Decent London route branding (at last)

Friday 20th September 2019

Well done UNO Bus, operator of TfL bus route 383 between Woodside Park and Barnet, for today’s community led launch of the first decent route branding on a London bus route for a few decades.

The 383 may be a backwater north London bus route which takes a circuitous route east of the Great North Road between the Spires shopping centre near Barnet Church at its northern terminus and Woodside Park Underground station in the south, but it’s now the most professionally promoted route in the network.

Running only every half an hour the 383’s route meanderings take in New Barnet, Oakleigh Park and Friern Barnet with a 36 minute end to end journey time meaning three buses are needed to run the service – smart four year old Enviro 200s.

The 383 is the only TfL contracted bus route operated by Hatfield based UNO Bus – they’ve held the contract since July 2015 – so it’s a very welcome development to see MD Jim Thorpe and the team take this initiative to give the route a much higher profile.

It’s not easy to work out where TfL bus routes go. The inexcusable absence of a network bus map either in printed form or online (other than the independently produced map by Mike Harris) is an absolute scandal so anything that provides a clue where bus routes actually go is to be applauded.

IMG_4233.jpgAll the more so as recent ‘trials’ of route branding introduced by TfL during the last couple of years in the Barkingside and Hayes and Hillingdon areas are excruciatingly embarrassing due to their amateurish application. Well designed they’re not.

IMG_4237.jpgThis new 383 branding introduced by UNO has all the hallmarks of the excellent work produced by Ray Stenning and his Best Impressions design agency. It’s to their consistently high standard.

A lovely stylised route map on the lower back panel is an excellent idea although sadly looks as though it might suffer the fate of being usurped by an advert for a third party company in the frame. Let’s hope not, it would be such a shame to see a promotional bus route map covered up by an advert for a car dealer!

Inside the buses on the 383 are panels to create interest in the local area as well as another geographic route map.

Sullivan Buses – another small well presented bus company based in Hertfordshire who run a growing number of TfL contracts in north London – also use these panels to give background historical information about each route to generate interest.

I hope the larger bus companies who dominate London’s contracted bus market are taking note of these positive initiatives and hopefully TfL will approve more schemes of this kind and give up those appalling attempts at route branding in Barkingside and Hayes.

It’s also encouraging to hear this 383 brand launch has been introduced with customer focused training involving all the regular UNO drivers on the route.

Imagine if proper branding, as just launched on the 383, was applied to all the high profile routes through central London. What a positive difference that would make. It might even help turn around the downturn in passenger journeys being experienced across central London and encourage new passengers who might stand a chance of understanding where bus routes go.

Roger French

GoSutton Go

Tuesday 13th August 2019

IMG_7390.jpgTfL’s first foray into the new fangled world of App based Dial-A-Ride (aka Demand Responsive Transport) in Sutton is now in its twelfth week and yesterday a rather impersonal email popped into my inbox announcing an exciting extension of the area served by the swish exec style wishy-washy liveried Mercedes Sprinter minibuses.

GoSutton hit the streets for the first time at the end of May when I sampled a few rides and wrote about it here. From yesterday, the operating area centred on Sutton now extends eastwards beyond Hackbridge and Wallington to include the Beddington Lane area of retail sheds, light industry and the residential areas of Beddington and Roundshaw and in the west includes more residential roads in Cheam, with the A24 Epsom Road, GoSutton’s new western boundary. The area served now stretches from the A24 across to the A23.

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TfL flagged up the idea of a possible eastern extension in its original consultation in March but the area now included is slightly larger than in that proposal while the extra roads out west weren’t originally flagged up but TfL admitted feedback from the consultation saw requests for more of Cheam to be included, so now they’ve delivered on that.

Another exciting change announced yesterday was a temporary reduction in the single journey fare from the usual pricey (by TfL bus fare standards) £3.50 to a more tempting £2. This applies for the rest of August and is clearly designed to stimulate interest and attract newbie travellers who are otherwise put off by the significant price differential to taking a conventional bus for just £1.50 (including hopper options).

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You’d think therefore there would be lots of promotional activity surrounding these new developments, especially that 43% price reduction, yet I had a look at the bespoke GoSutton website last night and while it included the updated map with eastern and western extensions, there was no mention of the new reduced fare, still quoting £3.50 a ride (point 3 above).

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I always find it ironic that for a service that’s supposed to be all about using technology the operators are so tardy at using it themselves to convey updated timely information. I’m pleased to report the website was updated today and now refers to the £2 a ride offer (see above, spot the difference); although the TfL official website still fails to mention it.

And the 44 page (!!) “easy read” manual explaining how to use GoSutton still quotes £3.50, including showing cash on page 22 … except you can’t pay using cash.

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Quite how TfL expect potential passengers to find out about this fare offer is beyond me; it’s no good just sending an email to existing customers; there needs to be extensive promotion among non users.

Intrigued by yesterday’s email I decided to give GoSutton another try out today to see how loadings are doing in the newly extended area and take advantage of the August holiday bargain basement £2 fare.

I began my adventure at the Ampere Way tram stop in the new north eastern top corner of the extended area and ordered a journey down into the far south western corner of the new western extension in Cheam, because I’m like that as a customer.

IMG_7180.jpgA minibus was close by at IKEA dropping a passenger off so I was given a convenient pick up time just five minutes away and the little map showed me where driver Shane would be coming from after that drop off.

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The thing was though the little minibus icon didn’t move for about five minutes. ViaVan’s software algorithm picked up something was wrong and sent me an auto-text advising of an (indeterminate) delay.IMG_E7178.jpg

In the interests of research I stuck with it and sure enough Shane began to move and arrived with me at 10:25 rather than the promised 10:16. A total wait from ordering at 10:11 of 14 minutes, just 4 minutes outside TfL’s target of ten minutes.

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I was a bit surprised Shane didn’t mention anything about the delay as I boarded so I broached the subject asking if he’d been held up – it turned out the passenger being dropped off was unsure where she’d be picked up and needed reassurance.

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We took a straight forward route through Carshalton and Sutton over to Cheam with an ETA showing of 10:51 as we set off.IMG_7203.jpg

It’s still an odd feeling to be on a bus in London driving past passengers waiting at bus stops, providing a slightly superior feeling of being in a special mode of transport that’s got no time for stopping hither and thither for conventional bus using folk.

IMG_7244.jpgDuring the journey the SatNav gives explicit directions even where the route has the right of way at junctions; eg turn left… on a bend to the left in the main road, if there’s another road off to the right. And every instruction is given twice; once with a precise assessment in feet of how far ahead the manoeuvre is and then at the actual location. It can all get a bit annoying background noise when sitting in the front seats.

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Interestingly at one point Shane chose to ignore the SatNav’s advice of where to turn right and continued to the next junction. He wasn’t told to do a “U-turn” though!

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We arrived in North Cheam after a twenty-seven minute journey at 10:52, just two minutes later than the originally predicted arrival of 10:50 as we set off from Ampere Way.

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I took a bus on route 93 up the A24 Epsom Road to the junction with Sutton Common Road which is in the extreme north west corner of the expanded operating area and called up my second ride at 11:11

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I thought I’d head over to the newly extended southeastern corner just off the Purley Way, not far north of Purley itself. This was becoming Extreme DRT Bus Riding; I was beginning to feel like a Guerilla DRT Tester.

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I was given two options of a minibus in either 9 or 20 minutes, but in the time it took to think about that (and take a screenshot) a message came back the options are no longer available – you have up to 30 seconds to decide; so I tried again and got the same options but with a more convenient pick up point exactly where I was rather than having to cross the junction.

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The minibus would be with me in six minutes. In the event it was 11:21, after ten minutes when Ivan appeared.

IMG_7260.jpgWe set off on a diagonal route right across the area, avoiding the centre of Sutton and using a number of residential roads not used by standard bus routes.

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We got to the edge of the area in a rather well-to-do leafy part of Purley arriving after just 22 minutes travelling at 11:43.

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Although the newly extended eastern boundary frustratingly doesn’t reach the A23 Purley Way I noticed there’s a small blip on the map to include the large Costco outlet by the former Croydon Airport and opposite the Colonnades retail park on the east side of Purley Way. I thought that would make for a good starting point for my next journey.

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I took a 289 the short ride north to this location and at 12:40 ordered my third GoSutton ride to take me north to the Beddington Lane tram stop – both my origin and destination being within the extended eastern area.

