Colin Dale’s secret bus route

Wednesday 29th May 2019

It’s all happening in Colindale. That’s the area in north west London with a station almost at the end of the Edgware branch of the Northern Line; the one before Burnt Oak, before you get to Edgware itself.

Colindale’s in the London Borough of Barnet and is one of the largest growth and regeneration areas in the Borough including over 10,000 new homes being built across various sites, new schools, a relocated library, a health centre “reprovision” and “improvements to public realm” and parks among the many improvements including brand new offices for the London Borough of Barnet itself.

There are plans for a brand new London Underground station with a greatly enlarged ticket hall extended eastwards over the tracks with work expected to start on that project in 2021 with completion the following year.

Before then TfL are making changes to bus routes in the area including combining two routes into one as well as another being rerouted to better serve the new housing developments. But the main change, the extension of route 125 from its erstwhile western terminus at Finchley Central over to Colindale via Hendon was introduced last Saturday.

But you’d be hard pressed to find out about it. It’s currently a top secret bus route extension. Not only are buses leaving route 125’s Winchmore Hill terminus at the eastern end of the route still showing Finchley Central in the destination blind….

….but bus stops all along the route are still displaying timetables showing the route ending at Finchley Central. Of buses now continuing for another 18 minutes on to Hendon and Colindale, there is no mention.

I did spot two buses while travelling the route yesterday displaying a makeshift attempt to let curious passengers know they were heading on to the Colindale growth area (along with, in one case, the vital internal information it was bus running number 110), but others I saw didn’t show anything.

Bus stop flags beyond the old Finchley Central terminus on the new section of route to Colindale are devoid of any reference to the 125, nor do the timetable cases attached to the bus stop poles contain route 125 timetables. You simply wouldn’t know a 125 came that way.

Even the brand new terminal bus stop for route 125 outside Colindale Station makes no mention of the new ten minute frequency departing there either on the bus stop flag….

…. or a timetable below…..

….but there is an explanation of the merger of local routes 303 and 305 introduced almost nine months ago.

TfL provide helpful updates on their website about upcoming bus route changes (if you know where to look) but these are notoriously late in posting and often contain inaccuracies. And guess what, the latest issue for the period 29 March to 7 June 2019 currently online contains no reference to route 125 at all. It’s as if even TfL were caught out by surprise by it’s own decision to introduce the extension to route 125 last Saturday.

No-one in TfL’s Spider map department seems to be aware of the change either as the maps for Colindale and other areas along the route extension make no reference to the 125, and those for the original end of the route east of Finchley Central show no reference to the extension.

If online maps aren’t updated, you wouldn’t expect maps displayed on the roadside in bus shelters and at Underground stations to be updated would you? Quite right; they’re not.

However, there is one part of TfL which does seem to know about the change and that’s the iBus department which has updated the bus stop displays to show Colindale ……

….. and on board buses, every so often, comes a scrolling message to let you know that despite the destination blind telling you the bus you’ve boarded is only going to Finchley Central, once you’re on the bus, you’re reassuringly told it is continuing to Colindale.

But there really cannot be any excuse for all those other key points of information not being updated in time. It’s not as though there hasn’t been months to organise things. This is no emergency closure of Hammersmith Bridge. TfL’s obligatory public consultation about extending the 125, along with other changes in the Colindale area, was way back in October and November 2017.

TfL issued a report on that consultation in June 2018 and confirmed many of the proposals including the extended route 125 and the merger of local routes 303 and 305 in the Edgware and Colindale area would be implemented on 1 September 2018.

While the 303 and 305 merger went ahead on 1 September, for some reason the extended 125 got postponed. The June 2018 report was followed on 12 September 2018 with a further update report which confirmed the extension of route 125 would happen in “winter 2018/19”. You’d have thought bus stop E-plates, timetable inserts for bus stops and destination blinds would have been ordered and spider maps updated ready for September 2018 let alone for the back stop introduction of “winter 2018/19”. And not forgetting ordering three new bus stop poles for those three new bus stops along Greyhound Hill being served by buses for the very first time as shown on the map above …. except, er, no they’re not quite ready yet either …. still, at least the yellow line painters had done their bit.

After all that forewarning, it surely couldn’t have come as a surprise that last Saturday, 25th May 2019, Metroline’s bus garage at Potters Bar, which runs route 125, finally began the long consulted upon change and started extending buses on to Colindale.

