Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Buses Evolving, But It's Still Go-Ahead

Transport for London have revolutionised the specification for London buses, to improve both public safety and the on-board experience. However, with the manufacturer Wrightbus entering administration last week, it's unlikely that they'll be changing any of their building habits to accommodate the new regulations. Although this is certainly a time of change for the bus scene within the capital, it's still one particular operator who are thriving, almost always finding success in tendering results. They took over five services in August and we'll be focussing on two major ones in this publication.

Accessing the shopping centre at Brent Cross by foot is extremely difficult, though the limited number of places to snap buses are pretty solid.
There have been several London bus services numbered the 232, but our current one has been around for 30 years. It runs from St Raphael's Estate to Turnpike Lane Station, from one side of North London to the other. Intermediate points of interest include Brent Park Superstores, Neasden Shopping Centre, Brent Cross Shopping Centre, Henly's Corner, Arnos Grove and Palmers Green. Being an impressive 13 miles in length, it's unsurprising that some trips in rush hour are scheduled to take over 90 minutes to complete end-to-end, though this figure almost halves for quieter periods. Most routes which cater for both local residents and long distance travellers tend to be pretty overloaded and the 232 is no exception, with its lone stretch along the North Circular Road not helping matters. It was in such dire straits that upon the latest contract change, TfL increased its Monday to Saturday frequency to every 12 minutes, whilst the provision of 3bph on Sundays and during the evening is also an improvement from before. 16 buses are now required at peak times for the challenging route, which is certainly no stranger to traffic hotspots. I haven't yet completed it from one end to the other, but simply looking at citymapper is sufficient to conclude that running it can't be easy. Nonetheless, Metroline at both Perivale East (PV) and Cricklewood (W) garages made considerable progress over the years and managed to achieve a half-decent operation by the end, despite the evidently inadequate frequency. The allocation suddenly became much less interesting when it switched bases though, with the quirky MCV Evolutions being withdrawn in favour of ADL Enviro 200s and nothing but the latter type worked the route for the rest of its time at the company, the only source of excitement being the occasional appearance of a longer (and newer) euro 6 example from the 112. Still, the loss was quite a shock to many, especially as the receiving operator would lack both past experience and the convenience of a garage close by.

Other commitments mean I usually don't cover changes at 10am on the first day, but for the 232 I learnt the hard way this is actually the most popular time, hence I ended up with this questionable angle.
Go-Ahead London took over on Saturday 3rd August, with the presence of Northumberland Park (NP) garage in the Wood Green area returning as a result of this success. This is a fairly hefty distance from the likes of Neasden, but having a schedule which favours one particular terminus can be equally viable as one right in the middle. Only a few batches of new diesel single deckers are expected to arrive in the capital looking forward - after that, all will be electric. In addition, since no more Wrightbus Streetlites have been ordered and the future of the company looks bleak, this batch could be rather significant in representing the last to ever grace the streets of London. They arrived promptly and were seen on type training runs several weeks before the change, being 10.8m in length. Much to the surprise of regular passengers, the buses are equipped with USB charging ports at every seat - a feature which has already bailed me out on one occasion. However, they do have conventional rear view mirrors, so in some ways represent the process of transformation rather than the end product (see later). A few problems were presented to enthusiasts on day one, with some buses breaking down and others simply not knowing where to go, missing out the Arnos Grove Station forecourt or the turn at Neasden Shopping Centre. A spare vehicle, in the form of a shorter Streetlite from Putney (AF) garage numbered WS66, has been drafted in and sees almost daily use, but lacks the advantageous charging ports and extra length found on the new vehicles. Given that the only other single deck services at the garage are restricted to midibus operation, the Streetlites will be confined to the 232 for now. At first, the service was verging on the abysmal, but with every mishap Go-Ahead seem to have gained some decent knowledge of the relatively unfamiliar territory they're now having to operate in - I'm certain it'll be adequate soon enough.

One massive advantage of the summer period is extended daylight hours - this early morning spot probably isn't doable anymore.
If you considered the 232's stay with Metroline as significant, then that's peanuts compared to the time route 197 has spent at Croydon (TC) garage. Apart from a three year break, it basically stayed there since 1934, so the award of this fixed five (or possibly longer) year contract to Go-Ahead would've been pretty upsetting for some. It was initially only a local service, but has evolved to become a fairly substantial radial trunk route across South London, connecting the hubs of Croydon and Peckham via a fairly direct routeing. Popular destinations en-route include Norwood Junction, Sydenham, Forest Hill and Dulwich Library, but like the 232 it combines local journeys with more extensive ones that would be undertaken far more quickly (and expensively) using the rail network. The frequency is always surprisingly poor, set at every 12 minutes from Monday to Saturday, with a reduction to 3 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening. A 10 mile end-to-end journey is usually achievable in around 70 minutes and it's a pretty good one, having completed the experience myself around two years ago. It's particularly effective if you're unfamiliar with the nature of South London, giving an insight into so many different types of environment and passing an unbeatable number of iconic Morley's chicken shops. I'd also suggest stopping off at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, something I annoyingly missed out on since it was too early in the morning.

My camera was pretty dirty at this point - it's always important to have a deep clean from time to time!
Arriva London were very competent on the 197, with no particular issues being raised by local residents or enthusiasts, though admittedly their standards started to slip in the final few days. With South Croydon (TC) garage being only a few minutes further down than the terminus at Park Street, buses would frequently run light to the base between duties for driver changeover purposes, though this did make snapping outbound vehicles somewhat difficult if a substitution occurred. A plethora of double deckers could be found on route 197 every day, though none of them were particularly new. ADL Enviro 400s and Wrightbus Gemini 2 DB300s were common, but it was officially allocated a sizeable batch of Wrightbus Gemini 1 DAF/DB250s, a type which could be found exclusively around Croydon over the last couple of years. With all of them being rendered surplus after the contract change, the type can no longer be found within the capital, though the commercial route 500 does almost penetrate the boundary at its Watford terminus. Dozens of enthusiasts made the trip down South to bid farewell on Friday 30th August; other routes which used the type had just as much attention as the 197. However, a few soldiered on right until the end of September, mostly on route 466, with quite a few alleged last journeys turning out to be not quite so true. It seems unlikely that the DB250s will return, but you never know...

I ended up choosing a ridiculously tight spot for a route which I had only one opportunity to photograph. Thank goodness it didn't mess up!
Go-Ahead London were always going to provide stiff competition, with their Croydon (C) garage being only a few minutes further away than Arriva's. Their sudden preference for Alexander Dennis resulted in another batch of Enviro400H MMCs being ordered, but even when they passed by on premature training runs there was something uncanny about them, perhaps because digital cameras have replaced the traditional rear view mirrors, as technology is at such a level where it is supposedly safer to rely on than us humans. We haven't received too much feedback in regards to whether these cameras reduce or create any infamous blind spots, but it must be incredibly confusing for drivers who work other services with different bus types. The MMCs are also equipped with USB charging points and Intelligent Speed Assist; the latter prevents the bus from exceeding the speed limit specific to the road travelled on - for an urban route like the 197, this is usually 20mph. As someone who prefers static regulation points over a continuously slow journey, I'm not particularly pleased about this, but there isn't really an excuse for condemning safe driving. In addition to the new vehicles, which seem to have performed well, a few Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LHs from routes 119/202 have snuck out onto the 197, continuing the theme of variety. Despite a few hiccups on day one, this new operator have been pretty solid so far and I hope that the trend is set to continue for the next few years. Perhaps Arriva will reclaim the route then, or it could even move onto another nearby operator (Stagecoach and Abellio are serious contenders).

I wish Go-Ahead all the best for both services, thanks for reading and take care!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Currently In Highgate

Three bus services in the Highgate area have been undergoing a conversion to 100% electric operation recently, with all of them being the result of the TfL bus tendering process. I usually work through multi-route posts chronologically, but it's much more appropriate to have the 214 in isolation. Here goes...

