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Exit Stagecoach Left, Please

Routes 103 and 175 were lost in a surprise tender last month (October), from Stagecoach to Arriva London. Here in this post, we follow what's been happening since.
Stagecoach 18471 (LX55 ERK) on route 175 at Romford Station.

The Tender Announcement
So it was somewhere around the start of this year when a huge wad of tenders in relation to quite a number of East London routes was announced. Routes 150, 150D and 257 were among the list of routes who had their fate for the next 5 years revealed. 

The 257 award proved a good day for Stagecoach, but Arriva had an even better day knowing they had won the 103 and 175, and also retained the 341 and 150 (150D was incorporated into the 150). 

It was quickly announced that route 103 would be heading to Grays (GY) garage and route 175 to Barking's Ripple Road (DX) garage where sister route from Heathway, the 173 also operates from. Both routes were to utilise existing Wright Pulsar Gemini 2 bodied VDL DB300 buses (DW) class released from route 242 earlier this year, and also route 341 which as aforementioned, was retained (with new hybrid buses).

With some background context, the 103 is a route that runs between North Romford Chase Cross Road (advertised as 'Chase Cross' on most maps and buses) and Rainham Interchange for Rainham (Essex) Station for c2c services. The route was only extended to the 'interchange' a few years ago towards the start of a second contract with Stagecoach. Previously before that, it had terminated at the War Memorial just around the corner. 

Stagecoach had ran the route for the last 12 years, since 2005, initially using [at-the-time] brand new ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident buses, before getting a partial new allocation in the November of 2012, to coincide with the start of a new 5 year contract, new Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 buses. The route was stationed at Romford (NS) garage before moving over to Rainham (RM) in 2015, following Stagecoach's successful tender win of routes 498 and 499.

Stagecoach 19741 (LX11 BBJ) with an all-over Homesense
advert, at Dagenham Ford's in 2016.
The 175 is a route that has been around forever, the longest running one along Dagenham's Heathway. Having spent the last 60 or so years at Romford (NS) garage, it came as a shock that for the first time in six decades, the route was leaving the garage. Currently running from North Romford Hillrise Estate to Dagenham New Road, the route was 'temporarily' cut back from Dagenham Ford Works earlier this year. Ford's, the American car manufacturer has a huge, although now mostly redundant, plant in Dagenham with the 175 as the only route running onto the factory grounds during Monday to Fridays and early Saturday mornings.

However, with the access to the plant which is via a bridge that takes you over a small body of water, now weakening quickly, for health & safety reasons it was decided to cut the route back to the New Road terminus full-time.

The Last Day
Stagecoach 10307 (YY15 OYZ) on route 175 at Romford Station.
Those who follow the Romford bus scene probably realised how quickly the Trident model has vanished over the last two years. The area was rammed with these buses on nearly every single route for the last 10 years before that, and somehow had now become drained of it. The 175 was the second-to-last route to have Tridents as the official allocation in Romford, with now only the yellow route 247 left. Stagecoach in London itself does not have that many Tridents left in action now, with many enthusiasts predicting that route 158 (Stratford to Chingford Mount) may be the last route to officially see these vehicles in 2019.

Route 175 for the last few days at Stagecoach East London was curtailed to Chase Cross, sharing the stand with route 103 due to utility works taking place within Hillrise Estate, closing off all access for local buses. This was also ongoing during the first week of Arriva operation. However, as route 175 technically 'doesn't serve Chase Cross' per se by TfL's standards - skipping the turning point by diving down Avelon Road, it meant that iBus could not even be programmed to know that the route was only going as far as Chase Cross, and many of the newer Enviro 400 buses with powerblinds could not be programmed to show the destination and 175 at the same time, as Chase Cross is not specified as a turning point on TfL's blind specification documents. As a result, most buses ran around with Hillrise Estate still on their blinds and all buses were still saying Hillrise Estate on iBus.

Stagecoach 17776 blinded for route 103 to Rainham, War Memorial in 2014.
The Spirit of London is the first ever Enviro 400 to have been built, as I'm sure many of you know the story behind it is that the bus was to replace the Trident destroyed in the 7/7 Bombings. It has moved around from garage to garage on several routes around East London, following tender losses such as route 30 which was its original home (which is now to end at Metroline next year, 2018). It was the victim of its own attack, an arson, back in 2012 whilst on a late night route 69 duty and had to be rebuilt following several thousands of pounds being reinvested into the vehicle. Upon return, it came back to service in late 2013, operating out of Leyton (T) with a new look on flagship route 55 between Leyton Baker's Arms and Oxford Circus. However this was short lived as route 55 converted to Wright Borismaster operation.