IMG_7321.jpgIt’s odd that you can only summon a minibus to appear on the far western side of Costco (at the bottom of the Google aerial shot below) rather than by the more logical and busy Colonnades on the eastern side of the A23 …….

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 18.39.48.png…… as it has to use Purley Way to get to Costco so could easily pick up at the Colonnades too.

The App gave me a pick up time of twenty minutes – the longest wait yet and double the TfL target. Alexandru was the driver of the nearest free minibus right over in Sutton.

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He arrived as expected at 13:00 and once we’d established how to turn round (using Costco’s car park was the best option) ….

IMG_7370.jpg…..we headed north taking just fourteen minutes instead of the predicted sixteen and I was dropped off at the official TfL bus stop used by route 463 south of Beddington Lane tram stop – I’ve noticed the algorithm likes dropping you off at official bus stops.

IMG_7373.jpgAlexandru then headed off to await his next passenger.

IMG_7374.jpgAnd I wandered up to the tram stop and headed back to East Croydon and home.

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It had been an interesting three hours. Three journeys. Three different minibuses. Three pleasant drivers. Three smooth journeys. Just me riding solo on each journey. Total wait time 44 minutes. Total ride time 63 minutes. Total minibus time devoted exclusively to me 1 hour, 47 minutes. At £2 a journey; TfL took £6 in revenue from me.

After almost three months which is a quarter of the way through the twelve month trial, it’s not looking very financially sustainable to me.

BUT before I close …… and just to show ride sharing can work I need to also report on a quite astonishing experience I had just a couple of weeks ago when I passed through the area and gave GoSutton a go.

IMG_4860.jpgIt was a gorgeous hot sunny Monday afternoon at the end of last month as I got off the train at Carshalton station and fired up the GoSutton App to order a minibus to take me over to the Royal Marsden Hospital in the south-western corner of the original operating area.

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I was well impressed to receive a reply reporting a minibus would pick me up within three minutes and sure enough it duly arrived pretty much three minutes later and not only that but another passenger was already on board.

IMG_4883.jpgNot only that but I became intrigued as the journey continued that we weren’t deviating from the expected route to the Royal Marsden to drop her off somewhere. It turned out my fellow passenger was also travelling to the Hospital, where she works, and had boarded just a couple of minutes before me up the road in Carshalton.

IMG_4887.jpgIt was the first time she’d used GoSutton and was understandably impressed with the convenience of only a short wait and then a ten minute direct journey; and what’s more she couldn’t believe as a Freedom Pass holder it had been a completely free ride for her.

Now how about that? What are the chances of my random arrival at Carshalton station at 13.30 on a Monday afternoon and choosing a destination to travel to completely at random which coincided with another person making pretty much exactly the same journey at the same time. The algorithm must have been in software heaven, not believing its luck. This is what the ViaVan techy geeks had been dreaming would happen during years of ride sharing software formulation. And on the afternoon of Monday 29th July, it finally delivered.

But the thing is, impressive though that was, and I’m still blown away at the coincidence of it all, my £3.50 fare together with the reimbursement contribution from the London Boroughs for my fellow passenger’s free ride (if there is indeed such reimbursement for the GoSutton trial) will not have gone anywhere near to covering the operating cost of providing that journey, let alone the set up development costs of the algorithm itself!

Two people riding around on a conventionally operated bus would mean instant withdrawal as it being hopelessly uneconomic; let alone one passenger paying £6 for over an hour and forty-seven minutes travels as I did today.

Meanwhile the Ealing trial begins shortly.

Roger French

Crossing Hammersmith Bridge

Monday 29th July 2019

IMG_4853.jpgA much needed new service began carrying passengers over Hammersmith Bridge from this morning. With the Bridge closed to all motor traffic including buses since 10th April this new service is provided by a lovely man called Frederick peddling a smart electric Pedi-Cab. And very efficient it is too.

IMG_4852.jpgI only stumbled on Frederick and his Pedi-Cab this morning by accident as he was promoting it to passers by on the south side of the Bridge. With TfL announcing more changes to bus routes which used to cross the now closed Bridge from this Saturday (3rd August 2019) I thought it might be interesting to pop along and see how things had settled down since the hiatus immediately following the sudden closure three months ago. TfL didn’t cover itself in glory back in April with an appalling lack of updated information at bus stops and on buses.

Bear in mind although they’re called ‘temporary bus route alterations’, it’s ‘temporary’ as in ‘expected to last for at least three years’ and probably longer while discussions continue over how to fund the repairs needed to the Bridge. The word on the street this morning was at least £100 million is involved – which I guess is not that much in the context of being only about two times the cost of an aborted Garden Bridge.

IMG_4833.jpgIt was the sudden nature of the closure in April which seemingly caught everyone out rather than any surprise at the closure itself. It had been known for many years all was not well with the structure of the Bridge. Five main bus routes used to use the Bridge but in the southbound direction traffic marshals restricted buses crossing to strictly one at a time through a manned barrier at what must have been a significant cost (and as seen in a photograph taken over a year ago below).

IMG_6091.jpgTwo of those five bus routes (33 and 485) now have to terminate short of the Bridge on the south side, one bus route (72) terminates short on the north side of the Bridge, a fourth is diverted to double back south from the Bridge to terminate in Barnes Pond (419) and the fifth route (209) has been diverted away from the Bridge completely at Barnes to terminate instead at the next bridge downstream, Putney Bridge. Bus passengers are encouraged to walk across Hammersmith Bridge as the quickest way to pick up a bus to continue their journey.

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Posters at bus stops explain “it’s about a twenty minute walk” which is a bit pessimistic (I did it in about fifteen), but not unrealistic for a slow walker leaving Hammersmith Underground Station and walking all the way to pick up a southbound 33 or 485 in Castelnau, the main road heading south.

IMG_4756.jpgTfL have also laid on a ‘temporary route’ numbered 533 which links Hammersmith bus station, adjacent to the Underground Station round to the Barnes area south of Hammersmith Bridge by crossing the next bridge upstream, Chiswick Bridge. Three buses provide a daily half-hourly frequency from 04:50 to 01:30. It’s timetabled to take twenty-four minutes from the north side of Hammersmith Bridge to reach the south side via Chiswick Bridge, Barnes Bridge station, and Lonsdale Road before returning in a loop via Barnes Pond back to Barnes Bridge station, Chiswick Bridge and Hammersmith.

IMG_4802.jpgI’d heard that passenger loadings on the 533 were low and this morning found typical carryings about eight passengers per single journey; it was evident the service was welcomed by those using it.

It was also evident in the off-peak there’s plenty of running time and although an hour is allocated for a full round trip I noticed buses arriving back into Hammersmith at least four to five minutes before the next one had departed.

IMG_4764.jpgI can imagine traffic during peak hours makes a world of difference though especially around the notorious Hogarth roundabout on the Great West Road and a peak vehicle requirement of three would almost certainly be required.

IMG_4796.jpgThe change being introduced from this coming Saturday, 3rd August, is to the short stub of a route 209 which used to run from Mortlake to Hammersmith – in history it’s the western end of the famous route 9 from Liverpool Street to the lovely bus garage at Mortlake.

As noted above, since April this has been diverted in Barnes to operate to Putney Bridge instead but very few people have been using it and public pressure has persuaded TfL to have a rethink and restore the route back to its original route from Barnes and continue towards Hammersmith Bridge terminating on the south side along with the 33 and 485.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 19.46.55.pngThe 209 currently runs at a generous daytime frequency of every six minutes to Putney Bridge with a journey time of only 18 minutes. I saw many buses running up and down the route with very few passengers on board this morning, bearing out the public comments.

So in a bizarre move when the 209 reverts back to Hammersmith Bridge south side as a terminus from Saturday, TfL are replacing the lost section of the ‘temporary route’ to Putney Bridge with another new ‘temporary bus route’ numbered 378 running every 12 minutes; with the restored routed 209 reduced slightly to every 8 minutes. I really can’t see this new route 378 performing any useful function at all with much of it already covered by route 485 between Barnes and Putney.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 19.46.13.pngThe changes to bus routes have been criticised for being confusing to passengers. This wasn’t helped initially by a lack of information, but even this morning, over three months on from the Bridge closure, buses were running round with blank destination blinds (419s unable to show Barnes Pond on its extended and diverted route away from Hammersmith)….