Finding sun spots in Central London can be a challenge with all the reflections from tall buildings. Pentonville Road isn't too bad.
Only a handful of services venturing into zone 1 are operated with single deck vehicles, because routes in the Central London area are often more densely used than in the suburbs. The 214 is no exception to the latter point, running 24/7 from Highgate Village to Finsbury Square in Moorgate, serving Parliament Hill Fields, Kentish Town, Camden Town, King's Cross and City Road en route. It offers a pretty efficient link from the affluent North London settlements, where there is no tube line, to stations, high streets and offices in the City. Residents of the predominantly upper-class housing seem to really appreciate the 214, presumably because walking or even driving up such a steep hill can feel very daunting. It's frustrating, therefore, that they are so against a double deck conversion, even throwing a hissy fit when Visions International sent a Routemaster up Highgate Hill during a one-off tour of North London. Adding an extra floor would make the service even more attractive, with comfort being included in the package. Nonetheless, it carries on with an impressive 7-8 minute frequency from Monday to Saturday, dropping only to 5 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening. End-to-end trips can usually be completed in under 60 minutes, being only 6 miles in length. If you are able to find a quieter period (I'd recommend weekend mornings) it's a fantastic trip, with so many hidden gems particularly towards Highgate, including the bizarre back end of King's Cross and a staggeringly steep climb out of Parliament Hill Fields, with imposing mansions dominating either side. Metroline managed to operate the 214 for a commendable 21 years, with the route frequently switching between Holloway (HT) and King's Cross (KC) garages. I'll always remember the iconic Dart Pointers, equipped with a quirky voith gearbox, but for the last 12 months it operated solely with ADL Enviro 200s, with only an ex-First interloper adding some variety. In 2017 some double deck Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LHs appeared as extras when the Northern line was closed, but these disappointingly only ran from Moorgate to Camden Town. Still, better than no upstairs mileage at all.

I ended up snapping the 214 on three separate occasions due to successive fails... it's a good job I'm not as unlucky for every service change!
 The tender result for route 214 was quite unusual, being announced some two years before the actual changeover date. It's understandable for operators to be a given a longer time period when faced with electric buses, as they're still a relatively new technology, but it did seem quite excessive when Go-Ahead just went for bog-standard BYD/ADL Enviro 200 MMCs in the end. They're currently running the service from Northumberland Park (NP) garage, which isn't particularly close to either Highgate or Moorgate, so there is a concern in regards to driver availability if the Victoria line goes down and a changeover at King's Cross is scheduled to occur. Presumably the distance was considered trivial in comparison to the convenience of readily available charging facilities, although the 153's batch of electrics shouldn't be used regularly on the 214 since they are too long for the tight stretch between Parliament Hill Fields and Highgate. It would pretty poor if the vehicles didn't arrive on time given the extended gap between the win and take-over, so thankfully on day one we were greeted with a full turnout of new buses. On the whole, Go-Ahead seem to have risen to the challenge and are already matching the half-decent standard set by Metroline. Bizarrely, on Sunday 1st September 2019, a double deck MCV EvoSeti B5LH completed a few full trips on the 214 between 1 and 5:30am, which only the driver managed to document. Enthusiasts (rightfully?) prioritised their sleep instead of catching this phenomenon - who knows if it'll happen again. Possibly, if Northumberland Park (NP) are short on drivers in the future and the residents haven't sent in their complaints yet. I wish Go-Ahead all the best with the next five years and I hope the commuters are satisfied with their new vehicles, generously equipped with USB charging ports too.

It's hard to think that the old B7TLs are no longer able to travel through Central London. Very rarely, you'll see a Gemini 1 on the 476 which skirts the edge.
If electric buses really are the future, TfL and Metroline have taken a proactive approach and decided to convert routes 43 (Friern Barnet-Highgate-Archway-Islington-London Bridge) and 134 (North Finchley-Highgate-Archway-Camden-Warren Street), coinciding with their contract retentions. Interestingly, they didn't order one huge batch for both services, instead investing in two different manufacturers for comparison purposes. It's quite funny that some of London's newest vehicles have landed themselves on the last Central London routes to convert to hybrid operation - this was essential due to the ultra low emission zone implemented in April. Before then, the 134 predominantly used ADL Enviro 400s, with VMH-class MCV EvoSeti B5LH vehicles only temporarily diverting to the route in February. Scraping buses together for the 43 was even more difficult, since Holloway (HT) garage were always infamous for using shockingly old vehicles on high-profile zone 1 services. Volvo/B7TL Plaxton Presidents could still be found well into 2019, along with older Enviro 400s and Gemini 2 B9TLs, so even more routes had their VMHs taken away from them. All this shuffling was only necessary because the new electrics didn't actually arrive for the contract dates in February, but this is understandable for buses boasting a relatively new technology. The messy arrangement continued for a couple of months, but at the very start of July some of the 43's new buses made their debut.

London Bridge is always a popular spot for snapping buses in the sun. Not so many spotters venture to the Northern end though.
The partnership between Alexander Dennis and BYD has proven successful so far, conquering the electric single deck market with their ADL Enviro 200 MMC EV. Nonetheless, double deckers are naturally much more challenging and the playing field still seems pretty even for now. The London-look City body has been chosen, clearly signposting where ADL intend to attract consumers. To me, the upstairs interior felt spacious and well-appointed, although there are certainly
a couple of quirks. Only forward facing seats can be found downstairs, with the legroom for some being less than desirable, whilst the air cooling flaps are located in less than ideal positions. They are, however, on both sides of the vehicle, which is an improvement on the diesel and hybrid versions where sitting on the right is essential. There is no rear window downstairs, but USB charging points can be found everywhere, which I'm sure long-distance commuters are grateful for. The acceleration is startling, almost sickening when used to its full potential, whilst there is almost no engine noise. You could argue that they are pretty soulless, but I often prefer listening to music on urban bus trips anyway. When driven carefully the travelling experience is overwhelmingly positive, with the light and airy interior being perfect for a route like the 43, which can be painfully slow but always boasts fascinating external surroundings. The conversion seemed quite rapid at first, but has since ground to a halt, with enough vehicles for a 100% electric Sunday service, but around 14 buses are still missing. Overall though, I'm impressed with the Cities and look forward to seeing more examples on the 94 next year.

An unfortunately placed van somewhat undermines this picture. At least the sun was behaving itself.
The 134's new buses also showed up on a Monday, so exactly 7 weeks after the 43's big day. They are electric Optare Metrodeckers, a type which has appeared before in the capital but only in the form of a demonstrator. Go-Ahead struggled with their example; it couldn't even manage a full rounder on route 21 without needing a charge, so the enthusiast community were rightfully sceptical about such an ambitious order. I also questioned why these buses, with inferior charging capabilities (they take 8 hours longer than the Citys) and a supposedly poorer range, were being placed on the
134 which requires a hefty dead run all the way to Potters Bar - the 43 does actually pass its home garage. Nonetheless, four manifested themselves on August 19th, with one vehicle even boasting an LED display as opposed to regular blinds. They impressively lasted until the evening and performed well, reaching commendable speeds when needed. The interior design is somewhat unusual, with a kidney shaped window downstairs and slightly shallow upper saloon There is also more background noise when travelling, with one sound in particular being similar to a chainsaw. It isn't unpleasant though and despite the useless air cooling system,  I felt satisfied with my journey on the Optare, even though they feel far less refined than the Citys. The promising start hasn't been maintained though and only 6 vehicles out of 31 are actually in regular service. They also tend to disappear by 5pm, which isn't particularly economical and implies the 134 will never fully convert to electric operation unless the range somehow drastically improves. I think we all know who Metroline are going to order from in the future...

A van managed to ruin my first attempt at snapping this, but a quick dash down the road resulted in a successful second attempt.
Inevitably, there's quite a bit of fall-out to deal with, especially since so many services had their new buses taken away from them. I'm still not completely sure on where all the VMH-class EvoSetis will actually end up, so please correct me in the comments if necessary! To my understanding, the vast majority will make Perivale West (PA) garage their new home, ultimately ousting the exotic but knackered SEL-class Scania Olympus vehicles which currently work at this base. They used to be shared between routes 90 (Northolt to Feltham) and 297 (Willesden Bus Garage-Ealing Broadway), but the former is now almost completely SEL-free, using some Wrightbus Geminis in addition to the recently transferred VMHs. For enthusiasts this is a shame, since the 90 is said to be far more enjoyable than the 297, but it does mean that my favourite bus type stays in the local area for longer. The next set of transferred VMHs will work the number 31 from White City to Camden Town, which will pass on its Gemini 2s to the 297. However, with the current speed of the 134 conversion, I think we'll be keeping the Olympi for a while. Another duty which has already been fulfilled is the completion of route 607's hybrid conversion - when it transferred to Greenford (G) garage in April only half of its VMHs were available, so it was forced to use some ex-207 Wrightbus Gemini 2s as a temporary measure. The EvoSetis have made themselves comfortable there, working routes like the 92, 95, 282 and 482 as well as their allocated express service from Uxbridge to White City.

