Saturday 31st October 2020
A long awaited extension of TfL bus route 383 from its southern terminus outside Woodside Park Underground Station to serve Finchley Memorial Hospital began today.
It’s small fry in the normal scale of TfL’s bus service changes but it’s an interesting example of how TfL’s massive corporate machine responds, or not, and highlights how one of its smaller contracting bus companies ensures a much welcome marketing initiative is updated in a timely manner.
Route 383 is another one of those useful twiddly routes serving the side streets of Barnet, New Barnet, Oakleigh Park, Whetstone and North Finchley. Until yesterday it utilised three buses running half hourly between 05:40 and 20:40 on Mondays to Saturdays with no service on Sundays.
End to end journey time was 35/38 minutes making for 73 minutes wheel turning time in every 90 minutes – not bad for a TfL route. Following today’s change buses cycle in 120 minutes with 99 active minutes.
Route 383 is operated by Uno – the only TfL bus route the Hatfield based company operates. As previously highlighted, uniquely, buses used on the route have been given attractive route branding treatment in the form of a smart Best Impressions design added to the bog standard TfL plain red.
A great initiative by Uno and a marketing revolution for a London bus route but pretty tame as route branding goes in the provinces. Main points served by the route are listed above the windows on both sides and a route diagram is also displayed on interior cove panels.
After leaving the current terminus at Woodside Park and retracing the route back to Finchley High Road, I understand the new extension is scheduled to pass through the rather dingy North Finchley bus station at Tally Ho before continuing about 800 metres south along Finchley High Road passing two bus stops before turning right into Granville Road for 75 metres before turning left into the grounds of Finchley Memorial Hospital passing through the car park to stand fairly close to the main hospital entrance.
Thirteen minutes journey time has been added to the timetable necessitating an extra bus to the route’s vehicle requirement taking it to four. TfL estimate the additional cost at £180,000 pa with a third of this covered by expected revenue generated from around 100-150 extra passenger journeys a day (albeit that estimate was pre Covid) making for a net additional cost of £120,000 pa. It’s a lot of money for a small route extension paralleling route 263 (and the recently extended route 112) along Finchley High Road. Elsewhere the standard TfL response to requests for route extensions of this kind has usually been ‘use the Hopper fare and change buses’. If this wasn’t a hospital the distance from the nearest bus stop would certainly be deemed walkable.
The £120,000 figure is taken from the Mayor’s written reply to a public question in July 2017 asking “what work has TfL done to examine the viability of extending the 383 bus route to Finchley Memorial Hospital and what was the outcome of their investigations”?
This coincided with a report dated 13th July 2017 to TfL’s ‘Customer Service and Operational Performance Panel’ setting out a review of bus provision to all London’s hospitals. The report listed proposed actions to improve access to every hospital and ranked these according to priority.
Ranked as “third priority” at that time was “consider direct bus links to the main entrance of” Finchley Memorial Hospital.
As well as the additional net running costs the extension necessitated some minor works at the hospital to include a bus stand and turning point in the car park.
As you can see, talk of providing bus services to the Hospital has been active for a good few years. Barnet and Camden London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore (who asked that July 2017 question) first raised the issue with the Mayor as long as eight years ago in 2012.
At that time, rather than comment on a bespoke ‘hoppa’ type route as Andrew preferred, TfL (through the Mayor) instead replied by commenting on diverting main trunk route 263 on Finchley High Road into the hospital grounds or even a diversion of routes using the parallel Ballards Lane observing such suggestions were not practical; inconveniencing more passengers than would ever benefit. That’s an under-statement – it would be a complete non-starter to divert through services.
In Summer 2013 Andrew Dismore raised the matter again, and this time TfL (through the Mayor) replied it “has no current plans for further changes”. So you might think that would be that.
Which it pretty much was until that 2017 report, but even then “conisderation” of doing anything was only “third priority”. What’s brought the matter to a head this summer was a Covid related reallocation of some hospital services from Barnet Hospital to Finchley Memorial Hospital; a process which began in September 2017 when Barnet’s chemotherapy day unit was transferred to Chase Farm Hospital as well as Finchley Memorial Hospital. This, and the Covid implications seems to have led TfL to revisit its “no curent plans for further changes” stance. And the idea of solving the access problem by extending route 383 has moved priority from “third” to ‘first’, nothwithstanding the additional costs.
It was originally announced in June 2020 that the extension would commence on 1st August leading to the usual ‘welcome the introduction’ announcements from local politicians and stakeholders pleased with the news, not least the persistant Andrew Dismore.