IMG_4765.jpg…. and buses on the 33 unable to show the terminus on the south side of Hammersmith known as Castelnau…

IMG_4832.jpg…. and inevitably Spider Maps haven’t been updated, prominently displaying out of date and inaccurate information at all the affected bus stops!IMG_4807.jpg

Even more confusing, and from one extreme to the other for TfL, new timetables were already on display at bus stops in Barnes for the new route 209 applicable from this Saturday – no wonder a passenger came up to me as I took this photograph asking if I could help her understand what was happening….

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It’s good to see TfL responding to feedback though, but when residents catch the rerouted 209 towards Hammesmith, they’ve still got to walk over the Bridge from Castelnau.

Which brings me back to Frederick. Local residents were vociferous at a recent public meeting saying there should be better provision for transport options to cross the bridge other than walking, cycling or taking a long detour on the 533 bus via Chiswick Bridge, especially for those who find mobility challenging.

This has led an enterprising local resident in Barnes to start up a new electric Pedi-Cab service and employ Frederick to peddle across the Bridge as often as he can carrying up to two passengers at a time paying £2 for a single ride.

IMG_4838.jpgThe plan is for Frederick to be joined by three more Pedi-Cabs in September when it’s hoped the service really will take off providing an attractive on-demand frequency and a decent alternative to getting cold and wet walking over the Bridge in the Autumn and Winter.

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Initial hours of operation are from 08:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 21:00. In the morning the Pedi-Cab waits for business on the south side of the Bridge and in the afternoon on the north alongside the Apollo, opposite one of the entrances/exits to the Underground station. IMG_4851.jpgIt’s a great idea and I’m sure it will catch on with residents wanting to save the walk and in some way it’s suprising the rickshaws which ply their trade annoyingly in Oxford Street haven’t also caught on to the potential market in Hammersmith.

IMG_4839.jpgKey to its success will be frequency and getting those extra Pedi-Cabs up and running. IMG_4843.jpgIn the mean time Frederick was doing a superb ambassadorial job selling the new service this morning and his courtesy, politeness, enthusiasm and positivity really was impressive – it persuaded me to take a ride; the company Ginger running the service has found a gem in Frederick and I hope it’s a success.

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Roger French

 

 

On the M2 on the M2 … and a 301

Monday 22nd July 2019

IMG_4219.jpgYou have to hand it to Stagecoach. Whenever they give a new commercial service a go, they don’t hold back. Their South West Falcon introduced in 2016 linking Bristol with Plymouth was a massive investment involving a fleet of brand new coaches running hourly during the day as well as night journeys. It was a huge commercial risk which I’m pleased to see seems to have paid off.

This week sees another high profile brand new inter-urban express route take to the road, this time pioneered by Stagecoach South East and operating between Canterbury and North Greenwich for the O2 as well as a handy connection to the Jubilee Line for onward travel into central London.

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 19.26.26.pngAppropriately numbered M2, the route also serves a stop near Faversham town centre, the Hempstead Valley shopping centre, a stop in Rainham (the Gillingham ‘Rainham’) as well as Chatham’s bus station and Maritime quarter.

The ambitious timetable provides an hourly service seven days a week with a first Monday to Friday journey as early as 04:55 from Canterbury (even 06:40 at weekends) and a last daily journey back from North Greenwich as late as 23:10. That’s very impressive for a start up route and very much in the Stagecoach mould of throwing everything at it from the start.

Journey times vary from a best off-peak end-to-end 1 hour 54 minutes to a peak congestion blighted time of 2 hours 22 minutes.Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 20.12.41.pngFive vehicles are needed to run the service and I understand there’s one spare available. They’re nine year old Volvo B9R/Plaxton Elites which have been around the Group a bit having seen service in East Scotland as well as elsewhere. They’re decent coaches though and very suitable for this latest venture. There’s the usual Wi-fi and a three pin plug socket per pair of seats and an on board toilet at the rear.IMG_4227.jpgTime comparisons with the rail alternative are not particularly favourable bearing in mind Canterbury and Faversham both enjoy High Speed trains whisking you to St Pancras (best time to Canterbury is 56 minutes) but whereas HS1 passengers are stung with premium ticket prices Stagecoach can offer more attractive fares.

Advance booking on the M2 is available through the Megabus website and there are also pay-on-the-coach fares (including contactless). A single from Canterbury to North Greenwich starts at £8.50 (online off peak including £1 booking fee) increasing to £10 (pay-on-coach). Fares on the first three peak departures from Canterbury are higher at £12 (online) and £15 (pay-on-coach). There are no m-Ticket options through the Stagecoach App. Fares from Medway reduce to £7 (online) and £8 (pay-on-coach) with peak fares £10 (online) and £12 (pay-on-coach). There are unspecified discounts available for students with ID and seniors with concessionary passes.

An Anytime day return from Canterbury to St Pancras on the train including the HS1 premium sets you back £72.70 with off-peak costing £38.90. However a weekly Anytime season is £167.40 which for five days travel works out at £33.48 per day, and if you take the non HS1 version it’s £139.60 or £27.92 per day, although journey times are much longer – it takes as long as the M2. Interestingly though, the £27.92 works out cheaper than paying two peak singles on the M2 coach at £30 (although it’s £24 online). I can’t see any availability of return tickets or commuter weeklies on the M2 advertised online and strangely there’s no reference to fares at all in the timetable leaflet; nor any reference to fares on the rather understated vehicle livery.

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I took a ride on the 11:50 from Canterbury to North Greenwich this morning to see how the new service is bedding in.

Thanks to Highways England closing the M2 motorway yesterday for ‘essential maintenance’ putting the kibosh on Stagecoach’s inaugural day for the M2 coach route (it ran to a curtailed timetable and route) today was the first day offering a full service on the M2 on the M2 (if you see what I mean).

It’s always a bit scary running a brand new service during its first few days especially one as intense as the hourly M2, as despite all the planning, organisation and pre launch publicity and marketing, passengers may simply not appear. It can be a bit dispiriting.

Although I was the only passenger this morning on the 11:50 departure the driver was very friendly and very upbeat and positive about the new service. Indeed, he’d left his job at another well established coach company running commuter coaches between Kent and London just so he could be part of this new venture. That impressed me. I hope his confidence and optimism is well placed.

He drove at a very steady pace and despite leaving a couple of minutes late we passed the Perry Court stop in Faversham spot on time at 12:08. This stop is on the A251 (off the A2) just before junction 6 on the M2 which we joined.

I appreciate the time penalty of doing a circuit of Faversham town centre might be unattractive, but I wonder if there could be a bus stop located slightly closer for the convenience and attraction of serving Faversham. Perry Court didn’t look particularly convenient. It would also proivde an excellent non-stop Faversham to Canterbury service although I appreciate there’s already the half-hourly 3X taking just 24 minutes for that journey,

We were then on the M2 through to junction 4 where we came off to serve the Hempstead Valley shopping centre. We arrived five minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time of 12:33 so it made me wonder whether a tour of Faversham town centre could be accommodated after all – it would probably only take about the five minutes we sat at Hempstead Valley.IMG_4147.jpgOnward to Chatham bus station where we arrived ten minutes ahead of the scheduled departure at 11:59. There’s definitely some cautious running time allowances in this timetable.IMG_4210.jpgWe left via the Dockyard and Maritime quarter and then through the Medway Tunnel which brought us on to the A2 and the forty minute ride to North Greenwich. Traffic was as busy as usual even at lunch time as we neared Greenwich and the Blackwall Tunnel approach road and we lost five minutes negotiating the traffic light junctions before reaching the North Greenwich terminus alongside the Underground station and O2 at 13:49 instead of 13:44.IMG_4224.jpgThe driver and bus had stand time of 21 minutes until the return journey to Canterbury leaves at 14:05.

Stand time at Canterbury in the off peak is a very generous 54 minutes; all credit to Stagecoach for starting the timetable off with a very cautious and generous timing allowance which will help ensure reliability, subject to the random nature of traffic delays on this busy road corridor.

IMG_4146.jpgIt was good to see timetable leaflets and other literature available inside the coach as well as in Stagecoach’s Canterbury travel shop and I also spotted supplies and information at Chatham bus station (bottom right).IMG_4217.jpg

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Bus stops had been updated with reference to the M2 as well as departure times at Canterbury and Hempstead Valley but the fancy electronic signs at Chatham bus station were all blank as usual.IMG_4212.jpgIt also didn’t surprise me to see TfL make no reference to the new M2 at North Greenwich. They really are hopeless.