In short, three North London routes have started their conversion to 100% electric operation. Whether all three will be successful is another matter... Thanks for reading and take care! Sorry for the humongous gap between posts, I've been going out a bit too much for term time!

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Random Route - Southern Transit 3

Yes, I've actually revived this series, because there's no better way to write about a running day so heavily focused on one particular bus service. We'll be returning to the London bus changes after this, but writing about them can become pretty monotonous, even if they are much faster to publish than these random route reviews. I also realise that this has little relevance to the capital, but it could perhaps motivate you to explore outside the M25. Trust me, it's better.

I didn't plan on producing any photographs, but this ad hoc halt at Partridge Green was too convenient to miss.
Courtesy of Southern Transit, who kindly organise a classic buses running day twice a year, I ended up spending the scorching Bank Holiday Monday roaming around West Sussex, leaving it to chance that other dedicated enthusiasts would capture the rare carnival related workings. The heritage vehicles operate on their number 3 service, which is an entirely commercial venture. It runs between Horsham Station and the Holmbush Shopping Centre in Shoreham, conveniently connecting the Sussex villages with a market town to North and even the sea, given how close Shoreham beach is to its high street. The destinations en route used to be served by a railway line, but now riding the number 3 is the closest you get to recreating what could've been a very relaxing train ride. Buses used to operate on Thursdays and Saturdays, but the regular weekend trips were discontinued earlier in the year, because running a bus route with no support isn't easy. Classic buses are provided on the Spring and Summer bank holidays, attracting bus enthusiasts from all over the South as well as residents, who I understand are extremely grateful that they've been given additional opportunities to venture further afield, especially if lacking a car. The 3 is also incredibly scenic, so completing four end-to-end trips wasn't tiresome at all. Routemasters tend to appear at almost every heritage bus event, which is completely understandable, but I decided to focus on the more exotic Leyland Atlanteans and Volvo Olympian, with the quieter evening open-top bus rides being particularly thrilling. It's a fabulous day out regardless of the vehicle though and if you still aren't convinced, here's an attempt to describe my first journey in writing.

I completely forgot to ride this open top Atlantean by unintentionally end-to-ending a trip that was supposed to last five minutes. Next time!
Horsham Station is beautifully well-kept, but the forecourt outside doesn't have too much going for it, sporting only a Premier Inn and the roundabout which buses use to turn around. Our well-loaded Atlantean was on the move quickly though, coasting down the fairly significant B-road that leads to Horsham Town Centre, surrounded mostly by trees and some brand new apartments. Buses towards Shoreham skirt around the main shopping district along a ring road, but a Northbound journey is much more interesting as the driver must skilfully navigates the cobbled, narrow streets that showcase typical high street retailers and restaurant chains. After several roundabouts, the vehicle undertook an unexpected double run up a seemingly residential street, which randomly had a bus station placed at the end. It's pretty low-key and was almost unnervingly quiet throughout the Monday, with the Southern Transit standby Citymaster comfortably occupying the highest-numbered bay until the evening. A brief pause was necessary here, since the spare vehicle contained some of the paperwork for our Atlantean, though this was explained very professionally by our conductor. I found this break pretty convenient for devising a last-minute plan and it wasn't long until the immaculate Citymaster appeared and we were on the move again.

Our departure from Horsham mostly consisted of speeding down a main road, complete with some very admirable homes tucked away by dense vegetation, which really was quite intrusive on the open topper! Shortly afterwards we crossed a modest two-track railway, used by Southern services between London Victoria and the South Coast, with this bridge almost acting as a boundary between suburbia and woodland, as the surroundings suddenly became reminiscent of the forest in The Blair Witch Project. An occasional isolated household or golf course provided some balance, until we were faced with two more roundabouts that marked the start of our journey into Southwater. This settlement is also served by some regular Metrobus services and is a mixture of green space and detached homes, with the appearance of a Hen & Chicken public house randomly prompting a load of speed humps. Our background also became much more residential, with the first customers since Horsham joining us at the caravan park, apparently catching this exact journey every running day. Southwater felt quite unique because the village extends significantly further than the main road, with traffic running through all the time, so the sporadic filling stations and shops make it feel far less isolated.

The Atlantean continued Southward bound at The Lintot pub, which was consistently busy all day. I even managed to glimpse a parade of shops behind the landmark, causing Southwater to feel like a town in its own right, further reinforced by the outcasts slightly further down, in the form of a kebab shop and Londis convenience store. After an uneventful few minutes, it was time to join a dual carriageway, with thick vegetation acting as a dividing strip between the Northbound and Southbound traffic. Enthusiasts who enjoy thrash more than anything would've been pretty satisfied with our Atlantean, despite the road twisting and turning a few times, but this animated section was over quickly, as it wouldn't be particularly convenient for passengers to catch the bus in the middle of a ditch.

Generally associating McDonald's with urban areas, I was surprised that our left turn simply involved traversing through more farmland, but we also picked up some considerable speed here. After a series of low trees, we entered the much more modest village of West Grinstead, also boasting very presentable retail outlets. My geography of the UK can be pretty rusty, but I was quite surprised to see this name when East Grinstead, served by Southern services from London, is on the other side of Crawley. Perhaps the two places are completely unrelated. From what I can gather, the number 3 is West Grinstead's most frequent bus service - us Londoners would be outraged with a mere four return trips a week!

North Littleworth had nothing more than a garden centre, but at this point mother nature started to become extremely pretty, especially from the unbeatable front seats upstairs. The Windmill Inn was randomly popular with enthusiasts, though I was perfectly satisfied with my Tesco meal deal obtained later on at the Holmbush Centre. A surprising right turn led to more beautiful British countryside, supplemented by some homes which weren't so tucked away, making this hamlet seem far more inviting. I later found out that our deviation was to serve Partridge Green, so comparatively substantial that a regular number 17 bus runs here, offering links to Horsham and Brighton. Our bus was particularly well-used along this stretch of road, where housing felt as dense as some outer London suburbs. Thanks to the astounding knowledge of fellow enthusiasts and the kindness of our driver, we paused here briefly for some photos, with the sun positioned perfectly too. The recreational football cages felt almost abandoned at 10am, as younger residents clearly took advantage of the bank holiday to catch up on their beauty sleep. I don't blame them, getting up at 5:30am wasn't particularly enjoyable.

When you jump on the bandwagon a little too late... it's a good job the driver waited for me!
Between Partridge Green and Shermanbury the country road began to bend very regularly, whilst every front garden seemed to appear just a little larger than the previous one. The unforeseen crossing over the River Adur was over too quickly for my liking, as the bus hurtled past the pizza pub without stopping, our environment becoming more remote by the second. Eventually we were graced with some signs of life, as our bus paused several times in the bustling village of Henfield, quintessentially rural but also offering a wider mix of housing, with some terraces making a change from the detached accommodation. Every independent shop was thriving and well-presented; even the Budgens seemed incredibly upmarket. The dozen or so newly joined passengers complemented the already friendly atmosphere, being very impressed with our Atlantean and our non-stop run to the next destination, with deciduous woodland only broken by some incongruous industrial units. Our path through Small Dole was allegedly shut off, but the road sign clearly hadn't been removed punctually as we managed to pass through with no trouble at all. This particular village bears similarities to Southwater, since a main road passes all the way through, but here the array of dainty houses are almost entirely concentrated on this carriageway, rather than encroaching into the countryside. Following a lively descent, we were graced with a stunningly imposing view of some distant mountain, before being thanked for driving carefully, regardless of whether we achieved 10 or 100mph. For me, this really was the point where the beauty of the surroundings increased exponentially, with panoramic landscapes only occasionally revealing themselves, so us passengers treasured them even more. The abundance of thatched houses added to the quaintness of each village we passed through, but I couldn't help feeling we were cheated out of properly exploring Upper Beeding, given the bus merely skirted around the outside.