It was decided that the bus would move over to Rainham (RM) garage and was selected to live on routes 103, 248 and 252. The bus spent most of its days on the 103 and so after a good two years of seeing the route on a near daily basis, the Spirit of London, one of London's few named buses, subsequently formed the last ever Stagecoach 103 working in the early hours of Saturday 14th October 2017, bringing a lovely end to Stagecoach's chapter on this route. Whether the allocators have done this on purpose or whether it was genuinely a happy accident remains unknown to at least most of us, but either way a lot of enthusiasts were grateful for a nice send-off. 

The bus itself still lives at Rainham (RM) garage, although spends much more of its days on route 252 between Collier Row, Romford and Hornchurch now with very few trips on the 248 up to Upminster.

Arriva has Arrived
Arriva took over the routes on the 14th October 2017 using existing buses displaced from routes 242, 243 and 341. Route 103 has been at Arriva before, prior to 2005, so this was another route added to the growing list of homecomings that have occurred lately. Although it is noteworthy that the route was stationed out of Barking (DX) garage prior to the loss, it is now to operate instead out of Grays (GY). 


Grays (GY) already has had around 12 DW-class buses of the same age since 2014 or 2015, from when route 66 converted from single decker operation to double decker operation. This was an increase in it's portfolio of these buses as the garage now has about 44 of these, with the other 30 or so buses joining this summer to form the 103 allocation and also following the successful retain of the garage's flagship route 370, which will also be using these buses.

For Barking (DX) however, it was their first foray into these vehicles. Although most of their fleet is modern, bar the much loved VLAs that live on purple branded route 128 that miraculously don't age, the garage has always been an Alexander Dennis stronghold. Filled top to bottom with a variety Enviro 200 and Enviro 400 buses that can be found on the 150, 173, 325 and 368.

It was decided that route 175 would join the garage instead as it is much closer, with the option of having 175 drivers use the same ferry that the 128 and 150 use and dropping them at the Becontree Heath Leisure Centre, making the operation of the route some bit cheaper. 


DW258 (LJ59 GVK) showing the incorrect display of 'Dagenham, Fords'
whilst working route 175.
The first bus to join Barking's fleet was ex-Tottenham DW327 (LJ60 AXK) in mid-August on route 173. Drivers and engineers had been training on these vehicles from as early as July to ensure a smooth transition into using these vehicles when they rolled out on a larger scale in the Autumn. Quite a large number of DWs rolled out over the coming weeks primarily on routes 173 and 368 as they aren't part of the branding trial, especially with 173 the garage's most flexible route in terms of allocations. 



Route 175 was still curtailed to Chase Cross for about another half week, meaning the same issues that Stagecoach had suffered on their last day in regards to blinds and iBus announcements had carried on here. Interestingly, Transport for London still has put 'Dagenham, Ford Works' as a destination on the blinds specification although the likelihood of buses returning there seems to be slim at best right now. Mistakenly, drivers do still keep showing this as the destination of their bus when it should, at all times until further notice, display 'Dagenham, New Road'.


Route 175 descending the Hillrise, North Romford.
The reaction to DWs being used on the 175 was mixed: it wasn't exactly as welcomed by quite a number of enthusiasts, the roots of the 'rejection' being primarily down to the poor state of some of the buses, in particular the ex-Tottenham ones, which weren't looked after well. Buses were heavily restricted and are slow, and quite a number were said to have sounded quite unhealthy, releasing a lot of particulates into the air: DW245 (LJ59 AAF) was a prime example of this. But obviously in a mix, praise has risen for some of the other buses used that has come over to the garage.

The first day was really patchy, the well known 'first-day syndrome' having struck before 8 that morning on both routes. Buses were all over the place at the wrong time, with a lot of overtime for drivers going up. There were instances where there may have not been a bus for over 30 minutes, meaning passengers had to rely on other routes such as the 499, 173 and 174 to get across Dagenham and Romford. A lot of buses had curtailed short of their destination, with one point on the 175 that evening where Heathway traffic had played up again that the service was 'lopsided', of about 12 or so buses, 3 were heading to Dagenham and 9 heading towards Chase Cross with many of the northbound buses running in pairs or triplets. 
Luckily to the relief of anyone who takes interest in these routes, the service has much improved since then. Buses are slowly starting to come at more regular intervals, with a lot less turns in the service. 


A 370 bus appears on the 103.
The buses haven't yet to have a refurbishment, although are expecting this to happen relatively soon. Interestingly, DW246 seems to, as a one-off, have had a repaint which was carried out earlier in the year back when it was housed at Clapton (CT) garage. Barking (DX) does have more buses than it actually needs right now, with the ex-Tottenham (AR) hanging about as spare buses. Their presence at the garage probably indicates that a much needed refurbishment of these buses is in due course. A similar situation at Grays (GY) where a few VLAs made redundant are still hanging about.