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It’s very welcome to see another big investment in a new commercial service by Stagecoach and it’s obvious a lot of thought has gone into the planning and logistics of the M2 and it was good to see publicity was prominent along the route. Well done to everyone involved. But, as always with services of this kind, it’s a HUGE market to serve. On the one hand this shows the potential – Canterbury, Chatham, Greenwich, the O2 and connections to London are all great places to visit and they’re all on the M2’s radar – but on the other hand it shows the enormous challenge of getting the service known by potential passengers across such a massive market.

I do think the fares package may need some adjustment, particularly the need for discounted returns and perhaps weekly tickets to attract commuters. It seems odd not to publicise fares more dramatically including whatever the discounts are for students and seniors.

I understand there’ll be a full review of the service after six months. I reckon it’ll need at least a year, and probably eighteen months to two years to really established itself and see if there is a sustainable commercial market. Oxford Bus pulled the plug within six months of starting their Oxford to Birmingham coach service in 2016. I always thought that was a bit too early; I hope the same doesn’t apply here. You have to be patient and be prepared to spend an awful lot on marketing and raising awareness. In this regard, while I like the ‘Stagecoach express’ brand and logo on the coaches, I do wonder whether the places served, the frequency and some reference to price needs to be incorporated more prominently to raise the profile.

Good luck and I wish the new service every success.

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While I was out and about today I popped from North Greenwich over to nearby Woolwich to take a ride on another new service – TfL’s route 301 which began on the Saturday before last running between Woolwich and Bexleyheath.

IMG_4379.jpgIt’s not very often TfL introduce a brand new service; these days it’s all about cut backs in frequencies and direct journeys, so it makes a pleasant change to try out a new bus route in London, and even more so one that runs every 12 minutes (15 minutes evenings and Sundays) and from 05:40 through to 01:00. Not bad going for a route that effectively parallels four other routes along the way rather than carving out any new territory. No hopper fare for passengers here; they can now travel through from Woolwich via Plumstead, Thamesmead, Abbey Wood and Long Lane to Bexleyheath without changing.

End-to-end journey time is 38 minutes off peak rising to 46 minutes in the peak. You’d expect on a 12 minute frequency to need about eight or nine buses to make that work. This being TfL land the PVR is actually 10 buses.

It’s strange this route has been introduced now as it was designed in conjunction with the opening of Crossrail; forming part of the consultation surrounding changes to bus routes in south east London for when Crossrail comes to Abbey Wood. The fact that’s been delayed until at least later next year makes it’s hard to see why the 301 needs to run now. Indeed this afternoon we left Woolwich on time at 14:48 with just one other passenger on board, who I think, like me, was just trying the route out.IMG_4260.jpg The lack of passengers wasn’t surprising bearing in mind we left Woolwich following a bus on the more frequent (every 10 minutes) route 472 which we parallel as far as Thamesmead…..IMG_4265.jpg… then followed a bus on the more frequent (every 10 minutes) route 244 which we parallel to Abbey Wood …..IMG_4266.jpg… then did pick one surprised passenger up as we paralleled the 15 minute frequency route B11, where we also came unstuck for a while in the rather narrow New Road by meeting a B11 coming the other way – whose driver got out to help us reverse…IMG_4298.jpg

IMG_4301.jpg… and then as we joined the fourth and final route to parallel for out last section – the 401..IMG_4363.jpgThere was no 401 to tailgate but there were still no passengers. Rather frustratingly we we got held at a bus stop to regulate the service at 15:18 ….

IMG_4303.jpg….only to get going again and get held again to regulate the service at 15:23…IMG_4333.jpg

… and even more frustratingly that wait was at the last but one stop on the route…

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According to the timetable we weren’t due into Bexleyheath until 15:30 so far better to keep me and the other passenger waiting at the penultimate stop just outside until the due time! That’s London buses for you.

I can’t see the 301 doing anything more than the 472, 244, B11 and 401 have been doing for some time. Once Crossrail trains start running it’ll likely be a different story.IMG_4368.jpg

It was interesting to see some unofficial publicity for the 301 on display in Bexleyheath, albeit partly covering up an out of date spider map in Bexleyheath. Good to see someone taking the initiative and interesting to see the annotated additions. IMG_4371.jpg

Although bus stops and timetable cases had been updated along the route, spider route maps were devoid of any reference to the 301; but that’s no surprise. It took me a little time wandering around Woolwich to find the right bus stop, but eventually I tracked it down.IMG_4234.jpg

Roger French

Two cheers for TfL

Saturday 15th June 2019

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Today saw the much heralded cuts to a large number of central London bus routes including many changes to termini and amended routes.

I previewed the changes in a post on 5th June foreseeing a major challenge as getting bus stop plates, timetables and spider maps updated.

Having had a good wander around central London today I’m pleased to report TfL’s bus stop team have done a reasonably good job bearing in mind the scale of changes.

Inevitably there are some inconsistencies and discrepancies but on the whole it was impressive to see just how much had been updated ready for day 1.

Here are some examples of what gets a big bus stop tick and what needs further attention.

Yellow ‘Bus stop closed’ hoods covering up discontinued bus stops have been regularly deployed in London for some years now to cater for temporary changes due to roadworks and diversions. Sadly the consequential deployment of ‘Dolly Stops’ as replacements is much more rare these days but that’s another matter.

Team Cover Up have been out in force with their yellow hoods overnight after Friday’s last journeys. First up I found them deployed at bus stops uniquely served by the withdrawn route RV1 from Covent Garden ….

IMG_0658.jpg…. via the South Bank ….IMG_0648.jpgIMG_0646.jpg…. including a poignant tribute at the Royal Festival Hall ….

IMG_0655.jpgIMG_0653.jpg…. to the Tower Gateway terminus.

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The Covent Garden bound stop at Oxo Tower on the South Bank has been out of action for some weeks, and the long standing notice erroneously implies the RV1 will be back later this year which to avoid confusion should really be removed now lest it gives anyone false hopes of a RV1 revival…..IMG_0649.jpg

IMG_0650.jpgIn better news ‘E’ plates showing which bus routes serve each bus stop along the route have also all been updated with any reference to the RV1 removed and the 343 added where appropriate on its newly extended section of route to Aldgate replacing the RV1 between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

Indeed so on the ball were the ‘E’ plate amendment team for the RV1/343 switch that they even updated the bus stops on Tower Bridge approach itself which are no longer in use due to the protective barriers now installed. Still at least that out of use bus stop has accurate route numbers for buses which can no longer stop there.

IMG_0630.jpgIMG_0631.jpgOn the other hand I spotted an erroneous RV1 plate on a bus stop not served long before yesterday’s withdrawal in Great Tower Street which must have been in place from a former old routing…

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The same hooded status was noted on the withdrawn section of bus route 341 in New Fetter Lane/Fetter Lane which are no longer served by buses so that change was sorted correctly too….

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…including the removal of ‘E’ plates for the 341 and the timetable from the stops in Holborn….

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Similarly yellow hoods were properly deployed on bus stops in Fenchurch Street no longer served by any bus routes following the diversion of route 40 to terminate at Clerkenwell Green instead of Aldgate.

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However, the job of updating stops on the new section of route 40….

IMG_0579.jpg……is best described as ‘work in progress’ as ‘E’ plates were incorrectly showing route 45 and 388 (both now withdrawn) rather than the newly diverted 40 in Blackfriars Road …..

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….even though the timetable below had been updated with the 45 and 388 correctly replaced by the 40….

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and in Farringdon Road a new ‘E’ plate had appeared for the newly diverted 341 (but not the 40) ….

IMG_0563.jpg… whereas the timetable below showed the newly diverted 40 but not the 341….

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Meanwhile on bus stops a little further north of Clerkenwell where its just the 341 which needs adding, the stops do have both a timetable displayed and correct ‘E’ plates…..

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The fourth section of road to become newly bus-less is Pall Mall which said farewell to route 9 which has now been diverted back into the parallel Piccadilly. Sadly Team Cover Up hadn’t been there when I visited late this morning and the bus stops on either side of Pall Mall looked very much open for business as usual ….

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…. although someone had taken out the route 9 details from the timetable case ….

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….and added a new timetable and a new ‘E’ plate on the newly served stop in nearby Piccadilly….

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Back in Pall Mall I explained to the waiting passenger she was in for a long wait for a Number 9 but she seemed happy to know the new stop was by Fortnum & Mason and headed off in that direction!

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As well as Team Cover Up these changes also call upon the services of Team Uncover Up as the 14 now diverts from its previous route from Putney Heath at Tottenham Court Road station to operate via the British Museum and terminate at Russell Square instead of via Tottenham Court Road to turn at Warren Street station.