Bramber neighbours Upper Beeding and is definitely the most attractive settlement, with so many different materials showcasing themselves on the homes of this narrow street. The bridge over the Adur is perfectly placed; I can recall the whole bus craning their necks slightly to the left as the meandering river weaves its way through the hilly Sussex countryside. Our difficulty in navigating the narrow road was actually appreciated, allowing us passengers to savour this gem of a village just a little more. A fair few alighted to investigate the ruins of Bramber Castle, its presence being only slightly revealing from the bus route, but the majority continued through to Shoreham. Initially, I found our right turn onto a dual carriageway slightly perplexing, but after a few minutes of viewing more woodland and randomly placed elevated walkways, we entered the historic town of Steyning. The approach felt slightly odd, since the leisure centre can be found at quite a distance away from the main hubbub, but the high street was much more extensive than I first anticipated. It has been crafted very similarly to Bramber, though the art galleries and mixture of independent and familiar stores means I'd much rather spend time in Steyning. This was another popular destination, but not many people joined in the outskirts, where country house conversions are juxtaposed by single bungalows almost entirely surrounded by green space. According to the sign on this incredibly straight stretch of road we were entering Bramber again, but these lengthy diversions are acceptable on routes with such a normally hyper-local user base.

It became quite clear that we were approaching Shoreham-By-Sea as we met the river Adur once again, noticeably wider than our first encounter in West Grinstead, with its path downstream being adjacent to the by-pass. The display of multi-coloured terraced housing felt slightly absurd in the middle of nowhere, whilst enthusiasts in the know started to turn their heads as the atmosphere became slightly industrial, since this is where the Southern Transit garage can be found. I spotted several inns immediately after a low-key spaghetti junction, this marking our entrance into the much-awaited Shoreham. The first two minutes were surprisingly residential, but the sight of a Southern Class 377 trundling across the bridge provided some balance. With a thriving high street, harbour, riverside and beach, I was amazed at the attractiveness of this seaside town. It's absolutely worth exploring.

After a stop-off at the park, our path through an assemblage of tenements felt ever so slightly intrusive, whilst the uniformly white homes disguised the purpose of this strange detour. In fact, the railway station is situated immediately behind them, with our trip over the level crossing displaying a very busy platform. The mandatory accompanying down-to-earth shopping parade was over quickly, giving way to a grassed avenue and very elegant semis, but I couldn't help feeling apprehensive after we passed another park, a hundred more houses and a hospital. If it's the seaside you're after, it's best to abandon ship early, or take a local number 2 bus from the terminus back to the town centre (if you get a discovery the ticket will still be valid on this service).

Only a few people stuck it out until the Holmbush Centre, but there's no better place for a quick break, since it boasts a massive Tesco Extra, decent facilities, McDonald's (if you like) and many more eateries. Wandering around the aisles, I was able to reflect on my delightful journey and the exciting prospect of undertaking so many more. If my writing hasn't convinced you to take a ride, a YouTube video is probably more enticing anyway, but that isn't my style.

I'd like to thank Southern Transit for a fabulous day out, the drivers and conductors for being wonderful as ever, fellow enthusiasts for the art of conversation and handy recommendations, but most of all you readers, for actually sticking this post out until the end. It took forever to write and is probably wishy-washy at times, but I enjoyed it and that's what writing this blog is all about. To the running days!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Enthusiasts United In Negligence

Routes 81 and 211 have both recently changed operators, with the former departing and the latter joining the company London United. Despite running in very different parts of the capital, they're both major services and should've received a good amount of attention on their respective first days, but a number of different circumstances meant that this wasn't the case.

Central London routes are always a nightmare to snap in the sun. Even this spot was so risky...
Even though it hasn't existed for very long, the 211 has become a well-established Central London service, carrying passengers all the way from Hammersmith to Waterloo, via Fulham Broadway, King's Road, Sloane Square, Victoria and Westminster. At peak times, 16 vehicles are required for the bizarre 11 minute frequency, with a drop to 4 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening, which is surprising for a route operating almost entirely within zone 1. The 7 mile trip from end to end can be accomplished in around 70 minutes during the day, although this figure would be much lower if it wasn't for the congestion-filled streets which the 211 unfortunately tries its best to serve. Painfully slow journeys weren't always the norm though - my fastest ever Trident ALX400 was on this route, where the driver used kickdown relentlessly for an astonishingly fast end-to-end trip. The smooth ADL Enviro 400s which replaced them were much less thrilling, but offered comfort and air cooling, so the 211 kept its place in my top ten favourite bus routes. I used the route most regularly when it was allocated these vehicles, being such an enjoyable way to head into Central London after appointments at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. When New Routemasters eventually dumped themselves on the 211 at Battersea (QB) garage, the quality of service seemed to deteriorate rapidly, whilst rides became more of a burden. These LT-class vehicles were found in a common user pool consisting of routes 3 (for a time), 159 and 211, but if a conventional vehicle ever needed to be used the latter service was almost always chosen. Given that Battersea (QB) garage have had the 211 for so long, this could easily have been one of the biggest changes in the bus calendar, but with all routes that use New Routemasters, the allocated vehicles simply transfer to the new company and apart from some different logos, there is almost no noticeable difference before and after the contract date.

Excluding the background, playing a game of spot the difference between the Abellio and LU 211 photos might be somewhat difficult.
On Saturday 29th June 2019, London United (LU) assumed operation of the 211 from their Stamford Brook (V) garage, a perfect location for the Western terminus of Hammersmith. Abellio decided to confuse everyone and swap a load of New Routemasters between Battersea (QB) and Walworth (WL) garages towards the end of the 211 contract, but a fixed batch did migrate over to LU and were ready to work the route from day one. The last ever journey under Abellio was poorly attended, with only a very select group of admirably dedicated enthusiasts bothering to ride it, but if there were any other contract changes that weekend I'm sure even they would abandon the 211. Buses were scarcely photographed on day one too; uncomfortably high temperatures deterred most from leaving the comfort of their homes and I ended up following this trend, despite usually enjoying the chaos of a first day. From my infrequent London Vehicle Finder spot checks, the service was in tatters at first, with almost every other bus being curtailed during the afternoon, but it seems to have improved a little since then. Stamford Brook controllers will have already familiarised themselves with the excruciating task of operating a Central London route with routes 9, 27 and 10 (deceased). A common user pool has already been established with the former two services and the 211, but so far none of the E3's conventional ADL Enviro400 hybrids have been brave enough to show up on the newcomer. They could easily appear if reblinded, especially since the fallback 27 will be departing for Abellio (funny how this tender game works) in November, so maybe the 211 will become the new dumping ground for conventional buses during New Routemaster shortages. Either way, I hope London United aren't defeated by their difficult start and I wish them good luck for the next five years.

This photo was taken on 2019's hottest day, because I cleverly decided to leave my 81 snapping session until the last minute...
In contrast to the 211's territory where bus usage is rapidly declining, routes in the suburbs are thriving, including cross-border ones like the 81. It runs considerably further West than any other TfL bus service, linking the Berkshire town of Slough with Hounslow, via Langley, Colnbrook, Longford, Harlington Corner and Hounslow West. It is an impressive 12 miles in length, taking around 65 minutes to complete, with the peak vehicle requirement being for 16 vehicles. A 12 minute frequency is provided from Monday to Saturday, with 4bph on Sundays and 3bph during the evening, although
there are some enhancements during the school run. It's hard to believe that it primarily used single deckers just under a decade ago - the combination of long distance and local trips, around the Heathrow villages or along Bath Road, mean buses are pretty well-loaded throughout the day, but are noticeably busier towards Hounslow in the evening peak. The convenience and value of an oyster card has clearly driven away custom from the local First Berkshire services around Slough and Langley, which have been drastically cut over the past few years. If you haven't ridden the 81 already, I urge you to take a trip to Slough and back; it has to be one of my favourite routes in West London. It's incredible that the same journey involves negotiating the bustling hubbub of Hounslow, cruising down the Bath Road dual carriageway, admiring the planes taking off at Heathrow Airport and passing through extremely quaint villages, some of which are endangered with the upcoming Heathrow expansion. It'll be fascinating to see what happens to the 81 if plans for a third runway come to fruition - even if a direct service from Slough to Hounslow is retained, I'm sceptical that it'll be anywhere near as attractive.

