Sunday, 7 January 2018

Squaring Up Sloane's Changes

Go-Ahead London have recently invested in a considerable number of new single deckers for routes running around the Sloane Square area, with the 360 receiving new BYD ADL E200 MMCs as a result of the low emission zone which this route enters, whilst the 170 has recently gained some Wrightbus Streetlite buses for its contract renewal. In addition to the excitement surrounding new buses, roadworks have resulted in a lengthy diversion in the area for the 170 and a temporary route installed for the next few months.

Go-Ahead London WES1 is seen at Elephant & Castle at the start of a journey to Royal Albert Hall.
Route 360 runs from the Royal Albert Hall to Elephant & Castle, via an interesting route that involves travelling through South Kensington, Sloane Square, Pimlico and Vauxhall. It has a 12 minute frequency during the day and is one of my favourite single deck services on offer in London, mainly because of the unique routeing which appreciates so many different areas in such a short space of time. From the bustling bewilderment of Elephant & Castle, the route passes the Imperial War Museum and travels through a run-down housing estate on Black Prince Road. Some stunning riverside views can be appreciated after this short section, before a beautiful Thames crossing which takes you into the upmarket parts of Pimlico. After another section alongside the water, the 360 randomly undertakes a double run to serve Bull Ring Gate, but after this it travels through some of the richest parts of London, around Sloane Square and Kensington. The cobbled Exhibition Road, home to the Science Museum, is very odd to travel down on a London bus, whilst the terminus at Royal Albert Hall is surprisingly quiet, with tall buildings surrounding and overshadowing the bus stand. There's simply nothing else like the 360 in this City, in regards to both its route and its allocation, although the variety might vanish soon with the recent introduction of electric buses.

On paper, the former allocation consisted of Wrightbus Electrocity hybrid single deckers and two batches worked the service, with the first seven buses being four years older than the last six. They have been the only examples in London for some time and I thoroughly enjoyed my travels on them, being considerably different to the plethora of boring E200s which are found on almost every other single deck services. Unfortunately, most of them have been withdrawn, although a couple have found new temporary homes on the 286 in South-East London (more on that later). In addition to the WHY-class Electrocity vehicles, some E200s from the P5 worked the route occasionally and a large number of demonstrator buses in the Go-Ahead London have found themselves on the 360 recently, ranging from a Wrightbus Streetlite to the prototype BYD integral electric single decker. However, the cherry on top is the occasional usage of an electric Wrightbus StreetAir vehicle, which is illustrated above. It's the only example of the type in service on the London network after more than a year of dummy runs. Its motor sounds very similar to a New Routemaster, although the bus feels very nippy and has really large windows which are perfect for viewing the fascinating surroundings on the 360. Despite the severe lack of seats, I really enjoyed my experience on the StreetAir and I do hope this type is ordered in substantial numbers for future orders. The two electric demonstrators are still in (intermittent) use on the 360 at the moment, along with the main allocation of BYD ADL E200 MMCs, which have recently entered service at Camberwell (Q) garage.

Go-Ahead London SEe57 is seen at the Royal Albert Hall.
This batch of 13 vehicles started to enter service towards the end of November, although a couple still haven't made it onto the route yet and another has temporarily migrated to North London in order to train route 153 drivers before its conversion to electric operation in February. Unusually, one of the 12m versions normally allocated the red arrow 507/521 services appeared on the 360 just before this batch entered service, without blinds too! These buses are much shorter than the previous examples found on the red arrow routes and do not have open boarding, so the traditional "board at the front, alight at the back" rule still applies. Unlike the red arrow vehicles, they do not have the upgraded iBus screen, although USB ports are conveniently still present and I strongly advise you remember to pack your phone charger when travelling on the 360! There seem to be plenty of seats and are almost like a completely different bus type to its predecessors, with the engine also sounding substantially different and being much quieter. My overall impression is that these vehicles are an adequate replacement for the old guard, being smooth and stylish as well as offering excellent on-board facilities. They are also still fairly unique in London, being only the second batch to hit the streets here, which follows the trend of having non-standard buses for the 360. I find them pleasant to travel on and in my opinion, the 360 is still as brilliant as it was before. There seems to be a positive response from drivers at Camberwell (Q) garage and hopefully this conversion can be viewed as successful by everyone.

Go-Ahead London WHY13 is seen in Blackheath on route 286.
 Due to the unreliability of the ADL Enviro 200s currently allocated to the 286, two of the ex-360 Wrightbus Electrocity vehicles have temporarily transferred to Morden Wharf (MG) garage whilst the 286 buses receive modifications. WHY8 and WHY13 won't be around for long, but if you want to say farewell to this lovely type an opportunity has unexpectedly risen. The route runs from Greenwich-Queen Mary's Hospital via Blackheath and Sidcup and the two buses often run together, which can be advantageous if you happen to miss one of them, but a real pain if your previous bus is so slow you end up not making both and have to wait 2 hours for them to return! Be pessimistic with your planning and hopefully you're successful in catching one.