This new bit of route via the British Museum hasn’t seen a bus since route 10 was withdrawn last November so the bus stops have either been left to just Sightseeing buses (as here outside the museum)…

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…. or closed as at the next stop in Montague Street….

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Unfortunately it was still covered up today even as buses went by on the newly diverted 14.

Even more bizarre someone had been out to install a new route 14 timetable in the timetable case at the stop outside the British Museum but hadn’t taken down the bus stop closed sign! Surely there aren’t two teams at work here, one to put new timetables up and another to take down ‘bus stop closed’ signs?

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On the opposite side of the road you’d have to be very knowledgeable to twig the 14 now uses that stop and be prepared to jump out into the road to let the bus driver know as he passes the Sightseeing bus by.

IMG_0497.jpgIMG_0513.jpgOver in Tottenham Court Road references to route 14 (and the 134 – also now withdrawn from that road) were still on bus stop flags ….

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…. but someone had been round and removed all the timetables and for all the routes too! Or, perhaps they haven’t yet been installed to these relatively new southbound stops, but then why install new timetable cases? Anyway, it’s another ‘work in progress’ here.

And more even more bizarre at the erstwhile route 14 terminus at Warren Street, now used by the 134….

IMG_0376.jpg…..someone had been out to add the new 134 timetable but had left the now incorrect 14 one in place…..

IMG_0374.jpg….. nor did they change the ‘E’ plate from showing 14 to 134. I wished I’d brought a spare 3 with me to do the job!

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Talking of the 3, that route no longer serves the northern most stop in Whitehall as the route has been cut back from terminating at Trafalgar Square to Horse Guards Parade and it was good to see everything updated correctly there.

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Over in Aldgate another update success is all references to the 67 are now changed to the 242 both on bus stop plates….

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….. and timetable cases……

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So, another job well executed there.

Similarly over on the Euston Road the stops between Kings Cross and Euston have all had references to the now withdrawn 59 and 476 removed from bus stop flags….

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It’s just a shame that an important and busy stop right opposite St Pancras International has no timetables for daytime bus routes at all…

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The diversion of route 4 at St Paul’s Cathedral to operate via Queen Victoria Street and terminate at Blackfriars instead of running along Fleet Street and Waterloo Bridge to Waterloo was another success with bus stops updated …..

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…. and new timetables at bus stops along the route….

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…. except that the ‘towards Elephant & Castle’ bit of the bus stop is out of date as that used to apply to the 388 when it ran on there, but now the 4 heads no further south than Blackfriars.

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The same issue with ‘towards’ on bus stop plates applies further back along the route where bus stops still display ‘towards Aldwych’ which it no longer does.

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A neat piece of technology was using the iBus system to show a scrolling message just before the new piece of route at St Paul’s advising passengers to alight and change to a bus on route 76 for Waterloo. Old habits die hard and most passengers didn’t notice this and carried on until the bus turned along the new route and then they got flustered and alighted at the next stop.

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I was also impressed to see a number of spider maps had been updated with references to where routes had been altered or withdrawn.

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However, these new style spider maps are not so easy to use, since they no longer show a colour coded route index. For example, the old style map still on display at the old RV1 bus stop in Covent Garden…

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… has the old style route index….

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…but the new style maps colour code the route numbers alongside each destination in the index of places served. I don’t find this so helpful, as the route index was a quick way of telling you for each route the bus stops it serves nearby which was useful if you already knew your route number. Now you have to look up a destination first, to find the route number and the bus stops served.

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Despite the inconsistencies noted today I was pleasantly surprised at how much had been achieved and it’s clear a lot of thought and hard work has gone into the updating.

My concern is that those discrepancies I came across will not be corrected and will languish for many months, if not years. I hope I’m proved wrong and a wander around again in a few weeks time will show everything being displayed perfectly.

Let’s see.

Roger French

“Easier to travel” … with fewer buses.

Wednesday 5th June 2019

The countdown has begun. It’s ten days until TfL introduce a swathe of bus cuts across central London beginning on Saturday 15th June 2019. Twenty-five bus routes are changing with withdrawals, frequency reductions and many altered termini. And this is only Part 1; Part 2 is promised for later in the year.

Details of the changes have been posted on the TfL website for some time and notices referring to changes to bus routes somewhat vaguely as “in 2019” have appeared on hundreds of bus stops across a wide area of London advising passengers to click on the rather convoluted website address tfl.gov.uk/PermBusChanges – surely a more catchy web address could have been used?

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TfL’s communication machine cranked up another gear yesterday sending an email to its database (I assume it wasn’t just personally to me) advising “the way people travel in the capital is changing, so there are more buses than needed in the centre of London”. I like the positive angle (“more buses than needed”) rather than admitting less and less people are travelling by bus due to frustratingly slow speeds, congestion, less road space for buses due to cycle lanes taking priority etc etc. The explanation continues “we are working to reduce bus-on-bus congestion, to help improve reliability and make it easier to travel”.

These are odd strategies to be pursuing; most provincial bus companies are increasing the number of buses to improve reliability and make it easier to travel, but TfL seem to reckon running less is the answer.

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I had a ride a few days ago on many of the routes being cut back to see what the impact will be.

IMG_9673.jpgHighest profile frequency reductions in Blackfriars Road, Farringdon Road and Kingsland Road are being achieved by cutting back bus routes to termini located south and north of these roads.

IMG_9676.jpgFor example, Blackfriars Road says goodbye to routes 45 (no longer running north of Elephant & Castle to Kings Cross) and 388 (no longer running south of Liverpool Street to Elephant & Castle) leaving just route 63 and a newly rerouted 40 to Clerkenwell Green instead of Aldgate. In practice this means a combined frequency of around 15 buses per hour instead of 20. Part of the 388 route cut back involves Queen Victoria Street (where it’s the only route) which is covered by a rerouted 4 terminating at Blackfriars instead of Waterloo; so in turn leaving Fleet Street and Waterloo Bridge to other routes.

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Farringdon Road also says farewell to the 45 meaning only the 17 and 46 will link Chancery Lane to Kings Cross with 13 buses per hour instead of 19. Kingsland Road south of Dalston Junction loses its six bus an hour route 67 but still leaving around 24 buses an hour on the 149, 242 and 243.

IMG_9658.jpgFrom my journeys and observations along these roads the reduced frequencies will ably cope with the numbers travelling although buses will naturally be busier, in some cases uncomfortably so, and unattractive longer waiting times can be expected – not so much making it “easier to travel” but reducing costs and trying to keep the revenue.

IMG_9637.jpgThe busiest bus I spotted while on Kingsland Road south of Dalston on route 67 still had some empty seats on board on the upper deck.

IMG_9723.jpgAnother slim down is between Kings Cross and Euston where the 476 is being cut back from Euston to turn at Kings Cross from the east while the 59 does the opposite being cut back from Kings Cross to turn at Euston from the south taking out roughly 17 buses an hour linking the stations; but there are still plenty of buses on routes 30, 73, 91 205 and 390 along Euston Road so for those choosing not to walk, and I always do walk, the wait shouldn’t be discernibly longer.

IMG_9680.jpgAnother slim down is between Elephant & Castle and Holborn due to the 171 being cut back to the former from the south, but alternatives are provided by the 68 as well as many other buses on parts of that route.

IMG_9967.jpgIn the recently made two-way Tottenham Court Road, the 134 is cut back from the north to turn at Warren Street at the top end while the 14 from the south is diverted to Bloomsbury to turn at Russell Square leaving Tottenham Court Road to the 24, 29, 73 and 390. They’ll cope, but the fact is if your journey was from say, University College Hospital, where buses on the 14 used to begin their journey, to South Kensington your option will now be taking another bus down Tottenham Court Road and then change on to the truncated 14. While the Hopper Fare means no increase in price, changing buses certainly comes at a price of time and inconvenience and far removed from that spurious claim of making it “easier to travel”.

IMG_9954.jpgThere’s a lot of termini swapping going on as TfL juggle its stand space around. So, for example, with the cut back of the 67 from Aldgate to Dalston Junction, the 242 swaps its St Pauls terminal over to Aldgate (and replaces the 67 through Spitalfields) and the 100 steps into the terminal stand at St Pauls instead of the Museum of London. The 172 leaves Clerkenwell Green for Aldwych, while the 40 leaves Aldgate for Clerkenwell Green. The 341 moves from County Hall to Waterloo as the 53 cuts back to County Hall from Whitehall where it’s replaced by the 3 instead of continuing to Trafalgar Square. The key to many of these minor terminal cut backs and shuffle rounds is they save valuable vehicle and driver resource which will all add up in handy savings towards TfL’s deficit – and that’s what these changes are really about rather than anything to do with “bus-on-bus congestion” and “making it easier to travel”.