One good thing about snapping the 81 is that lots of the route is exposed, so finding a sun spot is never difficult.
Hounslow (AV) garage intermittently operated the route for 84 years, and solidly since 2005, so its departure was quite remarkable. It's certainly questionable as to how London United have lost three major double deck routes which so conveniently terminate in the depot forecourt - Metroline have certainly taken advantage of their generosity in allowing interlopers to stand there. Some garages simply wouldn't have it. Nonetheless, RATP have done extremely well elsewhere and were still extremely competent on the 81, having the necessary experience to take appropriate action in times of disruption, particularly if it was M25-related. Even on the last day buses were curtailed to locations like Langley and Hounslow West when required, contrasting the increasingly common sense of abandonment felt before a route changes operator. I first started using the 81 on a regular
basis in the late 2000s and vividly remember the variety of bus types that appeared, along with the accompanying looks of disappointment whenever it was a Dart Pointer, given that it was usually too full to stop. Volvo/B7TL ALX400s and Plaxton Presidents dominated afterwards, but even towards the end of the contract there was usually a 50/50 split between ADL Enviro 400s and N230/UD Scania OmniCitys, with the former type being preferred for long distance journeys, since they're equipped with comfortable Esteban Civic seats. Occasionally you could find one of the unique low height 56-reg N94/UD Scania OmniCitys (to the right), famous for their deafening iBus speakers and ability to sustain speed. Only four remain in regular service, so I'm delighted that SP8 ended up being my last ever London United 81, with the presence of other enthusiasts and wonderful external surroundings making it a fabulous trip. Having experienced difficulty snapping one throughout the last week due to their erratic behaviour, it was especially rewarding to have one turn up by chance. Thank you Hounslow garage, for providing so many fantastic experiences on the 81. I hope that they can actually find some success when the next West London services are up for tender!

One advantage of snapping in the early evening is the lack of traffic - usually this spot would be impossible!
Naturally, you'd assume that such a respectable trunk route changing operator would result in an army of photographers descending upon Hounslow, but the turnout of first day photos was substandard. Saturday 27th July 2019 was pretty rainy and miserable, although this usually only discourages a handful of photographers who only snap in full sun (I don't entirely blame them, but there is only one changeover day!). Having to share with the number 208 in South-East London could've forced busy enthusiasts to prioritise, but having direct trains to/from London Victoria means a Lewisham to Hounslow journey is hardly torturous. However, the Essex Bus Rally & Londoner In The Country show also occurred on this date, occupying several precious hours for those who attended. It was a thoroughly enjoyable affair and definitely more satisfying than an uneventful first day, so the vast majority of enthusiasts understandably didn't put themselves through a commute excruciatingly lasting for nearly two hours. Frustratingly, the Hammersmith & City Line wasn't running from Liverpool Street, which meant I couldn't habitually avoid the deep level tube, but I was still crazy enough to cover all three events. These factors meant that only those truly dedicated to obtaining first day photographs actually bothered with the 81, especially because snapping bus routes  in the evening is an absolute pain - buses are infrequent and the more exotic vehicles tend to be subbed early on, so I ended up returning to the route on the following Monday.

I'm really happy that a 222 showed up in the background, as these sister services are once again at the same company.
Instead of joining the other double deck services at Brentford (AH), Metroline decided that it would be better to operate the 81 from a brand new base, known as Lampton (SG) garage and conveniently only five minutes away from Hounslow Bus Station. It's a pretty compact site, with no room for any other substantial services, but Metroline have obviously considered it to be a worthy investment. Buses often run to the depot and back between trips to make driver changeovers even easier, with the potential to send buses out at short notice being very reassuring, especially when there are delays. Metroline presumably undercut London United as they had a large pool of VW-class Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TLs collecting dust, but as these were from several different batches they decided to over complicate everything and send them to Harrow Weald (HD) garage, so the 186 now has an extremely messy allocation. This allowed the pool of 62reg VWs to leave HD and deposit themselves on the 81, presumably because Metroline wanted a neat allocation for positive first impressions. If that was the motive, I'd argue that they haven't been entirely successful, since only a handful of these VWs have received a refurbishment, with the others looking slightly knackered inside. In addition, heavy maintenance is undertaken at Brentford (AH) anyway, who have to loan a couple of buses to the 81 on a daily basis, with the ex-First VW1833 almost always doing the honours. As usual, the service was horrendous on day one, with a break down early in the morning not helping matters, but my brief experience was still positive, since the Gemini 2s are very fast and offer a much smoother ride than pretty much everything Hounslow sent out. The service has improved drastically over the past couple of weeks and will almost certainly match the high standards set by London United. I don't think I'll ever associate the 81 with Metroline, given my childhood memories, but I still wish them all the best, mostly so the passengers don't have to suffer!

Thanks for reading and take care!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Go-Ahead Parade The South-East

It's pretty convenient that I have the opportunity to lump two similar service changes together, even though they occurred some five weeks apart...

There was something uncanny about the blinds on these Citaros, particularly when displaying Penge.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 227, I've misled you with the photograph above. It actually runs between Crystal Palace and Bromley North, with intermediate destinations including Penge, Beckenham and Shortlands, taking around 35 minutes to complete a 6 mile end-to-end trip. At peak times, 12 vehicles are required for an impressive 8 minute frequency, with a modest drop to 5 buses per hour on Sundays and during the evening. A low bridge at Shortlands Station infuriatingly prevents the use of double deck vehicles on this intensely busy service, still regarded as a South-East London trunk route despite its short length. Under the old contract, high capacity 12m Mercedes-Benz Citaro vehicles were operated out of Stagecoach London's Bromley (TB) garage, although shorter ADL Enviro 200s also ended up appearing quite frequently. The Mercs were the only examples at Stagecoach London and were adored by bus enthusiasts for their power, being well-suited to the hilly nature of the 227, but their reliability did start to decline towards the end of their seven years on the road. These exotic buses sadly do not have a future within the capital, being a non-standard type, whilst their length deems them inappropriate for the majority of London bus services. This was a rather significant loss for Stagecoach, who (sort of) operated the route for an impressive twenty one years. They were pretty competent too, even though roadworks in Penge caused the service to fall apart during their final week.

The rear door is really far back on these Streetlite max vehicles, something I only noticed after opting for a nearside shot.
Only a few years ago, Go-Ahead at Orpington (MB) garage seemed to be on a losing streak, but recently they've started to become successful again, grabbing some fairly substantial routes over the past year, usually from Stagecoach. One advantage of this change is the union of the 227 and 358, since the latter route operates in very similar territory, also being exceptionally busy and restricted to long single deckers. Brand new Wrightbus Streetlite max vehicles, the first examples of this length in the capital, were ordered for the new contract. All of them were available for day one (Saturday 22nd June 2019) and have remained dedicated to the 227 since then, with only one stray onto the 358 so far. They are slightly shorter than the Citaros and given their less commodious interior arrangement, enthusiasts questioned whether they would be appropriate for such a heavy duty service. From my observations, the reduced capacity isn't a problem when the service is running well at regular 8 minute intervals, but when the gaps become longer travelling on them becomes much more unpleasant, whilst at rush hour people are being left behind frequently. They are also no match for the Citaros when it comes to climbing hills, so are generally disliked by both enthusiasts and the general public.

If Citaros weren't banned due to their lack of stop-start technology, by adding 1.5m and some Go-Ahead logos you could imagine an alternative future for the 227.
To my amazement, the service has been consistently decent since day one, although the 358 will have given controllers some practise. That said, the changeover hasn't been smooth, the most obvious problem being with the iBus system, where buses would display the non-existent destination 'Crystal Parade.' This caused dysfunctional announcements
heading Westbound and even Citymapper claimed buses were serving this alleged location. It took a while to fix, but buses are correctly advertising Crystal Palace now. Another questionable move by Go-Ahead is their confidence that only one spare Streetlite will be adequate for the next five years - on day three a break down and accident proved that this was not sustainable, so an ADL Enviro 200 and short Mercedes Citaro K (MBK1, seen above) demonstrator were thrown out, a custom which has continued regularly since Go-Ahead took over. These buses have an even smaller available capacity than the Streetlites and having sampled MBK1 during the evening rush, it is by no means suitable for the 227. It may be allocated to the equally busy 358, but it is so long and indirect that passengers tend to be dispersed. One final issue, again relating to the Streetlites, is their poor turning circle, which results in some difficulty when it  comes to navigating the roundabout at Bromley North. In short, Go-Ahead operate the 227 very well, but their choice of buses could bring them to their downfall...