Go-Ahead London DP200 is seen in Clapham Junction on route 170.
One of the busiest single deck services in London is numbered the 170, running from Roehampton to Victoria, via Putney Heath, Wandsworth, Clapham Junction and Sloane Square. Unfortunately, the residential section in Battersea prevents double deckers from running along the full route, resulting in buses that are consistently busy throughout the day and severely overcrowded during rush hour - Stockwell (SW) garage even occasionally put out E400 MMC DDs as short workings between Roehampton and Clapham Junction only. The former allocation consisted of ageing Dart Pointer vehicles and some newer ADL Enviro 200s, although unusually the latter type seem to have disappeared after the introduction of a partial allocation of new buses and the DP-class vehicles still soldier on.

Go-Ahead London WS106 is seen at London Victoria. It was lovely to see some Chelsea Pensioners using the bus, you can just make out their uniform towards the rear of the photo.
Thirteen Wrightbus Streetlites entered service in time for the contract renewal, which started on Saturday 9th December 2017. They are slightly longer than previous models ordered for route 491, which is crucial for the high loadings that this service receives and were initially meant to replace the Dart Pointer vehicles. Overall, they seem better than your average Streetlite, having a decent ride quality and the ability to reach decent speeds, proved by WS106 in the Sloane Square area. As a route, the 170 seems to be fairly interesting in terms of external surroundings, although riding it during quieter times will make a huge difference in the enjoyment of your ride, as being surrounded by a swarm of standees isn't really ideal. However, if you're fussy (like me) about only completing routes when it follows its allocated path, make sure to ride the 170 towards Victoria as the Roehampton-bound service is currently undertaking two lengthy diversions, with the second not finishing until March. One of them is in the Battersea area, where a safety issue on Lombard Road is sending buses away from the residential area there, whilst the second is as a result of gas works on Chelsea Embankment. This means that Roehampton buses are diverting via the King's Road instead, which is some distance away from the area around Royal Hospital Chelsea which the 170 serves alone. As a result, a temporary service has been set up until March to ensure that the bus stops along Royal Hospital Road are still served in both directions.

Go-Ahead London SEN34 is seen near Sloane Square, working temporary route 570, contrary to the destination display!
The temporary 570 service runs in an anti-clockwise loop, starting at the top of Royal Hospital Road, situated near Sloane Square. A bus stop here has been given the honour of allowing the 570s to stand here and after this they continue down the road until the junction of Chelsea Embankment, where buses turn left (instead of right which the 170 normally undertakes) and travel down a stretch of road not normally served by a London bus. This manoeuvre ensures the stop at Bull Ring Gate still has a bus service, as route 360 is unable to serve its double run here for some reason. It then follows the aforementioned service up to Sloane Square, via Chelsea Bridge Road, where it circumnavigates the square and travels back down to the stop at Royal Hospital Road, completing the circuit, which takes around 15 minutes in total. Generally, the route runs every 20 minutes, although occasionally a 40-minute gap becomes apparent due to the driver's compulsory meal relief. A peak vehicle requirement of 1 vehicle usually comes in the form of SEN34, an ADL E200 which used to live at Merton (AL) garage. However, it can now be found on the 570 almost every day, with a Wrightbus Streetlite form the 170 occasionally stepping in. Like most temporary services, the route is sparsely used, with drivers claiming to only pick up around 9 passengers, on average, for the entire day. Driving the 570 must be a pretty lonely duty and travelling in circles all day can't be particularly appealing, although this is what has to happen in order to serve a few quiet stops which simply can't be left unless they are physically closed. Its routeing is actually pretty fascinating, offering an intriguing insight into the Royal Hospital, Chelsea Physic Garden and the National Army Museum, before serving the Chelsea Embankment which has some breathtaking riverside views. Viewing the "posh" outlets around Sloane Square is always fun and the great news is that the bus is pretty much guaranteed to be empty, with the likelihood of having another passenger on board being small. Therefore, if you feel the need to kill 20 minutes around Sloane Square, why not try the 570? It won't cost you a penny either.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!


  1. The 286 is supposed to get 5 WHY vehicles. WHY2 has been spotted in MG.

    1. When they enter service the post will be updated, thanks for the information and sorry for the late response.

    2. That's what we've been told by officials in MG. Whether they will ever materialise remains to be seen.

    3. That is interesting. Thanks for sharing.

      However it does make much more sense now, given that the SEs will be transferring over to the 170 due to the bridge fiasco - I think there aren't enough WSs for the 286 so I assume the extra WHYs will make up the numbers.

      Happy to be corrected though.

    4. WS65 has already been transferred from Q for the 286. There will also be a bus transferring from a PVR reduction on the 39 for the 286. All SEs will transfer to cover for the overhauls. WHY13 broke down a while back and has now been permanently taken out of service. WHY8 will now be withdrawn on Monday.

    5. Oh that's a shame, I loved the WHY vehicles but I did know they were unreliable and it does make logistical sense to replace them.

      Thanks very much for your insider info, a follow-up to this post regarding the 170/286 situation will be published soon.

  2. 286 has the new streetlite veichles.


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