Although a bit of a shaky start, Arriva are slowly getting there. Here's to 5 years of Arriva's service on the routes 103 and 175.

Stay safe!

Some Swaps in the South

2017 has been a noisy year for Go Ahead London, with many new routes being welcomed to the company while many long standing routes have moved on the pastures anew. The last round of tenders for this year involves the company once again, with route 45 moving out from Camberwell (Q) to its new home with Abellio at Walworth (WL) while route 176 came over to Camberwell (Q) from Arriva along with the 188 which went to Morden Wharf (MG) from Abellio. Route 18 also changed operator on this day but information on that change will follow in an upcoming post!


A 176 and 188 stand at Waterloo, under their old operator
© EastLondoner

Two PVLs stand outside St Pancras International
© EastLondoner
Before moving onto the details about the operator change let me go through some information about all the routes involved. Route 45 was operated by Go Ahead London from Camberwell (Q). During its final few years at Camberwell (Q) it was allocated with Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7TL buses, known as PVLs. The route was introduced in 1950 as a replacement route for withdrawn tram route 34 running between Farringdon and Battersea. However the route has been subject to many route alterations and changes over the past 60+ years, at one point being a South Kensington to Archway via Clapham Junction route. Today's route route is just a shadow in comparison operating between Clapham Park and King's Cross running via Brixton, Elephant & Castle and Blackfriars Bridge.


MHV66 stands outside St Pancras International
© EastLondoner
For the final week and a half of operation under Go Ahead route 45 was unable to use its allocated PVLs due to the implementation of the new green bus corridor between Brixton and Streatham. Therefore the PVLs were withdrawn around two weeks before the 45s loss and Euro6 Hybrids were used on the route. This came in the form of MCV Evosetis (borrowed from routes 35, 40 and 185), E40H MMCs (from routes 35, 40, 42 as well as some 67reg examples intended for the 176) and Wright Eclipse Gemini 3s (borrowed from route 1 as well as examples intended for the 176) leading to the unusual sight of a route soon to be lost being full of pretty new buses.


VLA53 stands at Tottenham Court Road Station
© EastLondoner
However despite the loss of the 45, Go Ahead still had two routes coming in to keep them busy. Filling in the space left at Camberwell (Q) was route 176 which had come over from Arriva. Arriva operated this route from their Norwood (N) garage and like route 45 it was also allocated with B7TL buses, however they were on an ALX400 body and known as VLAs. The route operates between Penge and Tottenham Court Road. The route was born in 1951 originally running as a Victoria Embankment to Catford bus route. Since then the route has had a lot of changes, during the mid-1960s the route even spanned as a Willesden Bus Garage to Lewisham route running via Catford. In 1990 the route had changed into an Oxford Circus/Aldwych to Penge route, similar to the route today. In 1994 the route was made to serve Oxford Circus at all times, however around 2008 the route was cut back to Tottenham Court Road station leading to today's route.


VLA39 is seen at Sydenham Station
© EastLondoner
Despite the 176 having a PVR of 26 buses, Go Ahead only ordered 9 buses for it in the form of Enviro400 MMC bodied E40Hs numbered EH162-EH170. The rest of the PVR was expected to be made from PVR reductions on other routes which were allocated Euro6 Hybrid buses. These were assumed to be predominantly buses from reductions on routes 14 and 74 at Putney (AF). However with just days before the contract some of the buses which were expected to make up part of the allocation of the 176 were at Barking (RR) on the 5. However some Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses did manage to make their way to Camberwell (Q). During the last few days of Arriva operation the route has remained predominantly filled with its allocated VLA buses. These buses are expected to leave Norwood (N) following the loss of the 176. 


EH163, one of the new buses for the 176 seen on route 40
© EastLondoner


9017 seen at Waterloo
© EastLondoner
The final route which will be covered in this post is route 188. This route went the opposite direction to the 45, going from Abellio to Go Ahead London. Prior to its move the route was allocated to Walworth (WL) and allocated with Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B7TL buses supplemented by a few Enviro400 bodied E40H buses. However in practice the route ended up using whatever was left in the garage. This route was introduced at a similar to to the 45 and 176, starting services in 1951 as a Chalk Farm to Cutty Sark route. In the 1960s the route started to be cut for its northern sector leading to it only running into Central London as far as Euston. During the 80s there was a short extension to King's Cross but this didn't last long and the route got cut back to Euston a few years later. In May 1999 the route was extended from Greenwich to North Greenwich Station to co-incide with the opening of the Jubilee Line extension as well as the Millennium Dome (now known as the O2 Arena). Later in 1999 the route was cut from Euston to Russell Square, forming the route that we all know today. 