You might well wonder why there’s obviously a complete lack of coordination within TfL where a major route extension is introduced necessitating a significant increase in resources twenty months after first being publicly proposed. This extended route must involve an additional four buses to maintain the 10 minute frequency on an 18 minute journey time extension. That’s not a minor change. Resource wise it’s about 70% of the GoSutton scheme with its six minibuses introduced yesterday.

This tardy response to route changes is becoming an unfortunate habit at TfL. There are now regular reports across social media, online forums and other feedback about consistently poor presentation of information by TfL which was once regarded as the bastion of good practice for information.

I was recently chatting to a former (now retired) senior manager who used to look after roadside information amongst other responsibilities at TfL and he was unequivocal about the reason for the plummeting quality: clearing out all the experienced staff through voluntary redundancy programmes to save costs; replacing them with people lacking any experience of bus operation; hacking back vital budgets; and contracting out to third parties who have no interest in quality or what they’re doing. I used to report inconsistencies I found while travelling around London to a good contact in TfL who made sure they were followed up and sorted. It made my efforts valued and worthwhile doing. Sadly he was made redundant and no one with any interest replaced him, so I gave up. Route 125’s extension is just the latest example of what I see all over London. Frankly, it’s simply appalling for a Capital City’s transport organisation which purports to be “world class” and an “exemplar of integrated transport”.

No wonder the westbound bus I travelled on yesterday afternoon emptied out at Finchley Central and I continued to Colindale alone.

I just hope TfL do better when it comes to opening their new Colindale station in 2022.

Roger French

6 thoughts on “Colin Dale’s secret bus route

  1. Perhaps TfL could employ the person who came up with Stagecoach’s “Simplibus” schemes in the East Midlands.
    All local [town] service numbers will be changed to 20 or lower because “people don’t understand big numbers” with low-numbered longer-distance services renumbered to permit that (such as the Lincoln – Skegness service which was service 6 from 1928 until renumbered to 56 so that Lincoln’s local route 66 could be renumbered 6), all suffix letters removed (again because “people don’t understand…”) meaning that instead of getting the 11a or the 11b you have to get the “11 Welton” or the “11 Nettleham”, and so on and so forth.
    I’m sure they’d fit in well with TfL’s current lack of understanding of bus operations.

    Still, at least there’s a Simplimap with Simplitimes. Which is more than TfL’s customers get.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Simplibus thing is good in some ways but is flawed. The idea of reducing the bus numbers is good. Lower numbers are somewhat easier to remember and it allows the numbers to be bigger and have more space between the number and destination on the blind making it easier to see. Though this is something we all get to know and live through.

      The idea of the messed up circulars which split numbers midway and the buses are cross town which works for some while really affects others with the many destinations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A little bit of background here . . . . .
    1. Blinds: the relevent insert was fitted in good time; however, the computer file that tells the blinds where to stop to show the correct destination was corrupted! Unlike the good old days when the driver could just wind the handle, they have no control over the display displayed, so until the manufacturers could (a) be told of the problem and (b) fix it, incorrect displays were shown. The Bank Hoiday weekend didn’t help, but the correct file was supplied on Wednesday, and should’ve been downloaded to the buses on Wednesday night . . . . a few might have been missed, but all are done now.

    2. The operator was only told of the revised date by TfL with 3 weeks notice (delayed many times from September 2018). The revised schedules were uploaded to “iBus” in sufficient time, so the countdown bus stop screens were working correctly.

    3. The reason for the extension to Colindale is that Barnet Council are relocating their offices to Colindale; this has also been delayed several times, but is believed to now be from 3 June 2019.

    4. Publicity . . . . ah well, everyone uses on-line information now, so who cares about the bus stops!! Quite agree with your chum’s comment above . . . . operators of cross-boundary routes pay good money for a London Bus Permit, which also pays for bus stop timetables to be updated. At least 8 weeks notice is given, but on far too many occasions timetables aren’t updated, sometimes by another 8 weeks after the due date!!

    So, in summary . . . . the bus company did its best, was confounded by a file corruption, but still ran the buses. TfL were caught out by the short notice, and made no real effort to sort it out. It’ll be interesting to see when the roadside publicity IS sorted out.

    Like

    1. If only TFL allowed LED destination displays then this wouldn’t be an issue. Though the file can be corrupted, it can be solved a lot quicker and can be updated quickly. It would save a lot of hassle with the blinds as well as reducing costs for companies having to change the rollerblind every time they win/lose a tender or a route is changed.

      Liked by 1 person

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