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 First up I found them deployed at bus stops uniquely served by the withdrawn route RV1 from Covent Garden ….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

TfL’s least frequent bus route

Tuesday 9th April 2019

IMG_3806.jpgTransport for London’s bus service 969 is the last route standing of a once substantial ‘Mobility Bus’ network of routes operating one or two days a week to a local shopping centre from relatively low-density neighbourhoods where no alternative mainstream route in the main bus network served the area. In the old days the buses were wheelchair accessible so also provided a service for those with impaired mobility.

Improvements to London’s bus route network over the last twenty years or so has seen new smaller buses able to penetrate residential areas previously off limits to bigger buses, as well as the widespread introduction of low floor accessible vehicles, so the Mobility Bus network as was is no longer relevant to the Capital’s transport network, particularly as TfL also fund an extensive Dial-A-Ride network of minibuses operating all over London for those with severe mobility needs.

Route 969 runs one return journey on a Tuesday and Friday at 10am starting in a couple of micro-sized residential areas in Whitton (near Twickenham) to the south off the Chertsey Road before heading north and joining the more frequent H37 route past St Margarets and then joining five other routes into Richmond.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 16.11.22.pngFrom Richmond it heads east towards Barnes along the Upper Richmond Road, also served by three other bus routes, except our 969 bifurcates to pass by Mortlake Station, the River Thames (pictured below) and Barnes Bridge Station as well as the delightful Barnes Pond before heading back south at the Wetland Centre passing Barnes Station and then deviating off into another small residential area unserved by other bus routes called Lennox Estate.

IMG_3715.jpgThe 969’s final furlong is south again via Roehampton Lane turning right on to the A3, Roehampton Vale and Kingston Vale, where it terminates at the large Asda.

The journey time is scheduled for 62 minutes with an 11.02am arrival at Asda allowing for around two and a quarter hours shopping time before returning to Whitton at 1.15pm.

Aside from School and Night Buses it’s the one bus route in London I haven’t had the pleasure of riding, so intrigued as to why it continues running as TfL responds to its financial crisis by cutting frequencies and routes across the Capital, I decided to take a ride this morning.

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IMG_3669.jpgThe Abellio operated bus arrived in Rosebine Avenue, a short nondescript link road from the A316 Chertsey Road into a small cul-de-sac triangle of roads at spot on the scheduled time of 10am and despite there being a timetable posted on the opposite side of the road, the bus pulled up and an empty shopping trolley wheeling passenger who, like me, had been lurking for the previous ten minutes climbed gratefully aboard across the grass verge.

IMG_3699.jpgI’d done a little recce around the Gladstone Avenue triangle and already clocked a lorry delivering bricks to one of the bungalows which would cause a problem when the bus arrived; but luckily unloading had virtually finished by the time we got there and the delay was only a few minutes.

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IMG_3703.jpgWe’d picked up four more passengers outside their bungalows as we cruised around Gladstone Avenue and Rosecroft Gardens (meeting another obstacle as a van gingerly reversed into a parking spot) ….IMG_3705.jpg….. before rejoining the Chertsey Road for our next loop along Lincoln Avenue where Google Maps identifies four ‘recognised’ bus stops but I spotted only one timetable case at the beginning of Lincoln Avenue with no identification at the other three locations.

And that was it, as we got back on the Chertsey Road and headed south to the roundabout with the B358 (Hospital Bridge Road) and then retraced our route northwards.

IMG_3664.jpgThe Chertsey Road (A316) is a fast dual carriageway which feeds directly to and from the M3 so there’s no scope for any more bus stops along the way, even though no other bus routes use it, until we turned right on to St Margarets Road and could safely stop by the station where we picked up two passengers who confidently boarded us even though the normal H37 pulled up behind. One of these travelled just a couple of stops and the other rode the six stops into Richmond where two of our original five Gladstone Avenue boarders alighted. Another had already left us just after St Margarets leaving just two on board.