Travel London (later Abellio) won the route from Go Ahead London in 2005 and introduced Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B7TL buses, which remained the staple allocation of the route through most of its time with the company. In 2011 a partial allocation of Hybrids were introduced in the form of Enviro400 bodied E40H buses. Although the route was often filled with a variety of bus types.  When Go Ahead won the route from Abellio in early 2017, there was some speculation as to where the route would go. However it was later revealed that a brand new garage would be taking the route, known as Morden Wharf (MG) located near the Blackwall Tunnel. 


E40H 2436 is seen at Greenwich, alongside another future win of MG - Route 386
© EastLondoner
On the 11th of November routes 45, 176 and 188 all moved to their new operators. Go Ahead took over the service of the 176 and 188 just after midnight, while Abellio took on the 45 in the early hours of the morning. I went out to see how the three routes were performing on their first day under their new operators. With route 188 being the closest, it was the first route I went to investigate. 


WHV183 sits on stand at North Greenwich
© EastLondoner
Upon arrival at Greenwich WHV183 was sitting on stand, and after about a 10 minute wait it finally turned up at its first stop, curtailed to Aldwych. We set off towards Greenwich Town Centre, unlike all the other routes at North Greenwich route 188 doesn't use the Pilot Busway, instead it uses Millennium Way, taking it to Blackwall Lane and then onto Trafalgar Road towards Greenwich Town Centre. However while my bus was on Trafalgar Road the gearbox started to showcase some of its issues, struggling to get the bus to actually move anywhere despite revving like there was no tomorrow. We eventually reached Surrey Quays, where the route was on diversion around the shopping centre due to roadworks. We went through Canada Water Bus Station before moving onto the infamous Jamaica Road. 


WHV183 sits on stand at Russell Square
© EastLondoner
Not long after we made it onto Old Kent Road, to be met by an angry man boarding complaining how there had not been a bus for 'a very long time' and that he needed to get to Russell Square but this bus was turned. Nonetheless he boarded and we went through Elephant & Castle and past Waterloo to be met with the standstill traffic on Waterloo Bridge. Upon arrival at Aldwych the driver was unaware about where he should actually let everyone off, however when he phoned the controller at the other end she was seemingly unaware the bus was turned at all, and therefore the driver was instructed to continue driving to Russell Square. The driver changed the blinds and it wasn't long until we were at Russell Square. 

I then made my way from Russell Square to Tottenham Court Road to sample the 176, however upon arrival at Tottenham Court Road Station there was no 176 in sight nor there was one due for over 30 minutes. A quick look online showed the Lord Mayor's show was leading to the route being curtailed at Trafalgar Square. Nonetheless I did head to Trafalgar Square to investigate how the route was doing and was met with a Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 on stand. 


WHV114 seen on stand at Charing Cross Station
© EastLondoner
There was no point of even attempting to have a ride on the route with it crippled in terms of operation by the Lord Mayor's show, so I just took a few pictures of the route then left to have a ride on route 45. 


2600 seen at St Pancras International
© EastLondoner
However that also didn't end up going to plan, upon arrival at St Pancras International there wasn't a 45 due for a while, one eventually rocked up 10 minutes later but didn't spend any time on stand and left straight away. Another one turned up, but by this point I really wasn't in the mood to have a ride on the route as no doubt the ride would be slow and painful due to the traffic caused by all the diversions. Therefore I left to do other things, on the way back home I did make a stop back at Waterloo to see how the routes were doing, and I was greeted by a 45, which doesn't even serve Waterloo so it was probably a wise decision to not bother with the route that day! 


2584 seen at Southwark Station
© EastLondoner
I went out again on Monday morning to see how all the 45 and 176 were doing, I could only manage a short ride on either route due to the time I had available. I took the Jubilee Line to Southwark Station where I could hitch a ride on the 45 to Camberwell where I could get the 176 back into Central London. However immense traffic in Central London, and a gap in the 45s service meant I had to cut the trip short after just a few stops at Elephant & Castle. 2596 was going to be my bus, the bus itself was pleasant. Upon boarding I was welcomed by the famous 'new bus smell'. The bus was nice and warm and the iBus speakers were set at just the correct volume - not too quiet but not booming loud either. It was everything you could ask for in a bus, even if it was just a few stops!  


