Saturday 7th December 2019
It’s quite a day for fans of new bus routes in London. Christmas has come early for those who love new route numbers added to an already comprehensive bus network – I can’t remember the last time four new routes were added all on the same day.
The Mayor has been promising for a while that as well as cutting back sparsely used bus routes within central London, he’d redeploy some of the saved resources into boosting routes in the busier suburbs. Back in the summer, from 13th July, new route 301 started plying between Bexleyheath and Woolwich (designed to provide seamless connections with Crossrail at Abbey Wood, except that bit of the plan has to wait a while longer yet) while on 26th October lucky residents with a penchant for Village Living who’d moved into expanding Kidbrooke Village began enjoying a brand new link to North Greenwich as route 335 began.
Both numbers 301 and 335, well known in green bus London days of old, were new additions to red bus London land, which added a touch of excitement to their arrival.
From today, four more bus route numbers have been added to TfL’s route lists and, if they could be bothered to produce one, London’s bus map too. It’s noteworthy TfL have added next weekend’s Maidenhead and Reading joining the TfL Rail brand, to a new Underground map by a schematic representation of a line heading north from Hayes & Harlington, but many of us would appreciate the luxury of seeing where the Capital’s bus routes go in relation to each other, not least brand new route numbers which no-one’s heard of before.
Anyway, that beef aside, a warm welcome to routes X140, 218, 278 and 306 joining TfL’s network from today. The 306 number was used in red bus London land for four years in the early 1990s for an off shoot of the 202 between Crystal Palace and Plumstead and the number still links some former green bus haunts between Watford and Borehamwood whilst the number 218 will always be associated in my mind with a ride between Kingston and Staines before it passed over to Surrey County Council control and lost its way a bit.
After trolleybuses were withdrawn in the early 1960s the number 278 began a long association linking Chingford, Walthamstow and Leyton with the Royal Albert Docks until it’s withdrawal in the early 1990s when the number was reused for another ten years until 2004 for a local route from the former ‘pre Village’ Kidbrooke to Lewisham.
I took a ride on all four new routes earlier today to get a feel for why they’ve been introduced. They fall into two distinct categories. Firstly part of a minor reorganisation of routes in the Acton and Hammersmith area involving the shortening of two existing routes ….
… and secondly providing faster and new links to Heathrow Airport from within the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon.
I began my new route expedition this morning at Sands End, the Fulham terminus of new route 306.
Until yesterday Sands End’s Sainsbury’s had been the terminus of route 391 running every 12 minutes over to Richmond via Fulham, Hammersmith, Turnham Green and Kew Gardens. From today the 391’s been banished from Fulham and now gets no further east than Hammersmith so the 306 is not so much a new route but a direct 391 replacement for this section of route, taking about thirty minutes, as far west as Hammersmith.
The Sands End terminus for the new 306 (old 391) is alongside a massive Sainsbury’s in Fulham and I was puzzled to find what looked like the main bus stop on the north side of William Morris Way was out of bounds.
Even more puzzling as Mike Harris’s splendid bus map shows the 391 used to only observe bus stops on the south side of the road – using it as a westbound one-way loop returning via Townmead Road.
Just goes to show how important a map is.
The half hour ride to Hammersmith was uneventful save for some minor early Saturday morning delays due to roadworks in Fulham’s North End Road. I would imagine it’s a different story later on in the day and at busy commuter times.
From Hammersmith the ‘new’ 306 continues to its terminus at Acton The Vale by replacing another curtailed longer bus route – the 266 which has been cut back on its trek over from Brent Cross via Willesden and Harlesden to now turn in Acton High Street rather than continuing to Hammersmith. So the western end of new route 306, sixteen minutes on from Hammersmith to Acton, is also a replacement route and not new at all. I’m beginning to feel a bit ‘new-bus-routes-in-the-suburbs’ cheated.
This morning we didn’t follow the former 266 route due to a Christmas market closing King Street in Hammersmith.
Instead along with other bus routes we went off on a diversion via Shepherd’s Bush Road, Shepherd’s Bush and Goldhawk Road.
It’s a shame about this confusing start to the new regime for passengers but at least notices were posted at bus stops and new timetables added and bus stop flags updated along the route.
The 266 ran every 7-8 minutes so as the 306 is only a 12 minuter another new route has been added on the Hammersmith to Acton corridor – the 218 – which is a bit of a tiddler of a new route running from Hammersmith to Acton and then continuing to terminate at nearby North Acton Station but taking the more circuitous route between Acton and North Acton via Noel Road and West Acton station hitherto used by route 440. That route, the 440, now follows the direct road, Horn Lane, also taken by the 266.
This shaves a valuable few minutes off the overall journey time taken by the 440 on its Chiswick to Stonebridge Park route enabling it to be efficiently extended on to a new terminus at what’s become known as Wembley Eastern Lands.
The good news is the 218 runs every 10 minutes so the former 266 corridor between Hammersmith and Acton via Askew Road now has 11 buses an hour (on the 306 and 218) instead of 7/8 buses an hour (on the 266) and Horn Lane between Acton and North Acton now has the extra four buses an hour on the 440 as well as the 266.