Sadly 1st August came and went with no extension to route 383. A frustrated Andrew Dismore raised the matter at Mayor’s Question Time once again on 17th September and the updated “late autumn 2020” introduction has finally arrived.
It’s been officially classified as a “temporary extension” as the change hasn’t been through TfL’s laborious, but for them, essential, consultation process; that’s set to follow in early 2021, but I can’t see many respondents calling for a bus route extension to a hospital to be withdrawn. The Mayor says it will be reviewed after a year’s operation.
With that background I couldn’t resist taking a trip to Finchley this morning to take a look at the first day’s operation and see how you can add £120,000 to your annual deficit currently measured in the billions. And, coincidentally, the day TfL will have to start shutting down all its services unless the much needed, and controversial, funding deal by Government is announced before midnight tonight. (At the time of writing on Saturday afternoon, no news on that – all quiet on the Grant Shapps front.)
So, firstly, well deserved praise to TfL’s bus stop flag and timetable fixing contractors who’ve been out and about and updated the displays all along the route. Yes, the timetables are actually installed. Maybe my article in this month’s Buses magazine has hit home?!
Hopefully this isn’t a reflection of the three month delay from that aborted August introduction and indicates a new found determination to get timetable displays updated in a timely manner.
Secondly lots of praise for Uno who, at their expense, have updated all the route branded displays on and inside the four vehicles now used on the service as well as a couple of spares, including a secondhand StreetLite now in the fleet but sadly not mechanically well enough to be out in service today.
Today wasn’t an ideal day to start the route extension with Finchley High Road still blocked at Tally Ho following a burst water main earlier in the week.
While routes 125 and 263 are being diverted via Friern Barnet Lane and Woodhouse Road, buses on route 383, being smaller, are able to use Gainsborough Road and Hutton Grove after leaving Woodside Park Underground Station to divert around the west side of Tally Ho then cut across Rosemont Avenue to Finchley High Road.
The new site for the bus stop in the hospital grounds is within sight of the hospital’s main entrance but not right outside.
It would probably have been too much of a squeeze but it would have been great if it could have been accommodated right outside. While I was there a taxi/Uber pulled up at that very spot. It would also provide shelter for waiting passengers.
Traffic on the northbound side of Tally Ho was busy and slow moving this morning, partly due to the road closure, but even so we made it from the Hospital to Woodside Park Underground Station in the allotted 13 minutes, but this included a 2-3 minute pause at one of Finchley High Road’s stops “to even out the service” having only just left the terminus two minutes before that! The same thing happened on another northbound journey I made indicating the running time is unnecessarily generous. Maybe there’s time allowed to do a circuit of the bus station , currently not possible due to the road closure?
Passengers were scarce – not surprising as the Hospital is very quiet at the weekends with few, if any, medical appointments. The few passengers travelling to the Hospital like me, were taking a ride from a bus interest point of view – and a shout out to Callum and Jamie who I met and had a nice chat with; it’s good to see young keen people working in the industry and having an enthusiasm and passion for it.
There’s no doubt this route extension will be welcomed by those with mobility problems for whom a walk from the nearest bus stops on Finchley High Road to the Hospital’s front entrance is a challenge, as well as staff after a long hard day at work. But the distance involved is about the same as an average bus stop length; 300-400 metres at most. Those who happen to live on route 383 now have a handy direct link to the Hospital but on the other hand they don’t have a direct link to the larger Barnet Hospital coincidentally the same distance from Barnet Church as Finchley Memorial Hospital is from North Finchley. For that they’d need to change buses. The walk from the bus stops outside Barnet Hospital to the wards is quite significant -to A&E it’s a very long walk.
A blot on the praise for TfL is its website hasn’t been updated today to show the route extension, so passengers using the Journey Planner will be disappointed, but this seems ‘par for the course’ for TfL with such updates having to wait for Monday mornings, even when the route change has been expected for the last three months.
I can’t be absolutely certain the extended route does use North Finchley’s bus station as there was no mention of route 383 anywhere in the bus station, nor was the ‘where to catch your bus’ map updated.
Mind you, it hasn’t been updated for route 112 introduced back in August – nor is there an official TfL route 112 timetable on display – only the unofficial one inserted by a bus enthusiast. Perhaps my praise earlier in this blog for TfL was premature.
To end on a positive, Uno’s buses are well turned out, with very smart moquette. Along with the aforementioned route branding and attrative cove panels, they really are leading the way in presentation in London.
What a shame they only run one route, albeit now operating a third more vehicles for TfL than yesterday.
There’s just that small matter of the extra £120,000.