage of a dual carriageway, so the buses became tired quickly and frequently needed repairs. In essence, the E10's management was not ideal and Arriva were understandably struggling to maintain an operable service, especially with the garage being in an inconvenient location and having no facilities, and the need for spare vehicles from Dartford (DT) garage, which is around 30 miles away. This mess was unnecessary and Arriva decided to surrender the service in the middle of the contract, meaning that another operator would take over the route until the full term was up.

London United SDE20286 is seen at Ealing Broadway.
London United were the chosen operator, with the new base for the E10 being Hounslow Heath (HH) garage. The existing Arriva E200s and their drivers transferred over swiftly, with the presentation on the first day being perfect with new logos and drivers wearing the correct uniform - the interior being the only give away that this bus wasn't originally handled by RATP. Fleet numbers have been changed to fit in with the SDE class given by London United for this bus type, rather than the "ENN" system which Arriva provided. The route is now controlled from its base and spare buses usually come in the form of an older E200 from the E11 allocation, although this has only happened once and since then the vehicle has returned to its home garage in Park Royal. Operation has been decent so far, with the E10 not being particularly demanding, mostly using back roads between Ealing and Northolt. In addition to the improved management and operation, conditions should hopefully become better for the passengers using the service, subject to the TFL Crossrail consultation, which is now closed. The E10 will receive a frequency increase to every 12 minutes and an allocation of longer buses, which should hopefully relieve the overcrowding on this service and prepare it for the introduction of the Crossrail service at Ealing Broadway, which is likely to increase passenger numbers on the route. Therefore, the E10 is now in a much better place with London United than Arriva and hopefully further improvement is due soon in regards to passenger experience.



London United SLE40660 is seen at Brentford Market Place.
Route 267 runs between Hammersmith and Fulwell, passing through Chiswick, Brentford and Twickenham at a 10 minute frequency in rush hour, which justifies 17 buses for its peak vehicle requirement. London United operates the route from its Fulwell (FW) garage, which is conveniently the Southern terminus for the 267. Reliability has always been hit and miss, although the demanding nature of the route, which includes traffic hotspots like Chiswick Roundabout and Twickenham, can frequently cause disruption beyond the control of the operator. Scania OmniDekka (SLE-class) vehicles have made up the 267 allocation for a number of years now, with both this batch (ex-27) and the older vehicles which have moved on to duties outside of London. These buses are a rarity within London and only one other operator, Go-Ahead, has them, on a limited number of routes running around Croydon. However, the SLEs are expected to operate on the London Overground replacement service (between Gospel Oak and South Tottenham) until Sunday 14th January 2017 and not all of them have left 267 duties yet - RATP also have some others on route 292 in North-West London. The allocation at Fulwell (FW) garage has always been fairly loose, so other types like Scania OmniCitys, Trident ALX400s and Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles can appear regularly. Due to the Chiswick High Road low emissions corridor, the 267 now requires greener buses that match the demanding standards. Therefore, the long awaited final batch of New Routemasters have now been allocated to this service and are starting to enter service already.

London United LT149 is seen at Twickenham Station, with no flag tiles on the bus stop.
In addition to the brand new batch, two existing vehicles were transferred down from Stamford Brook (V) garage, following a PVR reduction on route 10. These buses have been used for type training and entered service prematurely in November and were the only two examples of the LT-class buses on the 267 for a considerable amount of time. I was never a fan of this particular batch of vehicles, which made my expectations low when I managed to catch one during a mid-November morning. Thankfully, the bus was empty so this didn't make my experience too uncomfortable, but being on one of these "Central London bound" buses in the West London suburbs of Brentford felt strange and wrong. In my opinion, the Scania OmniDekka buses are so much better, offering larger windows and being infinitely faster and often fulfilling the thrash opportunities found on this route. This LT felt sluggish and sounded unhappy at high speeds and I honestly couldn't wait to alight after my brief ride. Personally, I think these vehicles have ruined the 267, although I decided to give the type another chance by sampling one of the newer vehicles when they finally entered service.

London United LT991 is seen at Hammersmith.
The final batch of New Routemasters, LT984-LT1000, tentatively entered service on the 267 at the beginning of December, although their introduction has been very slow and the older SLEs still dominate for the time being. Coincidentally, one turned up last Sunday to start a trip to Central London, with my journey being from Brentford-Hammersmith. The bus was surprisingly busy for 8am, with everyone staying on until the penultimate stop, although there were still a few seats upstairs and I luckily managed to bag my favourite on these buses - at the back on the right. Typically, the bus was freezing and it seems that the temperature on these LTs is consistently irritating for passengers, feeling like a greenhouse in summer but rather like being inside a refrigerator during the colder months. In my opinion, this batch of vehicles are superior to the existing ones, partially because they haven't had the opportunity to become tired after working for a long period of time. They seem more refined and have a better build quality and the bus seemed to be more willing to reach higher speeds, although this was no match for the Scania OmniDekka that flew past in the other direction.

In conclusion, this second change has been disappointing, decreasing the likeability one of my local routes and making travelling on it a chore, which is a real shame. The OmniDekkas gave the route character and the views are quite interesting throughout, especially between Brentford and Hammersmith. With the new LTs, the small windows obstruct your ability to admire the surroundings, conditions are almost always uncomfortable and they are simply very boring compared to the older vehicles. They all sound the same, have the same interior and have the ability to make a bus journey pretty depressing, for me. If you haven't sampled the 267 yet, my recommendation would be to nip down to West London quickly and enjoy the OmniDekkas, although if you're a fan of the New Routemaster then perhaps wait to try and catch one of the new vehicles, as they are slightly more bearable than LT149/LT150.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!


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