EH81 seen on stand at Trafalgar Sq on the first day
© EastLondoner
Upon alighting at Elephant & Castle I crossed the road and made my way to the 176s bus stop. It wasn't long until EH83 turned up, a bus perviously used at Putney (AF) on the 14, Stockwell (SW) on the 118 and Barking (RR) on the 5. Therefore it did not have the 'New Bus Smell' and was a bit more tired than the buses that were on the 45 and 188. We set off towards Tottenham Court Road, going past St George's Circus and then down Waterloo Road towards Central London. Route 176 uses a pretty unique routing from Waterloo to Tottenham Court Road opting to run via the Strand, Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square as opposed to running via Holborn.  However this unique route, although is quite nice for sightseers is not very nice for people who are running low on time. My journey was very slow along Waterloo Bridge, with the traffic along the Strand abysmal. Route 176 has to do a full 360 degree round of Trafalgar Square to get from the Strand onto Charing Cross Road. However we must have spent at least 10 minutes just trying to get around the roundabout.

Once we had negotiated Trafalgar Square my willpower to do the rest of the route fell off a cliff and deep into the ocean. It was almost a complete standstill. I pressed the stop bell and just got off, I knew how the rest of the route went and I'd had two occasions to sample the service Go Ahead provided. The next day on my way home I did make a stop at Tottenham Court Road station to try my luck on the route for a third time, I made my way to the stand to take a picture of a bus on stand, EH79 was on stand. However my detour to photograph a bus on stand would prove to be a mistake, EH79 left by the time I'd walked to the first stop, I checked my phone to see when the next bus due and there wasn't one for over 30 minutes. At this point I gave up with the route and went home.


EH79 on stand on Great Russell Street
© EastLondoner
Overall this tendering round left a mixed bag of changes behind. Service levels of the 45, 176 and 188 are nowhere near the levels or standard the pervious operator said. However it's totally unfair to expect that in the first few days, service levels no doubt will start improving. Hopefully levels to which each route's previous operator set - or maybe even beyond the standard the previous operator set.

A One-Way Ticket, Please

Another short post this one is, whilst retaining all the information you need to know.


A One-Way Ticket

Route 530 was a temporary shuttle route that operates in one direction only, from Holloway Nag's Head TO Islington, Angel via Highbury Corner.


Stick a 5 in front of it: Father of the route at Highbury Corner.
It runs 7 days a week, only during the day about every 10 minutes using Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 (WVN) buses from Go-Ahead London's Northumberland Park (NP) garage during roadworks by Islington Angel. 

The route takes its name from local route 30, between Marble Arch and Hackney Wick which is affected by these works. Originally it was to be called route 543, after another local route 43 and this was shown on some publicity documents originally when the service started back in August 2017, however it has been rectified and agreed that it will be the 530 instead.

The reason behind creating the shuttle was due to water and road works near the Islington Angel junction, blocking through access onto the Pentonville Road which all routes used heading southbound. As a result, diversions and road closures were put in place in one direction, with local residents who were dependent on the 'gone' bus routes requesting that Transport for London (TfL) put on a temporary service TO Angel to maintain the much-needed and used links, particularly during their short commute into the city.

It's not the first time Holloway has had a temporary route this year, earlier around the New Year there was another route numbered 563 that had a journey time of two minutes closer to Upper Holloway operated by the same garage using surplus Alexander Dennis Enviro 200s built in 2011 released from route D8's double decker conversion.


A map of the route, courtesy of the Transport for London (TfL) website.
Operations and Diversions
The one-way route ran from August until November 2017, utilising 3 of Go-Ahead London's spare WVN-class buses. As the areas it serves are primarily in zone 2, the service become locally known quickly, and in particular during the peak period had gained major popularity and wasn't carrying small loadings or even air, in the case of other temporary routes, especially with the lack of one of London's busiest routes; the 43 towards London Bridge being absent along this stretch.

Other bus routes, including the 4, 19, 30 and 43 were diverted along alternative routes, including the 43 following the 271 to Hoxton and Old Street! This made the southbound 43 follow the eastbound 271 for nearly the entire length of it's [the 271] route, bar the small leg from Archway to Highgate Village South Grove. 

Observations
The new route in question: the 530.
On the day I went to observe and photograph the route, it was a surprise to see how busy it was. Perhaps because it was the height of the evening peak, around let's say, 5 or 6, that a crowd of about 60 people were standing patiently, waiting in such an orderly fashion by the Highbury Corner bus stop waiting a good 10 or 15 minutes for this bus.

(Holloway Road is traditionally quite congested and there are ongoing roadworks to transform Highbury Corner into a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly junction, similar to those up the road at Archway).

Eventually, a bus, in the form of one of 357's buses [a route in Walthamstow running from Chingford Hatch and into or to the outside of Whipps Cross Hospital, dependent on day of the week] had turned up. Unblinded, unwashed but on a route that was not under the radar. 

In the dashboard, sits a white piece of A4 paper, in Johnston [standard TfL] font reading '530' in big bold letters, with Angel and a London Underground roundel in a smaller size of the same font, below on the next line. The blindset is set to 'Special Service'. Most other buses had the TfL roundel on the number blind with a blank destination set, also utilising the A4 piece of paper.