One shortfall with photographing in the dark is that vehicles almost always have to be stationary, unless your camera is exceptionally competent.
The 208 also has a fairly long-standing history with Stagecoach, so its move to Go-Ahead on Saturday 27th July 2019 was also pretty remarkable. Enthusiasts of a certain age will typically associate this route with Trident ALX400s, although the enforcement of a green bus corridor back in April meant that they could no longer appear, despite two remaining at Bromley (TB) garage right until the 208's last day. The long wheelbase 56-reg Trident E400s also visited the 208 regularly, but were withdrawn in January; some still remain in London, but they've been converted to open-top and operate on the mega sightseeing bus tours. Their indirect replacements, ADL Enviro 400 MMC 'smart hybrids', occasionally wandered onto the 208, though officially allocated to the 261. Most commonly, the 208 used some rather uninteresting 'classic' ADL Enviro 400s, equipped with the generally disliked voith gearbox, but I don't doubt that their inability to provide a clickbait youtube video was overshadowed by their comfortable lazzerini seating and functional air cooling system, which I don't doubt that the locals appreciated. These vehicles will be refurbished and redeployed onto the 128 from October, which Stagecoach have managed to pick up in East London, where they have been far more victorious as of late. One more exotic feature under Stagecoach was the single crosslink from Catford (TL) garage during term time, which was often in the form of a Volvo/B5LH Enviro 400 MMC, but disappointingly on their last day of operation a voith E400 was sent out instead, being almost identical to the 208's regular diet.

My luck was pretty poor during this snapping session, where the sun either hid behind clouds or a vehicle passed by at the worst possible moment.
Often regarded as the backbone of South-East London, the 208 is certainly no picnic. It operates between the key destinations of Lewisham and Orpington, via Catford, Downham, Bromley and Petts Wood. It stays urban throughout and only properly becomes residential in between Bromley Common and Orpington, which is the only part of the route that isn't also served by other high frequency double deck services. Despite this, the 208 is oversubscribed, with the 12 minute Monday to Saturday daytime frequency being completely inadequate. Even the drop to 4 buses per hour is questionable on Sundays, but actually pretty generous during the evening. Amazingly, only 16 buses are required at peak times for the 11-mile trek, which takes around 80 minutes to complete. Stagecoach managed the route very well, having several years of experience on their side, as well as the convenience of a garage situated almost on the line of route. I don't doubt that this will be another major loss for them, but a few more routes around the Bromley area are up for tender in November, so perhaps they will strike lucky then.

Lewisham was actually pretty busy at 8am on a Saturday morning, emphasised by the trio of buses in this photo.
For the seemingly invincible Go-Ahead, this win probably didn't mean as much as it would to any other London operator, but complacency is never desirable. The company ordered another batch of brand new ADL Enviro400H MMCs for this contract change, having stuck religiously to this type over the past year, contrasting their habitual indecisiveness. This batch arrived prematurely, but were sent to work straight away on the Wimbledon tennis shuttles, helping out alongside Go-Ahead's commercial services fleet when they weren't sat outside the station broken down. So far, they have not appeared on any other routes at Orpington (MB) garage, but I don't doubt that one will sneak onto the 320 sooner or later. As usual, the service was in bits on day one, but with each random check on the London Vehicle Finder I've noticed small improvements and I'm confident Go-Ahead will be able to match the high standards set by Stagecoach. The new MMCs are equipped with intelligent GPS technology, which prevents buses from exceeding the speed limit specific to each street travelled on, and have been described as gutless by enthusiasts, but a functional service is surely all that matters for such an important route.

I wish Go-Ahead all the best in operating both the 227 and 208 for the next five years. Thanks for reading and take care.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Great Western E-routes

Conveniently enough, there wasn't much bus activity at the end of May apart from local changes. Living nearby makes snapping so much easier, plus being familiar with the route means sunshine locations easily come to mind, especially for one of the services which has had several first days over the past few years.

I remember struggling on a randomly hot day in April, but I still ended up spotting last week...
Being only seventeen years old, the E11 is one of Ealing's newest bus routes, replacing part of the E10 when it was re-routed via Scotch Common. It runs at a modest 20 minute frequency from Monday to Saturday, with a typical drop to half hourly on Sundays and during the evening. The termini are Ealing, Warwick Dene and Greenford Broadway, with intermediate destinations including West Ealing, Drayton Green, Castle Bar Park and Elthorne Heights. 5 buses are needed for the 5-mile route at peak times, whilst an end-to-end journey can usually be completed in around 35 minutes. Only mini single deckers can be used due to the ridiculously tight turns near Copley Close, although the smaller capacity usually isn't an issue. That said, the E11 is extremely popular around Castle Bar Park, being the only bus service remotely near the very dense housing, whilst the train now only takes people as far as West Ealing, which is no good for most. It's also pretty handy in the morning at the busy Broughton Road stop, as there's usually enough space to accommodate passengers waiting for any bus which takes them directly to Ealing Broadway - the 207 and 427 often just sail past. Even though it's predominantly residential, there are some quirky aspects, including the ridiculously steep and twisty Studland Road, delving right into the estate at Castle Bar Park, or the affluent run by Ealing Common.

The sun was shining here, but typically it decided to make itself scarce as soon as the bus arrived.
From 2007 to 2019, it seemed like three operators had attempted to run the E11, but its contract was not reassigned through the formal tendering process at any point. Transdev London United acquired the NCP Challenger operations in 2009, whilst RATP-group purchased Transdev LU in 2011. Seven 07-reg ADL Enviro 200s entered service under NCP, equipped with a very uninspiring interior, but they proved to be extremely reliable and pretty fast too. Two of them worked the E11 until the very last day, lasting for twelve years without a refurbishment, whilst one (SDE13, now known as SEN38) still survives in London, but at Go-Ahead's Northumberland Park (NP) garage. For some bizarre reason, in 2014 London United decided to replace the 07-reg examples with slightly newer 08-reg native buses, which had been at both Fulwell (FW) and Epsom (EB) garages before their move to Park Royal. The bubbles moquette found on these buses was very popular, but unlike the 07-reg they turned out to be really troublesome, so two of the older vehicles had to be reinstated. Since no other routes at Park Royal used short 8.9m vehicles, the E11 has a pretty bland history on the London Vehicle Finder, although its buses frequently made appearances on the 440, which was beyond inappropriate at school chuck-out time. Still, London United superintended the E11 very well and it was a shame to see them go, in the early hours of Saturday 25th May, after such a successful twelve years.

Sadly Abellio have ditched the 'Common' on the blinds, but it does mean the displayed destination matches the iBus message.
Abellio London have dominated the Ealing bus scene recently, picking up so many new services in such a short time frame. Given that space has always been an issue for their West London operations, the enthusiast community naturally questioned how Abellio would fit in another two services (see later). Eventually, it was revealed that a brand new depot would be opened on the Great Western Industrial Estate, with a much larger available capacity than both Hayes (WS) garage and the temporary outstation at Southall (AB). This base is strategically positioned, being just around the corner from Ealing Hospital. where several bus routes converge. Naturally, it was assumed that the E11 would operate out of the Great Western (GW) depot, but later it was revealed that this would not be ready until Saturday 13th July, a full seven weeks after they commenced operating the E11. Luckily, only six new ADL Enviro 200 MMC vehicles had to be squeezed into the Southall outstation, with some making appearances on the E5 and E7 before the E11's first day. Interestingly, they seem to have been fitted with tinted windows. Even though the garage was by no means complete, enthusiasts were greeted with a full turnout of new vehicles on day one and shortly afterwards some older 16-reg MMCs from the E5 began to sneak out onto the route. Now that the permanent depot is open, a more flexible common user policy with all the other 9.0m vehicles has been assimilated. To start with, operation was on the wobbly side, but a fairly chunky diversion which involved skipping all of Castle Bar Park and Bordars Road couldn't have helped matters. Admittedly, I was sceptical that Abellio would be able to handle this route well, especially after seeing an E11 training bus going down Bordars Road, which led to sewer works at the time, less than 24 hours before they took over. Having voith E200s with stop-start technology was also a cause for concern, since the Greenford hail and ride section is littered with speed humps and often involves a hill start, but surprisingly these vehicles seem to have coped well with the challenging road conditions. The service seems to run like clockwork and hopefully with their more appropriately sized new depot, Abellio can continue to strengthen their well-respected plethora of West London bus routes.