IMG_9580.jpgFinally the biggy; the complete withdrawal of the high profile tourist route, the Tower Transit operated RV1 first introduced in April 2002 which runs from Covent Garden, across Waterloo Bridge, around the South Bank along Upper Ground before gliding close by Tate Modern then London Bridge and Tower Bridge to terminate at Tower Gateway. Six buses run this least frequent central London bus route every 20 minutes (cut back from every 10 minutes in February 2018); and they’re not ordinary buses either, they’re the original hydrogen powered buses introduced in 2010/11 as well as two later Van Hool buses.

IMG_6198.jpgTfL reckons it costs about £3.3million each year to operate the RV1; quite how six buses doing minimal mileage on a fairly easy route around central London can cost that much is a mystery to me. With revenue of around £650,000 it means a loss of a whopping £2.6million. Apparently the premium for using hydrogen buses is not that great a percentage of this huge loss either. The busiest point on the eastbound route is  on Tooley Street with 15 passengers on the bus in the morning peak while westbound in the evening peak there’s twenty on the bus in Southwark Street. On my journeys I saw around a dozen people on off peak journeys in the South Bank and London Bridge area.

Some peak passengers may find the newly extended 343 from City Hall across Tower Bridge to Aldgate might help but off peak, passengers will pretty much be abandoned, but at £4 subsidy per passenger journey for a central London bus route, financial reality has caught up with the RV1.

IMG_9728.jpgOne interesting aspect of the upcoming changes is what will happen to surplus New Routemaster buses if they’re cascaded to other routes leading to mixed allocations.

IMG_9724.jpgThis has been the case on route 176 between Tottenham Court Road and Penge where Go-Ahead London’s Camberwell garage mix up New Routemasters with standard ADL Enviro double deck buses meaning passengers need a fleet list with them to work out whether they can board through the centre doors or not! Quite bizarre.

IMG_9634.jpgAs the ten day countdown continues to the Saturday 15th June changeover date it will be interesting to see whether TfL’s roadside infrastructure team can cope with the huge scale of changes. There must be hundreds of bus stop flags as well as timetable displays to update across the network and also all those hundreds of spider maps spreading their web across a vast area.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 15.45.47.pngSome spider maps showing the changes are embedded into TfL’s website if you click in the right place, but they’re not exactly easy to follow and understand. I’ll be keeping a close eye on whether these maps are updated and placed in the correct section of the website as well as in bus shelters on the 15th June.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 15.52.33.png  Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 15.53.08.pngCommendably Mike Harris has already updated his excellent (and the only available) London bus map and this is an easy way to see what is changing by comparing a before and after extract.

Mike’s edition no 38 valid from 15th June will shortly be available in print for £2 but the electronic version at the bargain price of just a £1 is available to buy and download now and I strongly recommend visiting his online shop and buying a copy. It’s invaluable when travelling around London – and huge thanks to Mike for his excellent map work. Mike definitely does “make it easier to travel”.

Roger French

H1: the hidden hospital bus

While I was giving GoSutton a try between the Royal Marsden and St Helier Hospitals in Sutton on Tuesday my friend James tweeted suggesting I also give the H1 inter-hospital bus route a ride. That was a new one on me, so I couldn’t resist giving it a go.

The H1 is sponsored by the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust and was exclusively for the use of hospital staff shuttling between the Trust’s sites in Epsom, Sutton and St Helier. It’s operated by RATP owned Quality Line (part of Epsom Coaches) and the good news is from Monday 4th March the service was opened up for any member of the public to use at a £1.50 flat fare.

That’s a great new service for people living in Epsom needing to get over to Sutton or St Helier Hospitals for an appointment, or vice versa for Sutton residents having to pop down to Epsom and not just for the hospital either, as the H1 stops close to the town centre in East Street. What a brilliant idea. It’s not a bad timetable with three buses needing five drivers shuttling up and down for around thirteen hours between around 6.30am and 7.30pm on Mondays to Fridays. However you need your wits about you to remember the times, as buses run at an awkward frequency of every 35 minutes during the morning widening to every forty minutes during part of the afternoon.

TfL gave their blessing to the public using buses on the H1 as they rule the roost on such matters once you cross the boundary from Surrey. But as you can only get on and off the bus at Sutton and St Helier Hospitals within the London Borough it doesn’t interfere with anything TfL control.

It might be handy though if TfL entered the timetable into its journey planner database so people living near St Helier Hospital needing to get to Sutton Hospital could easily find out about the H1. I suspect there’s a bit of the “not invented here” syndrome as you’ll be lucky to find out about the hidden H1.

TfL’s Journey Planner unhelpfully completely ignores the H1 which would whisk you from St Helier to Sutton Hospital in a non-stop 15 minutes at, say, 1005 and instead recommends cathing its own circuitous S1 bus route taking almost double the journey time at 28 minutes. The much admired CityMapper guys also ignore the H1 in their app results too.

I couldn’t find any timetables for the H1 at the TfL bus stops on either side of the road outside St Helier Hospital nor the H1 number appearing on the flags but undaunted I wandered into the hospital itself where a helpful receptionist gave me directions to walk along a corridor, turn left and there it will be, just inside the hospital grounds.

And sure enough I found what looked like a bus stop still proclaiming a “staff” inter site shuttle, complete with two handy benches to sit and wait and even a timetable on the wall. Great stuff. And this being a hospital the statutory ‘caution wet floor’ warning sign was properly in place too, even though it was obviously dry.

The rather battered looking H1 bus soon arrived from its previous journey and even though I wasn’t wearing a stethoscope round my neck nor a lanyard with an NHS ID, the driver waved me on ignoring the contactless enabled Ticketer ticket machine at his side and kindly gave me a free ride.

A couple of NHS staff were also on board and they continued on towards Epsom Hospital as I alighted at Sutton Hospital impressed with my speedy fifteen minute non-stop journey. I love these hidden gem bus routes but it’s always a shame they’re not better promoted.

This got me thinking about Journey Planners and GoSutton. While I was out and about on Tuesday I used TfL’s Journey Planner to find out how to get from St Helier Hospital to Sutton Station. Interestingly it’s first recommendation at the time I asked was to take a 157 to Catshalton Station and then catch a Southern train over to Sutton at a cost of £3.60 and a journey time of 28 minutes. Er, that’s odd as the super new GoSutton minibus could have taken me there in little more than 10 minutes for a cheaper £3.50.

We’re always being told public transport information is available online and journey planners have made the need for printed maps and timetables redundant yet here’s an example where it falls down. App based DRT schemes and Journey Planners are not happy bedfellows.

Roger French

Colin Dale’s secret bus route

Wednesday 29th May 2019

It’s all happening in Colindale. That’s the area in north west London with a station almost at the end of the Edgware branch of the Northern Line; the one before Burnt Oak, before you get to Edgware itself.

Colindale’s in the London Borough of Barnet and is one of the largest growth and regeneration areas in the Borough including over 10,000 new homes being built across various sites, new schools, a relocated library, a health centre “reprovision” and “improvements to public realm” and parks among the many improvements including brand new offices for the London Borough of Barnet itself.

There are plans for a brand new London Underground station with a greatly enlarged ticket hall extended eastwards over the tracks with work expected to start on that project in 2021 with completion the following year.

Before then TfL are making changes to bus routes in the area including combining two routes into one as well as another being rerouted to better serve the new housing developments. But the main change, the extension of route 125 from its erstwhile western terminus at Finchley Central over to Colindale via Hendon was introduced last Saturday.

But you’d be hard pressed to find out about it. It’s currently a top secret bus route extension. Not only are buses leaving route 125’s Winchmore Hill terminus at the eastern end of the route still showing Finchley Central in the destination blind….

….but bus stops all along the route are still displaying timetables showing the route ending at Finchley Central. Of buses now continuing for another 18 minutes on to Hendon and Colindale, there is no mention.

I did spot two buses while travelling the route yesterday displaying a makeshift attempt to let curious passengers know they were heading on to the Colindale growth area (along with, in one case, the vital internal information it was bus running number 110), but others I saw didn’t show anything.