Meanwhile residents in Noel Road have seen their four buses per hour 440 replaced with the six buses per hour 218. So it’s all good news for Acton residents.
On the resource front, the 218 needs eleven single deckers while the 306 is run with eleven double deckers which as well as one more single deck for that 440 extension makes an extra 23 vehicles in all. But on the compensatory reduction front, the curtailment of the 391 back to Hammersmith saves eight single decks and the shortened 266 will be run with four less double decks, so overall a net increase of eleven buses in the scheme (and meaning annual cost increases of well over a million pounds) – not to be sniffed at, and I hope residents of Askew Road, Horn Lane and Noel Road will respond by making many more journeys to pay for the frequency uplifts they’re now enjoyng. Otherwise TfL’s finances will be even more strained.
From North Acton I nipped over to Ruislip to give new route 278 a try, and this really is a ‘new route’ and mostly run with smart new buses from Abellio too.
But not completely …
It runs every 15 minutes from Ruislip via Ickenham, Hillingdon and Hayes and Harlington to Heathrow Airport taking around 55 minutes for the full journey. A useful new link between parts of the London Borough of Hillingdon and the Airport not previously provided – most bus routes in this neck of the woods have until now provided local links into Uxbridge or eastwards along the Uxbridge Road.
The 278 also provides a regular service along Long Lane between Ickenham, Hillingdon and the Uxbridge Road for the first time. Not surprisingly we didn’t carry many passengers on today’s inaugural journeys but I’m sure it will build if residents can find out about it.
South from Hayes & Harlington to Heathrow the new fifteen minutely 278 has replaced the seven-minutely 140 meaning a rather unwelcome halving of the frequency on this busy corridor.
Except if your local bus stop is Harlington Manse Close or Harlington Corner, you’re in luck as these are two of the thirteen stops being observed by the all new X140 limited stop route linking Harrow via the 140 route to Heathrow every 12 minutes.
However if your stop is one of the other eleven stops between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow not observed by the X140; then tough, this new bus route enhancement in the suburbs is not for you and your only option is the less frequent 278.
Back at Ruislip TfL reckon there’s not enough room outside the station for the new terminating 278 to wait in between trips so the journey ends round the corner at the previous stop in Brickwall Lane by the shops where the bus waits its time before continuing to the Station to begin its next journey.
The new X140 is a much welcome addition to the network – I’ve long thought there’s scope across London for more limited stop routes to provide improved journey times – until now just the X26, 607 and peak hour X68 have provided such quicker ride opportunities. It will be interesting to see how passengers respond to the quicker journey times.
On board the buses this morning there were lots of complimentary comments from appreciative passengers as well as much consternation from others pushing bells for the bus to stop at one of the 140 only stops only to get annoyed as it sailed by.
It only took 12 minutes from Hayes & Harlington Station to Heathrow on an X140 and there was a definite air of superiority as we passed the all stops 278 along the way.
However I noticed a long gap between X140s at Heathrow at lunch time today as well as seeing another turning short at Harlington Corner. This will do nothing to make the new service attractive – a 24 minute gap at Heathrow and only the 15 minute 278 as an alternative. Not good.
Perhaps bus lanes such as this Monday to Friday peak hour only one along the route at Northolt need making applicable all daytime hours, seven days of the week to ease the flow of buses through London’s traffic choked roads.
The X140 taking around an hour is now a realistic travel option from Harrow to Heathrow instead of the Metropolitan Line to Uxbridge and changing on to an A10. For those not worried about price though, it’s still quicker to head into London and take the Heathrow Express.
The new slimmed down 140 (as well as being curtailed at Hayes & Harlington it’s had a frequency reduction from every 7 minutes to every 8 minutes) takes 21 buses instead of 32 but the new X140 will take up 10 of that 11 bus reduction and the new 278 needs another 10 buses, so overall nine more buses are now running on Hillingdon’s roads. Let’s hope Ruislip, Ickenham and Hillingdon residents appreciate what’s being done to get them to the Airport.
It was good to see bus stop plates had been updated, I only spotted one rogue 391 plate near Imperial Wharf and sadly Harrow Bus Station hadn’t been done…
… as I travelled around this morning but timetable case updates were hit and miss with some displaying a new 218 but not the 306, for example.
Over at Heathrow the X140 was in place but no 278 – in fact there seemed to be no 278 timetables anywhere along the route even where there was plenty of room such as here at Ruislip.
As usual no spider maps have been updated – not even at Heathrow Airport bus station to promote the all new X140.
But there were two high-viz wearing personnel handing out leaflets and explaining to bewildered passengers whether they needed a 278 or an X140.
Those changes to central London’s bus routes back in the summer as well as the more recent withdrawal of route 48 must have saved around 40-50 buses net of the increases on some other route extensions and diversions to new termini. With new routes 301 and 335 needing seventeen buses, that still means a handy saving of around ten or a dozen buses from the network after these latest new route introductions.
I’m sure the completely new routes 301, 335 and 278 will generate new passengers in time, but whether enough to justify the investment in all these additional buses now added back into the network is a moot point.
Thanks as always to Mike Harris for producing his wonderful Greater London Bus Map, extracts from which are shown above. Contact Mike for your own copy of this gem of a map.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.