I would only recommend snapping along Ruislip Road East in sunny conditions, as otherwise the reflections are horrible.
Both the E10 and E11 share similar territory, so trekking to West London on two consecutive weekends must've been quite frustrating for non-local enthusiasts, especially as the routes have switched between the same operators. Usually, services are given to companies on a five year contract, with a potential two-year extension awarded for consistently good performance, so it's pretty disturbing that the E10 has been run by five, or arguably six distinct bus companies since 2013. With Metroline acquiring Greenford (G) garage after the sale of First London, an operator change here was inevitable, but upon tender the E10 was unusually awarded to Tellings Golden Miller (TGM), from Heathrow (HE) garage. They were a subsidiary of Arriva at the time. The situation regarding the E10 became much more complicated when TGM was returned to family ownership at the end of 2014, so it effectively became a fully Arriva service, with the now defunct Garston (GR) garage controlling the service, whilst Dartford (DT) were responsible for maintenance and providing spare buses. The practice of buses dead-running a distance of over 20 miles on a regular basis clearly wasn't viewed as sustainable, so eventually Arriva surrendered the service. London United, at Hounslow Heath (HH) garage, assumed operation in December 2017, but this base was still some distance away and it was evident that taking on such an unfamiliar route at the last minute was no easy job. Hopefully, this next period with Abellio can offer some stability for a theoretically peaceful back street route - no other service in London has had such a turbulent recent history.

From the outside, there really isn't much difference between the 14-reg and 12-reg E200s.
The current E10 runs between Northolt, Islip Manor and Ealing Broadway. It navigates the back streets of Smiths Farm before briefly meeting the Ruislip Road, but then takes another lengthy detour to serve the Ferrymead Estate, which is quite vast despite its low density. From my observations the E10 is well used here, especially as after Greenford Broadway it takes the quickest possible route to Ealing, via Scotch Common and Cleveland Road. Given its usefulness, the E10 is heavily oversubscribed, with buses often carrying standing loads even in the middle of the day. A much needed capacity upgrade was promised by TfL, with a proposal to increase the frequency to every 12 minutes and modify the Islip Manor terminus, so that longer vehicles could be used than at present. Infuriatingly, neither of these have been delivered. Even though the E10 is crying for help, TfL are seemingly obsessed with the notion of extending it beyond Ealing Broadway. The initial plan to send the route to Chiswick Business Park was rightfully cancelled, as creating a useful link using buses with limited capacity has disaster written all over it, yet recently a new consultation regarding the E10 was released. This time, it's proposed that the E10 will run as far as Osterley Tesco, via South Ealing Road and the Sky office complex, but with short vehicles being the indefinite allocation, this seems like another ridiculous idea. For now, 8 vehicles are required for the 4bph Monday to Saturday frequency, with typical reductions to 3bph on Sundays and 2bph during the evening. It takes around 45 minutes to complete the 6 mile journey.

London United continued to use the nine ADL Enviro 200s ordered by Tellings Golden Miller in 2014, being the first euro 6 examples to grace the streets of London, but the ridiculously long dead runs meant that these vehicles were knackered and two spare 12-reg E200s were purchased for the E10 - ironically, these came from Arriva. This meant that only the logos truly revealed that the E10 was run by London United - the interior definitely suggested otherwise to the regular passenger and ultimately they wouldn't have noticed any difference when they took over. One native 08-reg Enviro 200 from the E11 made an extremely rare appearance in January 2018, but otherwise the E10 solely used its allocated buses. Although Hounslow Heath (HH) garage clearly tried their hardest with the route, I'm sure they're grateful that it has found another new home.

Having flopped attempt#1, it was quite funny to see one driver almost turn down a dead end road on the first day...
Abellio London started their new contract on Saturday 1st June 2019, with all nine new 19-reg ADL Enviro 200 MMC vehicles being ready for day one. They are identical to the E11 buses, but the two batches could not intermingle at first, due to the aforementioned delayed opening of their new garage on the Great Western Industrial Estate. The E10 is slightly more substantial than the E11 and could not possibly fit inside Southall (AB) or Hayes (WS), so ended up starting out at Twickenham (TF) depot. Dead runs from here were probably more time-consuming than those undertaken by London United and Arriva, but it was a temporary arrangement after all and the E10, along with other outcasts like the 195, 350 and U5, have returned to their respective home garages. The first month wasn't smooth, with some pretty nasty gaps in rush hour, but each week I'm seeing an improvement and soon I don't doubt that the E10 will become more reliable than it has been in years. Now that all of Abellio's E-routes are under one roof, the similar 9.0m MMCs allocated to the E5 and E11 can frequently escape onto the E10. I should also hope that they won't be as foolish as Twickenhem depot, who decided to dump a 10.5m vehicle from the R70 onto the route on one Saturday morning, with no indication whatsoever that it was actually an E10. A paper sign wouldn't hurt. Needless to say, the bus was subbed quickly. That aside, Abellio have had a promising start on both E-routes and I wish them all the best in strengthening their West London operations even further.

This Optare Solo was incredibly rapid and sounded healthy, but was withdrawn just four days after this shot was taken.
With the E11 I couldn't really discuss any fall-out as all of its buses were simply withdrawn, but the E10's ex-Arriva E200s have quickly been redeployed. If you've read my other posts on RATP, you'll know that they've become obsessed with standardising their fleet as of late, so it's no surprise that the remaining Optare Solos became a target. They predominantly worked the K5 at Epsom (EB) garage, although the ex-E10 buses have settled in comfortably and work pretty much everything, from the busy outer-suburban S1 and 463 long-distance routes, to the more localised S3 and K5. For some reason, two of the Optare Solo vehicles are still in service, but they could disappear at any moment and I urge you catch one while you still can, especially on a route as fun as the K5.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Random Observations - July 2019

I felt like doing one of these, so here is your supposedly monthly dose of ten randomly selected pictures, straight from the album.

Even though my camera often throws a hissy fit, cloudy weather does allow more photo opportunities.
After another PVR cut, the E3 predominantly uses the 60-reg ADL Enviro400H vehicles from the 94, rather than its own newer 62-reg examples. This did result in some all-over ad buses appearing on the route, which felt quite strange as usually non-red buses are confined to the streets of Central London, especially on services like the 94. The oyster hopper bus, ADH22, lasted for considerably longer than the others before having its wrap removed, so it didn't actually escape my camera. Locals were slightly bemused whenever the blue bus trundled along Northfield Avenue, rightfully questioning why the red all over rule seemed to have gone to put. I know some enthusiasts are determined to capture every advertisement wrap, but I hadn't gone after one on purpose until that grim March afternoon. Even then, this is just TfL trying to get people back onto the buses, after tearing up the network. I'm not convinced it'll work, since having a hopper fare is useless if there isn't a second bus to hop onto...

I never ask for blind changes, but it's always great to take advantage when others do!
Offering redemption is never a bad thing, but the Dart Pointer pictured above has been given a ridiculous number of chances despite its somewhat reckless behaviour. Until a few months ago, two 51-reg AT545 Darts still survived at Bexleyheath (BX) garage, but when the gearbox of LDP206 packed up, the other one sacrificed its life in order to donate its own gearbox. This worked for a couple of months, until this one also failed. Given that the refurbishment programme at this garage is still ongoing, whilst the number of spare E200s is limited, it was a miracle for Go-Ahead that the engine of the last Marshall Capital in London, DMN1, blew up at around the same time LDP206 failed. This has resulted in the latter vehicle seeing its third gearbox in the space of a year. It's really enjoyable to ride, especially as it sports the ancient Go-Ahead moquette, but I really hope that it doesn't fail again, for the sake of being able to hear the classic AT545 whine within London. In regards to the significance of the blind display above, the B12 has been operated by Arriva for many years, but I believe this very type was used when Bexleyheath (BX) garage did house the route, from inception until 2009.