Other than that, the route's not really that interesting. It only takes 20 minutes from one end to the other, then creates a triangle by cutting through some streets around Islington to get back to Holloway which is probably half that time.

In terms of the allocation, the WVNs were the only buses the route used, although from time to time, until the 257 [Stratford to Walthamstow via Leytonstone] was lost back to Stagecoach London in October 2017, some older Gemini 1 strayed their way properly into the streets of zone 2 once more.
  It had it's uses, but ever since, the buses have returned to normal, and the 530's knell has rung.

Thanks for reading this post and please remember to stay safe!

The ELT Takeover

If you go back more than a year, you might remember my post on the extension of route EL2 to Becontree Heath. In today's post we re-visit Barking in another addition to the Borismaster Watch series, something which many might not have expected!

It's my first time writing a Borismaster watch article, and I must say The London Bus Breh has left a lot to live up to! Many of you may not know my opinion on the vehicles as a whole. I personally dislike the vehicles, I feel that it was a great concept executed very poorly. I was very supportive of the return of the open platform as well as the return of open boarding. However both concepts would only work effectively if there was a second member of staff on board the bus, which was the case for the first few conversions but as the second member of staff was dropped for all conversions taking place after route 38, the usefulness of the bus type also dropped.  All this was not helped by the other problems that this bus had, such as the infamous air conditioning and lower capacity than standard buses.


© EastLondoner
On the 29th of July 2016 I was simply minding my own business, however when I picked up my phone it was full of notifications. Realising that tenders had been released that day I immediately went to check them out. It wasn't until I reached the bottom of the long list of routes that I realised that the East London Transit routes had been awarded with the addition of new ELT route EL3. All routes were to be operated by Go Ahead London with New Routemaster buses. Route 387 was to be withdrawn. I didn't know what to say about the results, should I be sad? Should I be angry? or should I be optimistic?


19778 seen at Cambridge Road in Barking
© EastLondoner
I've already given you lot some information on the EL1 and EL2 in the post that I have linked above, but let me run through some information about route 387. Route 387 operated between Little Heath (a green area in Goodmayes) and Barking Riverside. It was run by Stagecoach London from their Barking garage. The route started in Barking Riverside and made its way through Thames Road, River Road and Movers Lane to reach Barking. Once it left Barking it would continue up Longbridge Road until Goodmayes Lane, then it would go up Goodmayes Lane until Green Lane. It would then continue up Goodmayes Road and Barley Lane and double run King George Hospital before making its way to Little Heath. 

The route was allocated with Enviro400s during its last few months of operation, however Enviro400 MMCs and Dennis Tridents worked the route almost everyday. Below I have included some photos of those buses on the route...


10332 is seen turning onto North Street, route EL3 doesn't serve this area
© EastLondoner

17904 is seen at King George Hospital a week before the changeover
© EastLondoner

However the the 387 isn't the only route involved in this set of changes, nor is it the only route in the area getting New Routemasters. As I mentioned earlier routes EL1 and EL2 are also being allocated with the vehicle type however, they are currently undergoing a phased conversion as opposed to an on the day conversion like the EL3 had. As I've already given you the information on those routes in the post linked at the top, let me just catch you up on happenings since then. Route EL2 nw runs between Becontree Heath and Dagenham Dock while route EL1 runs between Ilford Station and Barking Riverside.


WVL348 seen near Barking Station
© EastLondoner
The EL1 has certainly seen a huge increase in its passenger numbers, as has the 169. The EL2 has seen its popularity growing, with many people south of Barking also using the new link it provides (including me!) as well as people north of Barking using it as an alternative to the 5. Unlike the 387, routes EL1 and EL2 have almost no variety to their allocation through their 7 year history. Since inception in 2010 the routes have been allocated with Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 buses on the Volvo B9TL chassis. Every now and again over the years a few Optare Olympuses and Volvo B7TLs/Wright Eclipse Geminis have crept out onto the route (albeit with no blinds). 


WVL334 seen near the Weavers Quarter development
© EastLondoner
Coming back to more information on the change itself. The EL3 timetables were in place at bus stops more than a week before the service change, with all 387 tiles removed and replaced by EL3 tiles at the bus stop the Wednesday before the service change. Stagecoach London concluded the operation with 19777 performing the final trip to Barking Riverside early in the morning on the 18th of February. Route EL3 then started operation with the first bus running at 0500 on the morning.