Bus stop flags beyond the old Finchley Central terminus on the new section of route to Colindale are devoid of any reference to the 125, nor do the timetable cases attached to the bus stop poles contain route 125 timetables. You simply wouldn’t know a 125 came that way.

Even the brand new terminal bus stop for route 125 outside Colindale Station makes no mention of the new ten minute frequency departing there either on the bus stop flag….

…. or a timetable below…..

….but there is an explanation of the merger of local routes 303 and 305 introduced almost nine months ago.

TfL provide helpful updates on their website about upcoming bus route changes (if you know where to look) but these are notoriously late in posting and often contain inaccuracies. And guess what, the latest issue for the period 29 March to 7 June 2019 currently online contains no reference to route 125 at all. It’s as if even TfL were caught out by surprise by it’s own decision to introduce the extension to route 125 last Saturday.

No-one in TfL’s Spider map department seems to be aware of the change either as the maps for Colindale and other areas along the route extension make no reference to the 125, and those for the original end of the route east of Finchley Central show no reference to the extension.

If online maps aren’t updated, you wouldn’t expect maps displayed on the roadside in bus shelters and at Underground stations to be updated would you? Quite right; they’re not.

However, there is one part of TfL which does seem to know about the change and that’s the iBus department which has updated the bus stop displays to show Colindale ……

….. and on board buses, every so often, comes a scrolling message to let you know that despite the destination blind telling you the bus you’ve boarded is only going to Finchley Central, once you’re on the bus, you’re reassuringly told it is continuing to Colindale.

But there really cannot be any excuse for all those other key points of information not being updated in time. It’s not as though there hasn’t been months to organise things. This is no emergency closure of Hammersmith Bridge. TfL’s obligatory public consultation about extending the 125, along with other changes in the Colindale area, was way back in October and November 2017.

TfL issued a report on that consultation in June 2018 and confirmed many of the proposals including the extended route 125 and the merger of local routes 303 and 305 in the Edgware and Colindale area would be implemented on 1 September 2018.

While the 303 and 305 merger went ahead on 1 September, for some reason the extended 125 got postponed. The June 2018 report was followed on 12 September 2018 with a further update report which confirmed the extension of route 125 would happen in “winter 2018/19”. You’d have thought bus stop E-plates, timetable inserts for bus stops and destination blinds would have been ordered and spider maps updated ready for September 2018 let alone for the back stop introduction of “winter 2018/19”. And not forgetting ordering three new bus stop poles for those three new bus stops along Greyhound Hill being served by buses for the very first time as shown on the map above …. except, er, no they’re not quite ready yet either …. still, at least the yellow line painters had done their bit.

After all that forewarning, it surely couldn’t have come as a surprise that last Saturday, 25th May 2019, Metroline’s bus garage at Potters Bar, which runs route 125, finally began the long consulted upon change and started extending buses on to Colindale.

You might well wonder why there’s obviously a complete lack of coordination within TfL where a major route extension is introduced necessitating a significant increase in resources twenty months after first being publicly proposed. This extended route must involve an additional four buses to maintain the 10 minute frequency on an 18 minute journey time extension. That’s not a minor change. Resource wise it’s about 70% of the GoSutton scheme with its six minibuses introduced yesterday.

This tardy response to route changes is becoming an unfortunate habit at TfL. There are now regular reports across social media, online forums and other feedback about consistently poor presentation of information by TfL which was once regarded as the bastion of good practice for information.

I was recently chatting to a former (now retired) senior manager who used to look after roadside information amongst other responsibilities at TfL and he was unequivocal about the reason for the plummeting quality: clearing out all the experienced staff through voluntary redundancy programmes to save costs; replacing them with people lacking any experience of bus operation; hacking back vital budgets; and contracting out to third parties who have no interest in quality or what they’re doing. I used to report inconsistencies I found while travelling around London to a good contact in TfL who made sure they were followed up and sorted. It made my efforts valued and worthwhile doing. Sadly he was made redundant and no one with any interest replaced him, so I gave up. Route 125’s extension is just the latest example of what I see all over London. Frankly, it’s simply appalling for a Capital City’s transport organisation which purports to be “world class” and an “exemplar of integrated transport”.

No wonder the westbound bus I travelled on yesterday afternoon emptied out at Finchley Central and I continued to Colindale alone.

I just hope TfL do better when it comes to opening their new Colindale station in 2022.

Roger French

Free ‘taxis’ for seniors in Sutton?

Tuesday 28th May 2019

TfL jumped on the digital DRT bandwagon today launching its own version of Arriva Click and Oxford Pick Me Up. This latest app-based Demand Responsive Transport has landed in upmarket car dominated Sutton and Carshalton using six minibuses out of a fleet of eight between 06:30 and 21:30, seven days a week, operated by GoAhead London from its Sutton bus garage.

Logo overload nearside…
…and offside

I missed this morning’s launch party no doubt with the usual ceremonial ribbon cutting and broad smiles for the cameras featuring the Mayor of Sutton along with TfL and GoAhead London bigwigs but I understand there were no cupcakes or goodie bags going free anyway.

Indeed there’s not been much, if any, publicity or promotion to speak of at all. I was searching online over the weekend for news of this exciting initiative but all I could find on the TfL website was a broken link to the obligatory public consultation about the scheme which closed a few weeks ago. I see there’s now a news release following this morning’s launch with the usual excitable quotes from all the partners involved, which is always an uplifting read…..not!

Keeping my ear to the ground last week, as I do, I’d downloaded the GoSutton app and registered as a user with my credit card details so I’d be all ready to ride around at £3.50 a journey earlier today.

No promotional introductory fare offers here and no daily or weekly price capping. No Oyster either as no fares are taken on the bus. It’s all done online. The fare is £1 more than Oxford’s Pick-Me-Up fare and £2 more than the standard London bus fare so it’ll be an interesting trade off for users weighing up their new travel options around Sutton. Additional GoSutton passengers in a group pay £2 each and its free for accompanied under 13s.

There’s a map on the new GoSutton.co.uk website showing the area where GoSutton Mercedes fourteen seater minibuses roam but it’s a little hard to decipher in detail so not much good for journey planning. As you can see above, it’s just an outline of the area served.

The interactive map on the App even though it’s zoomable is also awkward to use so I spent a happy hour last night piecing together a larger scale map from my Greater London street atlas except frustratingly the area extended over the hard spine of the book making copying a clear image quite difficult.

I then superimposed the bus routes which cross-cross the area served by GoSutton which with the various rail lines shows the full public transport offer. It seems to me that’s what anyone seriously thinking of ditching their car needs to know, but curiously is impossible to obtain in the TfL land of not-really-integrated transport.

Mike Harris’s superb privately funded network wide bus map indicates quite an intense network of bus routes in the area as does Open Street Maps, but it wasn’t until I’d completed my home made version I realised that many of the journeys I’d planned to try out with GoSutton could be made using conventional bus routes, albeit with a bit of a circuitous routing.

And herein lies the key issue. My first day travels this morning as usual were met with minimal wait times, attractive direct routes and completely solo rides (my own personal 14 seater taxi); but that’s not how it’s designed to be of course. Once more people become aware of GoSutton the inevitability is my wait and journey times will become extended as ride sharing becomes more common. I might find myself on a route not too dissimilar to a conventional bus, and stopping along the way making me question that £2 premium and no price cap. As TfL’s news release explains “the system will be powered by advanced algorithms, which enable multiple passengers to seamlessly share a single vehicle”. It’ll be “quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours”.

It seems to me the critical point with GoSutton is TfL’s decision to allow Freedom Passes and National Concessionary pass holders free travel meaning any London resident age sixty and over, perhaps even going to work, can enjoy what currently is effectively a free door-to-door personal taxi service.

Why go out to catch the half hourly route S4 when you can call up a 14 seater luxury minibus almost to your front door and will take you right to your destination free of charge. And this being TfL means those without a smartphone are not left behind as the option is given of phoning up to book a journey instead of using the App. It really is like an old style Dial-A-Ride.

Another TfL quirk I noticed this morning was the six minibuses out today when not needed to fulfill my journey requests were strategically parked as per ViaVan’s software demands, but had to be on an official TfL designated bus stand!

How did it go? Here’s the rundown of the three journeys I took.

Journey 1

Wallington Station to the Royal Marsden Hospital

Waiting time: 3 minutes (minibus waiting on bus stand not far from station)

Journey time: 12 minutes.