Although regulation is usually a burden, in this case I beat the bus on foot and managed to snap it here in Welling.
There's been a lot of hype surrounding this particular Go-Ahead vehicle within the enthusiast community as of late, being the last PVL-class Volvo/B7TL President still at the company, coincidentally also at Bexleyheath (BX) garage. Even though it's technically designated for school services, it seems to be very popular among drivers and regularly appears on routes like the 89, 132 and 486. More recently, the 51 transferred into this base from Orpington (MB) garage, in order to accommodate the recently acquired 227 at the latter location. Bexleyheath were very eager to reblind their vehicles for this gain and within a few days, the iconic Plaxton President strayed onto the route during one evening peak. It probably wasn't as significant as it could've been though, since a couple of months earlier a farewell tour using this very vehicle involved traversing a fair chunk of the 51, with many photos on flickr after the event. There's even a poster inside the vehicle explaining the significance of PVL284 to passengers ; it's evident that Go-Ahead are determined to have the last President in London. What will be quite funny is if Metroline, with their three remaining examples, take the crown instead...

There really is a lot of yellow in this photograph, but this was another improvised spot.
Another situation where Metroline could quite easily rob an operator of their glory, is with the remaining Trident ALX400s. Most enthusiasts naturally associate this type of bus with Stagecoach London, who ran a very large number on pretty much all of their double deck services throughout the 2000s. At the moment, a few are clinging on at Bromley (TB), Plumstead (PD), Romford (NS) and Leyton (T) garages, but there are also two remaining workhorses at Metroline's Cricklewood (W) garage, primarily on the 210 service between Finsbury Park and Brent Cross. TA648 still seems very healthy and is out and about on an almost daily basis, also having the advantage of a newer Euro 4 engine. After all these years of the Metroline ALXs being forgotten, perhaps in a few months it could be their time to shine.

Comparing the generations of Wrightbus vehicles...
Over the past month I've dedicated most of my trips out to snapping and riding the elderly London buses, given that so many types will presumably become extinct later in 2019. Go-Ahead London are now the sole operator of Wrightbus Gemini B7TLs, although the ones at Northumberland Park (NP) and Croydon (C) garages seem to have no intention of leaving any time soon. One still remains at Merton (AL) garage, with WVL119 significantly outliving the two others which survived into this calendar year. It was an enjoyable ride, but I'm left to question why this particular vehicle was granted a stay of execution, given that it's so unhealthy. Seriously, that engine does not sound happy, yet several enthusiasts commented on how competent its companions were. I'd still recommend going after it, but if you want a fast ride then expect to be disappointed.

Go-Ahead are the biggest operator in London, but they do seem to be abnormally dominant in this post.
Scania OmniCity vehicles are still relatively new in comparison to the other relics seen earlier, but I'd certainly class them as endangered. Every operator that still has them seems to want them gone as soon as possible, which is frustrating as I really like their quirkiness. London United and Stagecoach still have a long way to go, but Go-Ahead are almost there with just 6 examples remaining. Initially, they were all at Silvertown (SI) garage, staying on after the D8, which they were contractually allocated to, was lost to Tower Transit in September. However, the enforcement of the ultra low emission zone meant two of them could no longer act as spares for the 135 after its PVR increase, so a direct swap occurred at the last minute. Two compatible 'classic' ADL Enviro400Hs were sent up North, whilst the transfer of two OmniCitys reintroduced the type to Orpington (MB) garage. They seem to like the 353 more than anything, but by complete coincidence I managed to snap one on the 654 school service, which actually offers a quicker route between Addington and Orpington than the mainstream 353. One did sneak out onto the 320, but it couldn't travel beyond Downham due to a green bus corridor in Catford. For all of the bus youtubers, 969 was very fast when I rode it one month ago, but the same can't be said for its sibling.

This location was a massive risk, but I somehow didn't get bowled and could move on after my first attempt.
Unusually, for around a week at the start of July, Holloway (HT) garage started chucking out a load of Volvo/B5LH MCV EvoSeti vehicles onto the 390, a very high profile New Routemaster service between Victoria and Archway. Usually, whenever there was a shortage of the LT-class NRMs, the 91 would receive the spare conventionals, but for some reason this practise seems to have been dropped since the introduction of the ULEZ - only one EvoSeti has worked the route since the type was drafted into Holloway. Nonetheless, I feel that these buses really suit the 390 and the odd appearances can perhaps give us an insight into what this service would be allocated if the proposal to build a large number of New Routemasters wasn't acted upon. I'd really love to see one on the 24, especially as it passes to Abellio in November, but this even more significant route has somehow only seen one conventional vehicle in the six years of its New Routemaster operation, so such a working is incredibly unlikely.

For once, Metroline heavily invested in refurbishing a vehicle. Ironic, considering it's hardly used.
Those of you who know me well will be familiar with my struggle in catching this elusive vehicle - I finally managed to tick it off in July, having been at the top of my priority list since it emerged in December. Most spare buses tend to be used pretty regularly, but this one is quite literally only sent out in emergencies, often having two to three months off road at a time. Its track record on LVF is astonishingly poor, having made only six appearances since the end of March. The reason why OS68 is so important is because it has only recently been with Metroline. It used to operate the Hampstead Garden Suburb services at Arriva's Garston (GR) garage, but as the new Metroline Optare Solo SR vehicles arrived so much later than the contract date, the old OSs were temporarily assimilated by Cricklewood (W) garage. Metroline were pretty honest about their feelings towards these knackered vehicles, which would break down all the time and made operating these pretty straightforward routes immensely difficult. Despite all their nightmare experiences, the company soon realised that having only one spare vehicle was a major risk, especially as no other buses can physically fit onto the H-routes. This resulted in OS68, which was clearly their favourite, being heavily refurbished, returning to service in December 2018. It still sounds very unhealthy, with the roaring being particularly concerning, but from an enthusiast's perspective more variety can only ever be a good thing. It's also quite funny watching the bemused locals as they board the bus, recognising that it's ancient, but also having the Metroline interior, which they would see as new.

The fares for these shuttles was extortionate, but they do look very fun.
The annual Wimbledon Tennis championships are a fascinating time for enthusiasts, even for those like myself who aren't particularly interested in the sport. Go-Ahead are given the responsibility of operating the shuttle bus services which carry spectators to the event from many different locations, such as Wimbledon Station, Southfields Station and South Thames College (Park & Ride). There's even a direct service all the way from King's Cross St Pancras, but a single fare was a tenner for that one. The commercial services fleet has a plethora of different bus types, with almost all being put to use during the tennis. Brand new classic E400s run alongside open top Gemini B7TLs and even AEC Routemasters, whilst the convenience of having brand new Enviro400H MMCs for the gain of route 208 meant there were never any vehicle shortages. The main 840 service seemed to be almost always rammed, whilst the other routes were less heavily used, but their loads are still clearly seen as justifiable.

Wow, the 390 really is an attention seeker. Two pics in one post! This one didn't even make flickr as I have so many of the vehicle, at a number of locations.
Enthusiasts always rave about the Showbus event that happens in September, but until Sunday I hadn't appreciated the scale of the Alton Bus Rally. It seems like a truly spectacular event, with hundreds of vintage and modern vehicles on display, as well as rides to the stunning Hampshire countryside. I was only able to attend for 50 minutes, but in that time I took over 200 photos, with most of these taken on a rather small patch of grass which rather brilliantly allowed spotters to witness buses leaving the site, as well as those running to the stands on feeder services. I highly recommend going next year (there are even free connecting bus services to London), as this sort of variety and the number of rides seems to be pretty unique. It's quite hilarious that out of all the photos, another 390 was chosen, but I'm really glad that I managed to snap these RMLs with the skirt, as they've avoided me for ages. It's also quite a significant route in regards to Routemaster history, as it was only created in 2003 but used these vehicles from birth, albeit only for a year. It was definitely the last brand new service to commence with this London icon.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!