With the EL3 being very local to me, I went out at around midday to take a ride on the route. The bus turned up a few minutes after I had arrived at the bus stop. LT911 was going to be the bus which would form my first two rides on the EL3. I boarded it going towards Little Heath. As soon as I boarded the "New Bus Smell" made itself known to me. The front two seats were empty, so I took the opportunity to sit there. There was a scrolling message on the iBus screen informing people about the changes to the 387. We set off from the stop and immediately went onto the route's new routing through Barking Town Centre, following the routing of EL1 and EL2 rather than the 387s previous routing around the town centre going via North Street and London Road. 


LT911 seen at Little Heath
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We then swiftly moved onto Barking Station, where for the first time I saw some people boarding through the rear two doors as opposed to the front door. We then continued our journey up Longbridge road, barely picking up anyone until the end of the road just before the bus took the slight left onto Goodmayes Lane. We eventually reached Green Lane, an area I was anticipating because of the turns the bus has to perform here. The bus performed then with ease before over the bridge and across Goodmayes High Road onto Barley Lane. We then reached King George Hospital, the turn into the hospital grounds was quite tight here and we just about humped the curb, but the bus pulled all the other turns in the hospital grounds with complete ease. It should then be plain sailing to Little Heath...so I thought. Upon leaving the hospital grounds we were met with a traffic jam, reaching the A12. We took about 10 minutes just going the distance to the bus stand, in reality that should take 30 seconds. Upon arrival the position of the traffic along with the size of the bus stand meant that the 11.3 meter LT was not going to fit in at all, so the driver let us get off at the alighting point before proceeding to the first stop of the route to stand. 

I then used the opportunity for a few pictures before boarding the bus for the return trip to Barking Riverside. For the first part of the journey I filmed the bus from the lower deck (video can be viewed here) before making my way upstairs. We eventually reached River Road and entered Barking riverside. Most of the roads here are usually flooded with parked cars due to the various industrial areas as well as the bus garage located in the area. The bus navigated most of the turns and roads pretty impressively. As we entered the various housing estates in the area the turns started to get a bit tight, the bus continued to pull most of these off except the last turn from Galleons Drive onto Mallards Road, which to be fair is challenging in a normal bus. 


LT911 seen on stand at Barking Riverside
© EastLondoner
After spending some time at Barking Riverside with some fellow enthusiasts, I boarded LT881 for my journey back home. Overall a very good first day, considering the lack of turns on the route - as is common for a first day not to mention the decent service. There were a few gaps in the service but that will no doubt wear out eventually as Go Ahead get used to operating the route.

For the first few days of the EL3s operation, routes EL1 and EL2 which were also due to convert to the controversial bus type continued on with their existing Volvo B9TLs until more New Routemasters became available. It wasn't until the 2nd of March when the EL2 started its conversion to the bus type. I went out the next day to take a ride on the route, the route was converting pretty fast with only three Wright Eclipse Gemini 2s out on the day.


LT885 seen at Becontree Heath Bus Station
© EastLondoner
I made my way to Becontree Heath Bus Station to get the route. The bus station was overcrowded (like usual) with LT885 parked on the western side of the bus station prior to departure. After a few minutes the bus departed and we set off on our journey to Dagenham Dock. The bus didn't attract as much attention from any of the passengers like route EL3 did during its first few days of operation. We made our way around the corner onto Wood Lane before being met with the traffic lights at Dagenham Heathway. At this point the driver got a call from the garage to turn the bus to River Road, Waverley Gardens (The turn for River Road Bus Garage). We made out way down Wood Lane, past Valence Avenue and Bennetts Castle lane before being greeted with a hefty amount of traffic at the Lodge Avenue junction. After a lot of waiting we made it through the traffic lights and continued along Longbridge Road at a steady pace towards Fair Cross. Around this point we started to get quite a handful of fare evaders, no doubt who had become used to the presence of these buses on route EL3 which parallels the route along this section. We made it to Barking Station, however I got off at Vicarage Field Shopping Centre to get some lunch, and so that I could wait for another EL2, which would be doing the full route. 


LT909 stands at Dagenham Dock Terminus
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Upon getting off, I realised that LT907 which was behind also was turned to River Road, as well as the bus behind it. I then gave up waiting for the next bus to Dagenham Dock which was going to be over 30 minutes away. So far from my experience, the EL2 was just continuing business as normal with its new allocation. Nothing much had changed about it, the route didn't feel too different to how it felt when it used Gemini 2s and the passengers didn't really care about the "state of the art" buses that had started to appear on the route. It wasn't until many weeks later I got around to riding an EL2 down to Dagenham Dock. LT909 was my bus, we set off from Barking with me as the only passenger until Movers Lane where a few more people boarded. The bus made the turn onto Bastable Avenue far better than I expected. All the other passengers got off along this stretch, leaving me the only passenger as we went onto Renwick Road and then Choats Road on our way to Dagenham Dock. This part of the route is very industrial, although it did give me an opportunity to see how far the development of Barking Riverside had come. The new Riverside school building was taking shape very nicely, as well as a new bus stand (more on that further on in the post). We reached Dagenham Dock Terminus a few minutes later. I was the only passenger on the bus by this point and it wasn't surprising to see why. There's literally nothing there besides a train station with a service every 30 minutes. However when more housing is built, this link could very well become more popular.


