Friday 25th September 2020
Bus provision in the Harlow area has been challenging for many years. Not helped by a myriad of small bus companies of dubious quality coming and going into the market causing inevitable instability to the network, nor the town being seemingly left out on a limb in Arriva’s various management reorganisations over the years.
Harlow and Crawley were both designated New Towns in the New Towns Act of 1947. They’re both within a few miles of a major airport and have light industry in ‘business/industrial estates’ within the towns. Harlow’s population is around 85,000 with Crawley’s just over 105,000. Arriva pulled out of Crawley in 2001, selling out to Go-Ahead owned Metrobus, but they’ve doggedly hung on in Harlow, despite the area suffering higher deprivation and economic problems. I’ve never quite understood this rationale, particularly as whenever I visit Harlow, it gives the impression of lacking that tender loving care and attention to detail needed in a successful bus operation.
My most recent visit yesterday reaffirmed that impression. It really is grim. Much of this is down to Harlow Council who seem to manage (or not) the town’s bus station. I’ve never seen it in such an appalling state. Out of date timetables on display aplenty, notices all over glass panels, minuscule signs letting you know where each bus route departs from, real time signs that have never displayed real times and now switched off and bus shelters which are a disgrace to wait in. It must rank as one of the worst examples of presentation in the country. But we’ll come to that shortly.
I travelled to Harlow via Epping, as many commuters do – taking advantage of TfL’s cheap Underground fares compared to the Government’s ticketing policy for National Rail. A 7-day Travelcard from Harlow Town on Greater Anglia is £123.60 compared to £66 from Epping.
The main bus route between Epping and Harlow is operated by a relatively new name in Central Connect. It’s the same people who run the more established Trustybus. Both being part of Galleon Travel of Roydon. I’m not sure why the change of name/branding. Someone very close to the Essex bus scene mischievously suggested to me it might be to get away from their ‘rustybus’ nickname, pointing out Galleon must be one of Ensignbus’s best customers, always replacing their fleet with a never ending supply of ex London buses.
However, for my outward journey yesterday I caught route 87 which takes a more indirect and less populated route between Epping and Harlow via the village of Epping Green as well as quite a circuitous route through Harlow’s south western residential areas.
You can get an idea of the circuitous nature from this wildly out-of-date timetable and map display outside Epping Station which no-one has seen fit to remove.
Journey time on the 87 is 32 minutes with an hourly frequency. Despite what the above map shows, the service now continues south from Epping to Debden including another circuitous routing there before terminating at the aspirationally named Epping Forest Shopping Centre. The 87 was one of the routes Arriva took over following the demise of EOS in August 2018 as mentioned in part 1.
There were only half a dozen other passengers on board the notice infested Solo on the journey from Epping to Harlow characterised by the driver having to close the door at each stop by using the button above the door itself. Not a very reassuring image for passengers, nor easy for her. Taller male passengers, including myself were asked to close the door behind us as we boarded. Interestingly by pressing the green button rather than red, which seemed counter intuitive.
There’s an epidemic on at the moment – I’m talking an epidemic of notices on buses, and this was one of the worst cases I’ve come across.
I counted 28 at the front of this particular bus (admittedly including the Used Tickets, Fire Extinguisher and seating capacity announcements) but I’m pleased to report as a result of my posting this on social media yesterday, Arriva’s local management are springing into action to deal with the epidemic and remove most of them and start again with what is legally and operationally necessary. Here’s a closer look at some of them, see if you can spot all 28.
It’s the ultimate irony that Arriva have a standard interior notice telling passengers not to get up from their seat until the bus has stopped so I really don’t know when passengers are expected to read all this stuff as you could hardly hang around reading it while the bus is waiting at a bus stop for you to alight; and it’s impossible to read from a seat while on the bus – particularly when the closest seats (and the wheelchair area at that) are out of use marked with torn crime scene tape.
It’s not much better on the outside either. Here’s a similar adorned bus I saw later in the day displaying another eleven notices, symbols or legal lettering in this small area. It really is notice overload and an epidemic that’s out of control.
For my return journey from Harlow to Epping I caught the aforementioned Central Connect branded route – numbered 420 and 420A – the former identifying journeys which continue beyond Epping to Ongar, while the latter identifies journeys which turn short at North Weald.
The buses proclaim above the upper deck windows the frequency is “up to every 15 minutes” but currently during the daytime it’s half hourly between Harlow, Epping and North Weald with an hourly projection to Ongar with extra peak hour journeys. Pre-Covid three buses an hour ran off peak between Harlow and North Weald with hourly to Ongar.
Former London United Scania double decks are used with a bright electronic destination blind fitted which has the route number in a bright green colour which I find slightly off-putting. Numbers of passengers travelling are good, plenty making local journeys to and from Harlow from the town’s residential areas including Potter Street as well as journeys to Epping from Harlow, North Weald and Ongar.
After arriving back in Epping I caught the less frequent route 418 (two-hourly) to Loughton via Theydon Bois and Abridge which is run by Galleon’s Trustybus brand.
It was a quiet journey with just one other passenger on board from Epping who got off in Theydon Bois but we picked a few up in Abridge who got off in Debden for the Underground station I assume. It was just me continuing to Loughton.
Trustybus go minimal on notices, but they tend to throw in a lot of words…
… as well as news that’s rather out of date…
And I’d be very surprised if any tickets are ever checked by a company official, I really would.
And so to Harlow’s bus station. I’ll just give you a flavour with the following photographs and captions…..
Final thought: I’m told Essex County Council produce timetable displays for each bus stop with agreements in place with a bus operator designated to post them in specific geographic areas (on behalf of all operators) in return for a modest payment which sounds like a sensible arrangement. I understand Arriva declined the offer to look after the Harlow area. It looks to me that no-one is looking after it. Certainly no-one is looking after the bus station. The above examples are only from a cursory look during about half an hour’s visit yesterday; I didn’t have time to do a full audit. The amount of misinformation really is an appalling situation. Encouraging passengers to use buses? You’ve got to be joking. What a disgrace.
On the updside, the public toilets were open, and clean too. Someone is obviously looking after them, thankfully.
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.