Alternative option: bus route S4 runs every 30 minutes and takes 18 minutes journey time.

Oddity: despite requesting a pick up at the bus stop adjacent to the station exit (used by the S4 as below) I was tasked to walk a short distance to the bus stop on the main road to meet the bus.

Bing, my driver was a great ambassador welcoming me aboard as his very first GoSutton passenger at 1024. He was really pleased to have transferred over to GoSutton from big bus driving and had high hopes for the service success. I diplomatically explained it depends on how you define ‘success’ and unlike Oxford (which he had heard “was going great guns”) in London it will depend how much money TfL is prepared to invest (and how much money it actually has) in its future.

Journey 2

Royal Marsden Hospital to St Helier Hospital

Waiting time: 9 minutes (minibus waiting in Carshalton Wythe Lane)

Journey time: 13 minutes.

Alternative option: bus route S4 runs every half hour and takes 30 minutes.

Simon had driven the S4 previously and reckoned in the 13 minutes it took with GoSutton we’d have only reached Sutton Ststion on that round-the-houses route. He was pleased to be driving with GoAhead London having recently moved across from RATP owned Quality Line/Epsom Coaches where the “family atmosphere had now gone after the takeover”. He was also pleased to welcome me aboard as his first customer at 1055 although he’d been tasked to chauffeur John Trayner, GoAhead London’s highly respected managing director back to his Merton based HQ following the Mayoral launch, but Simon didn’t count John as a real passenger, especially as it had involved a normally off-limits over the border trip into neighbouring Merton.

Journey 3

Sutton Hospital to Sutton Station

Waiting time: 3 minutes (minibus waiting at Sutton Station) according to App but actual wait was 4-5 minutes.

Journey time: 4 minutes.

Alternative option: was bus 80 or Metrobus 420 (not part of TfL network) and didn’t show up on TfL journey planner (so much for TfL being about integrated transport). As the 80 was 9 minutes away I was confident I’d backed the right option of summoning up a GoSutton minibus which was showing just a 3 minute wait.

In the event a 420 came by within one minute…

…. followed by an 80 within another minute despite TfL’s journey planner predicting that 9 minute wait. My GoSutton minibus arrived last.

But Fatima was a great friendly driver also welcoming me aboard as her first customer at 1224 this morning. She usually drives big buses at Sutton but is helping out while the sixteen new GoSutton vacancies get filled. Her first minibus allocated this morning broke down but she was pleased to be driving one of the ’19’ plate Mercedes (some are 2017 vintage). And she skilfully overtook the 80 as it stopped along the way so we beat it to Sutton Station.

As is standard on such schemes elsewhere for each journey I received a text two minutes before the minibus arrived confirming its imminent arrival along with the vehicle registration details and pick up location (but not the driver’s name) and unlike other places, another text while on board two minutes before the destination reminding me to gather up my belongings and a thank you. Afterwards you’re invited to rate the journey but only if you open up the App again, and are then given your driver’s name – bit odd not to have had it before really.

Another welcome development unlike other areas is the absence of a full blown assault screen around the driver. Simon was particularly pleased to see this and felt it will lead to a much friendlier rapport with passengers. He’s absolutely right.

There are also some differences between the 2017 Mercedes minibuses and the later 2019 versions in that the former have bright red interior panels and floors while the latter have a more upmarket wood effect.

Otherwise the interiors are very similar to the Mercedes used in Oxford, Liverpool and Leicester with ten seats to the rear (including two over the wheel arches (for enhanced discomfort) and four tip-ups in the wheelchair/buggy area. USB sockets and wifi comes as standard, but you’re not really on the bus long enough to take advantage of these – even a journey from one side of the operating area to the other (my journey 2) only took 13 minutes.

Will GoSutton be a success.? As I explained to Bing, it depends how you define ‘success’. With TfL strapped for cash and about to make swingeing cuts to central London bus routes it seems an odd time to be spending what must be well in excess of £0.5million (probably nearer £0.75million) on a trial of this kind. I see TfL have also committed to introduce a similar twelve month trial later this year in Ealing with RATP as operator and “technology partner MOIA who currently power ride sharing in Germany”.

GoSutton’s £3.50 compared to £1.50 per ride on a conventional bus (and £4.50 daily cap) may put people off switching but all the official explanations say this scheme is about tempting people out of cars as the main market. In that case there’s going to need to be a much bigger promotional push to raise awareness; and that won’t come cheap. There’s no social media presence as far as I can see and the web presence is currently pedestrian at best. It’s certainly not persuasive in any sense.

I asked a black cab driver at the Royal Marsden Hospital how much the fare was from Sutton Station, and she told me around £7. So £3.50 would offer a fifty per cent saving, but if you don’t mind a slightly longer wait and journey time the S4 would only cost £1.50.

My prediction is GoSutton will become well used by Freedom Pass holders taking advantage of free rides, and whilst the service is in its infancy, effectively enjoying a free personalised door-to-door taxi service around this part of Sutton.

Personally I’d prefer a few hundred thousand be invested in a decent regularly updated easy-to-follow bus map showing journey possibilities by bus rather than just the unhelpful spider maps as all that TfL can muster. Proper maps rather like passengers on the Tube and DLR enjoy.

That would get me out of my car.

Roger French

Gerry wouldn’t be impressed

Wednesday 15th May 2019

‘Winding your way down on Baker Street’ the late great Gerry Rafferty sang; and since February, if he’d still been with us, he would be able to wind his way back up it once again. The road (and nearby parallel running Gloucester Place) has changed back to two-way traffic including an all important northbound bus, taxi and cycle lane through the Marylebone Road junction.

Despite the new arrangements settling down well, I heard the changeover had initially been a bit of a hiatus so took a look yesterday to see what was happening.

As Gerry sang, it turned out to be ‘another crazy day’ on Baker Street as first thing I spotted was the newly completed bus lane was blocked at the northern approach to Marylebone Road.

It turns out three months after the switchover, the enhancement works are not complete and an improved central island at the junction has been constructed for pedestrians to cross.

This is unfortunate as everyone had just got used to the new bus routes and stopping arrangements and now everything’s in turmoil again.

The island work was scheduled to be completed on Monday afternoon and it looked to me as though it was nicely finished,…..

….. except no one had removed the barriers so buses had to continue on a slow crawling diversion causing unnecessary delays ……

…… and passengers were left wandering around the neighbourhood searching for an alternative bus stop.

No wonder passengers are deserting London’s buses in droves. Two of the alternative bus stops weren’t shown on the closed bus stop panel map, nor is the brand new bus stop north of Marylebone Road shown and where the notice was posted causing much disorientation …..

Tthe alternative bus stop arrangements involved lengthy walks either towards the southern end of Baker Street or some distance further north along Gloucester Place.

Some passengers were waiting forlornly at one of the two coach stops used by National Express/Green Line/Stansted Airport express coaches ……

…….and just to add to the confusion occasionally a TfL bus driver took pity on the hand waving passengers and stopped while others sped by.

The street furniture in some locations looked a little odd; such as here where the southbound stop pole and flag by Baker Street’s famous Lost Property shop seems to have got detached from its shelter by some distance!

It wasn’t very encouraging but hopefully those barriers were swept away just after my visit and all is now back to the new normal.

 

Meanwhile over at Tottenham Court Road another two way scheme with a new southbound bus and cycle lane has just been introduced.

It was great to see buses having a lovely clear southbound run and saving valuable time that used to be lost in the horrendous congestion at the bottom of Gower Street.

Some delays were evident at the junction with Oxford Street for right turning buses on the 73 and 390 (just one bus getting through each green phase) but southbound buses on the 14, 24 and 29 were gliding through, when able, with 134 buses easily turning left to their newly located terminal stand; all making for a refreshing change for central London buses.

Northbound traffic on the now restricted one lane Tottenham Court Road however was barely moving. Indeed I walked the full length from the Oxford Street junction to Warren Street in the same time it was taking buses in more typical contemporary central London traffic conditions.

However Camden Council have plans next year to shift northbound general traffic into a new two-way Gower Street (running parallel to the east) leaving Tottenham Court Road pretty much exclusively to buses and cycles only. And that really will be impressive.

This scheme is proving controversial by excluding taxis but for me this and the new look Baker Street are very much welcome changes, once properly completed and those barriers and cones are all swept away, because at last buses are being given decent priority road space (along with cycles) in London

‘Another year and then you’d be happy, just one more year and then you’d be happy, but you’re crying, you’re crying now’.

Roger French