Tuesday 18th January 2022
The last time I used “London’s newest bus route” as a title for a blogpost was on 29th March 2021 heralding the arrival of new route 456 in north London. Almost ten months on I’ve taken another ride on the route to see how it’s getting on but before that another new bus route began yesterday – the 733 between Oval and Moorgate providing cover for the temporary closure of the Northern Line’s City branch for the Bank Capacity Upgrade Programme.
Oddly the route only runs Mondays to Fridays and is operated by Tower Transit on a 5-8 minute daytime frequency (7-10 minutes in the evenings). It’s nice to see the six year old Volvo hybrid buses being used are equipped with nearside posters promoting the route, but I have to admit I didn’t notice them until I looked at the photographs I’d taken later. It’s not exactly high profile route branding but it’s somewhat revolutionary for London I suppose.
Three things struck me as I took a ride up and down the route yesterday morning.
Despite what’s implied by those side adverts I was surprised route 733 stops as required at all bus stops along the route. As a rail replacement service I’d just wrongly assumed, like on National Rail, it would run non stop between stations to minimise inconvenience for displaced Underground passengers and provide a quicker journey. It takes between 20 and 25 minutes end to end, which isn’t bad, but is double the 10 minutes Northern line trains would take were they running.
Secondly I was surprised it wasn’t free to use. Northern Line passengers travelling from, say High Barnet to London Bridge and opt to take the Tube as far as it currently goes, ie Moorgate, and then catch the 733 to complete their journey to London Bridge will end up paying £1.55 more (on the 733) for the dubious pleasure of having a disrupted and longer journey – their fare previously being the same to Moorgate as it is to London Bridge on the Tube, both being in zone 1. This hardly seems fair.
Thirdly, perhaps not quite so surprising, was to see how much resource TfL are throwing at this with what seemed like a generous running time allowance (I saw many buses waiting time along the route with hazard lights flashing); the usual generous stand time allowance at Oval and Moorgate termini; and a plethora of high-viz wearing Customer Information staff at every bus stop by the affected Underground stations and at the entrances to the closed stations.
I’m sure they mean well, but must be bored out of their minds.
I suppose a fourth observation was the low number of passengers travelling (check out the photos of buses on this blog) indicating TfL’s pre closure information campaign has been successful. Most seemed to be using the bus to travel to and from stops along the route irrespective of the closed stations and where there are alternative bus routes available. Very few seemed to be boarding and alighting at the actual station stops.
However more positively it was good to see all the bus stop flags along the route had been updated with a 733 tile added …
…. and timetable cases contained a yellow poster about the route ….
…. and timetable/frequency details.
London Underground have produced two printed leaflets explaining alternative travel options during the closures.
One for those travelling from north of the closure and one from the south. It was good to see supplies of these available in appropriate stations.
Posters are also displayed in prominent locations at the stations too with bespoke wording for each location.
But I’m surprised, bearing in mind it’s vast resources, TfL’s proof checking standards are as bad as mine.
And that sloppiness also applies to the detail of the information provided.
For example as route 733 only runs on Mondays to Fridays, at weekends passengers are advised to use route 133 as an alternative.
Except route 133 doesn’t serve Moorgate so any passenger unfamiliar with TfL’s bus routes thinking they could catch it and arrive at Moorgate station will be disappointed (it goes to Liverpool Street as any schoolboy or schoolgirl person bus spotter knows).
At Moorgate weekend passengers would have been better advised to catch route 21 for Bank, London Bridge and Borough, where a change to a 133 for Elephant & Castle and Kennington would be needed but that doesn’t come over quite so simple as to catch one route I suppose.
Maybe TfL staff’s lack of detailed bus knowledge is not helped by there being no bus map? Just a thought.
The advice in the two leaflets is bland at best and somewhat puzzling in places.
Both leaflets have the same wording for the most part with the second column giving bespoke advice for either south or north London and a different map on the back.
The North London leaflet (pictured on the left) advises “take the first available train from Moorgate and change at Angel for the correct train”. Why? That’s just nonsensical as the self same trains heading north will be at Angel, two stops further up the line, as at Moorgate.
The South London leaflet is equally perverse by advising passengers to change trains at Goodge Street. But why? If it’s to reach KIngs Cross and the City, it would be better to continue to Warren Street and change to the Victoria Line for the former and continue to Euston and change for Angel, Old Street and Moorgate for the latter. Or indeed change at the previous stop at Tottenham Court Road for the Central Line to Bank, but I appreciate they might be trying to avoid overcrowding on that line, but changing at Goodge Street is not going to help in any way. And oddly the map in the South London leaflet only extends as far north as Tottenham Court Road and doesn’t even show Goodge Street which would certainly flummox anyone unfamiliar with the Underground network.
Information about route 733 on TfL’s website is also inaccurate.
Details are given of bus stops served including the very first bus stop (lettered K) as buses leave the Finsbury Square, Moorgate terminus. You even get real time information about upcoming departues.
Except, bus stop K has been closed for many weeks with no alternative provided.
I’m surprised neither of the two leaflets gives much prominence to route 733 bearing in mind the huge cost of laying it on. It’s being run from Tower Transit’s garage at Lea Interchange which must be over five miles from Moorgate entailing considerable dead running for driver reliefs and reportedly with a PVR of 15 buses so that won’t come cheap – around three quarters of a million for the next four months I reckon although in a project costing £655 million I suppose it’s all relative. But Tower Transit have done well to get the route up and running in the current circumstances of staff shortages – it must take around 40 drivers and some dedicated supervisory staff too.
After my 733 experience I headed on to north London to take a ride on the ten month old route 456 – the previous holder of the ‘London’s newest bus route’ accolade.
I rode the 12:27 journey from North Middlesex University Hospital to Crews Hill.
Setting off with no one else on board we picked up a passenger at the first stop who travelled to Farm Road in Winchcmbe Hill (a journey which previously entailed two buses) and at the next stop in Silver Street two adults with two young people all travelling together also boarded for Farm Road where they were going to the nearby school. Another passenger boarded in Church Hill travelling to Highlands School in Worlds End Lane (a journey previously entailing a walk of about 500 yards) where seven boarded including five students. Another passenger had boarded in Eversley Park Road and travelled to the Forty Hill area (previously needing three buses) and two more travelled locally as we headed into Enfield paralleling other bus routes. Six passengers boarded in Enfield Town and most alighted in the Forty Hill and Clay Hill areas with just two continuing as far as Crews Hill.
I’m pleased to report bus stops have now been erected throughout the route, and amazingly the spider map alongside North Middlesex Hospital has been updated.
Readers may recall the Enfield to Crews Hill section of the route wasn’t new when the 456 began last March. It was introduced 30 years ago as route W10 albeit just as a limited off peak service.
But the new section of route seems to be doing reasonably well but its certainly not doing anything to help TfL’s finances, that’s for sure.
Neither is the 733.
And I doubt I’ll be using “London’s newest bus route” as a title for a blog post again any time soon.
Diamond Geezer has posted his usual erudite commentary, characteristically at 07:33, this morning which is well worth a read.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.
Next blog, Thursday 20th January: Maidstone’s Park & Ride to end.