LT907 takes stand time at Becontree Heath
© EastLondoner
Route EL1 was to be the last ELT route to convert to New Routemasters. The EL1 was going to be the route which would show how the New Routemasters could really benefit the ELT service. The route is very popular at Barking and Ilford, ferrying people between the two major town centres. Most of the time a bus would arrive at its second stop in Ilford and not be able to depart until the next bus would roll up behind it due to the sheer time it took for the huge crowds of people to board the route. The open boarding on New Routemasters could potentially solve this issue. 


LT889 seen on stand at Ilford Hill
© EastLondoner
It was on the 8th of March when the first New Routemaster crept out onto the EL1 for three hours in the morning peak, however due to other commitments I didn't even notice this was out until the evening. In the days following more New Routemasters started performing duties on the route, however this was mostly in the evening. It was on the 27th of March when I made it to Ilford on my way home to be granted with LT889 on stand at Ilford Hill. It wasn't too long until the bus departed and we were on our way towards Barking. When we arrived at the infamous Chapel Road bus stop (known very well locally for its crowds and never ending stream of people) people used all three doors to board. I did initially worry about this as the never ending stream of people could mean the driver would struggle to close the doors, however it certainly wasn't the case. The bus loaded up much quicker than the Gemini 2s did. It wasn't too long before we set off and made our way down Ilford Lane towards Barking. This is probably the most popular part of the EL1 route despite only being around 6 stops long in total, but the EL1 itself isn't a very long route at only 4 miles. Many people along Ilford Lane made use of the open boarding and dwell times at bus stops were greatly improved. I got off in Barking as time wouldn't allow me to ride the EL1 down to Barking Riverside. 


LT883 seen in Barking
© EastLondoner
Since my first ride, on the EL1 I've caught many more New Routemasters on the route, sometimes being intentional, but mostly being completely unintentional. Even before the EL1 became a New Routemaster operated route, I'd always suggested that it should be an open boarding route. It carries a huge amount of people for short distances. It's high frequency and huge crowds used to lead to buses constantly bunching throughout the route. With the New Routemasters this is no longer an issue, people board the bus within a minute and the bus sets off from the stop. I may hate to admit it as I'm still not a huge fan of the bus, but the New Routemasters are right at home on the EL1. 

When the initial consultation results were released for the introduction of the EL3, TfL did announce that all vehicles on the ELT network would be branded, much like how the Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 buses that previously worked the routes were. When the New Routemasters were introduced, they all entered service without any branding, fully red. However through July and  early August the advert frames on the buses were removed, showing that the buses were still going to be branded. LT939 was the first bus to be branded, it entered service with its branding on the 7th of August 2017. The branding is similar to that previously used on the old allocation, although modified slightly to accommodate the design differences of the New Routemaster.


LT939 showing off its branding on the EL1
© EastLondoner
The final stage to these set of changes were to happen on the first week of September. The routes were to be extended further into Barking Riverside, past the location of the new Riverside School building to stand where the new Barking Riverside Station would eventually be opened in the early 2020s. Route EL3 was going to be rerouted slightly so that it would run along Minters Road (a new road) and most of Thames Road would be left unserved. The extension to routes EL1 and EL3 would also involve a new busway, something quite rare for London (the only other busway is found at North Greenwich and it is to be removed soon) as well as a new road called Drovers Road.


LT927 is seen in Barking on the EL2
© EastLondoner
Although as has probably become expected by this point, the roads were not finished on time, route EL1 would become the only route to be extended and that would only be as far as Riverside school. Route EL3s extension was delayed until June 2018 which was the new date set for the opening of the new roads. Route EL1s extension would also only be effective on weekdays between the hours of 6am until 9pm, and at other times the route would be curtailed at its current stand. However due to the operating times of this extension, and the fact I'm usually occupied during the times of its extension I have been unable to grab a photo of the area there. However do keep an eye out for another post next year when the EL1 and EL3 are extended further into Barking Riverside.


LT925 seen in Barking on the EL3
© East Londoner
Meanwhile, what's next for the New Routemaster buses?

The much anticipated (or maybe dreaded) final bus is approaching. These buses are expected to form the bulk of the allocation for another suburban conversion - route 267 which operates between Hammersmith and Fulwell. However with all the cuts TfL are making to bus routes in Central London don't be too surprised to see another one in the future.