Saturday 12th December 2020
If you’re thinking nothing quite matches the lengthy delays between new trains being ordered and when they finally enter service, you’re ignoring the world of bus network developments in London. Today sees the implementation of TfL’s bus review in the Richmond and Twickenham area. It follows a public consultation held way back between October 2018 and January 2019. Originally planned for introduction in May 2019, over eighteen months later the changes are finally being introduced albeit with a few modifications to the original proposals. You don’t want to be in a hurry for a bus change around in London.
You might think these proposals, being out in London’s leafy suburbs, were all about increasing frequencies as envisaged when the central London bus review slashed buses in Zone 1 last summer with the promise of redeploying resources to outer London.
But in fact these original proposals were also all about cutting excess capacity and reducing frequencies to the extent the proposals as originally consulted on were quoted as saving £1,525,000 per annum in a Mayoral Question Time answer.
Route H37, for example, which provides a handy link between Hounslow and Richmond via Isleworth and St Margarets taking 33 minutes, has been cut back from an impressive 6 minute daytime frequency to every 7-8 minutes. This reduces the peak vehicle requirement (PVR) from 15 to 13, making for a nice saving to be banked.
Another busy route, the 493 between Richmond and Tooting via Barnes, Roehampton and Wimbledon (taking just over an hour and a half, end to end – a long one by London standards) has been cut back from its terminus at the Richmond Homebase by Manor Circus about five minutes east of the town centre to instead use the town centre bus station where room has been released by cutting another service. This has reduced its PVR from 17 to 16.
Biggest makeover is to route 110 which has been transformed from a backwater 20 minute frequency U-shaped route running between Hounslow and West Middlesex Hospital taking 42 minutes via Twickenham to more than double its length by subsuming part of route H22 (from Twickenham to Richmond) and a full takeover of route 391 (which has now disappeared) between Richmond via Kew and Chiswick to Hammersmith where it now terminates. New end to end journey time is more than double at around 90 minutes and the frequency is now every 15 minutes.
Route 110 now forges new links in the Whitton area including an unusual characteristic for a TfL route – a non stop section between Twickenham Stadium and St Margaret’s Station using part of Chertsey Road only used by the two-journey-a-week-two-days-a-week route 969.
It’s all a bit confusing for people in Whitton High Street as until yesterday they got an H22 to Richmond on the west side of the road but from today it’s now a 110 on the east side; and to West Middlesex Hospital until yesterday it was a 110 on the east side of the road but now it’s an H22 on the west side. You can imagine the puzzled looks among passengers today; I saw a number caught out by getting on their usual bus, only looking at the number rather than noticing the destination.
Route H22 is now diverted at Twickenham taking over roads previously served by route 110 to West Middlesex Hospital instead of running to Richmond. This was an extra bonus not included in the original consultation, which reported there were quite enough buses already running between Twickenham and the Hospital on route 267, but much to the pleasure of respondents who replied with their concerns, there are now more buses an hour on that section of route than last week, with the H22’s 12 minute frequency compared to route 110’s erstwhile 20 minutely.
I expect, like me, you’re thinking this all sounds a bit confusing and how helpful it would be to have a map explaining these changes. Sadly, this is TfL, and you’re not supposed to want a map to work out where buses go, you have to use a journey planner and not worry your little minds about things like maps.
Luckily there were a few maps in the original consultation in September 2018 which give half the picture of what’s now running.
Here’s a map showing how routes 110 and H22 ran until yesterday.
And here’s a map showing the proposed changes as originally envisaged of how things would look.
Sadly there’s no official map available of how things are actually now running so you have to imagine the green H22 route continues north from Twickenham via Isleworth to the Hospital making for an almost perfect U shape. The map above also shows route 110 taking over route 419 from Richmond (to Roehampton) but this idea was abandoned in favour of taking over route 391 to Hammersmith.
However, thanks to the dedication of our friendly @LondonBusUpdates there is a useful home made map available on social media giving the picture from today, as shown below.
As to how these changes have worked out, despite TfL’s dire financial situation that £1,525,000 envisaged saving has been much watered down. Taking route 391 off saves seven buses while extending route 110 in its place adds seven to its PVR (doubling from 7 to 14) while strangely an extra bus is needed for route H22’s projection to its new West Middlesex Hospital terminus instead of Richmond. But the frequency reduction on the H37 saves two buses and the cut back in Richmond of route 493 saves a further bus making for a net position of minus two PVR.
My experiences travelling around on routes 110, H22 and H39 earlier today concluded the 110 doesn’t need that frequency uplift and its 90 minutes running time is far too slack. We must have spent about 15 minutes waiting at bus stops “to even out the service”.
I only started taking photographs of this after the first two occasions, but as you can see, it was virtually happening every ten minutes. And to cap it all, we waited for a further three minutes just before Hounslow’s commercial centre which would have been hugely frustrating if we’d had a bus load of passengers itching to get shopping, but as it was there was just me on board.
The same annoying practice happened on my trip on route H22, when we were held for four minutes just a few minutes before arriving at the West Middlesex Hospital. This time there were four other passengers on board including a couple going to the hospital who were understandably frustrated at this unnecessary delay.
Talk to anyone in TfL or the operating companies about this practice, and they all think it’s a great thing, which just shows how arbitrary ‘quality contract incentives’ are more important than real life passenger needs – who on earth wants to be kept waiting on board a bus just a couple of stops before the terminus “to even out the service”. It’s a complete load of twaddle.
I also noticed a rather draconian roping off of seats midway at the back of the Enviro 200 on route 110 ….
…. whereas in the lower section, all seats were in use, which just seemed odd.
It’s also a strange time to reduce the frequency of route H37 bearing in mind the maximum capacity per bus is just 14 on this busy route.
I can’t help thinking this long planned cut has taken no account of the current Covid restrictions at all.
Chiswick High Road has got a reputation for traffic delays but it was free flowing when I passed through today – but it’s a shame to see the westbound bus lane has been taken over for a temporary cycle lane.
And this looks set to become permanent, as further westwards it’s now been built with buses stopping at bus stops blocking progress of all traffic behind them, including buses.
However, to end on a positive. For once, it was pleasing to see bus stops have all been updated with amended route numbers and timetable panels inserted. This is a first for TfL and a much welcome development. I only spotted the odd bus stop on route H22 had been missed.
Even spider maps had mostly been updated and on display in bus shelters, and at Hammersmith bus station there was even a large poster explaining the change to route 391 being usurped by the newly extended route 110.
All we need now is a bus map, and things really will be looking up.