In Richmond we picked up another befuddled passenger wondering what a 969 was and who was just doing a two stop hop, and on the outskirts of East Sheen our driver implored a passenger waiting at Berwyn Road to board us even though she also was just hopping along for two stops. We were back to just the two original Gladstonians on board again.

By the time we passed Mortlake station we were thirteen minutes behind schedule and then we hit trouble at the Wetland Centre in Barnes as a long queue of traffic heading south along Rocks Lane towards Barnes Station was confirmed on Google Maps to be caused by roadworks and tortuously slow temporary traffic lights.

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We eventually made it to the junction of Roehampton Lane and Upper Richmond Road where we headed off to the Lennox Estate and I was astounded to see we were besieged by nine shopping trolley wielding passengers all relieved to see us at last, by then being around twenty-five minutes late.

IMG_3728.jpgAs everyone clambered aboard with our driver sorting out the trolleys so they were neatly stacked he also warned there was another building supplies delivery ahead with the offending lorry completely blocking our path around the estate.

IMG_3733.jpgOur driver Sina, who until now had been ably deputising for regular driver Steve who was away on his holidays (you pick these news snippets up on bus routes of this kind, although no-one knew whether Steve had gone abroad) doned his high-viz and wandered down to see what the prognosis was.

IMG_3730.jpgHaving been sitting awkwardly for around an hour in my favourite single deck London bus seat immediately behind the centre doors (where you can keep an eye on most things) due to bus manufacturers once again not catering for anyone with a shoe size larger than size 5, I’d already decided to give up my seat to those boarding with various walking aids and needing it far more than me, so now got off the bus to see what might be done to alleviate the lorry blockage.

IMG_3711.jpgSina soon returned and announced there’d be a twenty minute delay while the unloading continued, but our nine regular Lennox Estate passengers were having none of that, and explained Steve often reverses back up and goes around the estate the “wrong way” before making a u-turn in a lay-by and retracing his steps.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 17.37.02.pngGallantly I offered to help Sina reverse back and we performed the ‘Steve contingency plan’, but in the event not picking any more passengers up. Turns out Mavis wasn’t up for shopping today and had given the bus a miss.

We made it back to the junction of Roehampton Lane and Upper Richmond Road we’d last seen about 10-15 minutes ago, and it was foot down all the way to Roehampton Vale arriving at Asda around half an hour late.

IMG_3742.jpgSina helped unload all the shopping trolleys before taking the bus off to the official ‘Bus Stand’ on the slip road off the A3 where he parked up until the return journey at 1.15pm.

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What an extraordinary journey. What an extraordinary bus route. Aside from those who just jumped on board the 969 rather than taking a bus on a standard route following behind for their short hop rides; we’d taken three Gladstonians shopping in Richmond and two all the way to Roehampton’s Asda (which was strange as, aside from Richmond’s supermarkets [OK, inevitably a Waitrose] there’s an Asda in Twickenham just off the Chertsey Road about five minutes into our journey; although I appreciate it would be a bit of a walk and no real return journey option other than waiting for the 969 to come back, so you might as well enjoy the hour’s ride to Roehampton Vale and back I suppose). Then there were the nine (including two school holidaying children) Lennox residents who with a short walk to Roehampton Lane could get the standard route 265 which also serves Roehampton Vale’s Asda.

There was one other passenger who boarded in Lincoln Avenue at the start of our journey and travelled all the way to the terminus, like me, it turned out the young man was enjoying his school holiday taking a bus route just for the intrigue of it.

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I’m puzzled how the 969 can survive TfL’s funding challenges. But then TfL have always been an organisation with quirky aspects to its policy decisions. Not least the bus stop I spotted in Sheen Lane, Mortlake – a road only served by the two-journeys-a-week route 969 and where more frequent bus routes pass at either end of the road, as well as South Western Railway trains to everywhere you’d want to go …. yet, someone at TfL Towers authorised a fully fledged bus shelter just in case anyone wanted to wait for those two occasions a week to go somewhere you can get to more easily another way. I’m willing to wager no-one has ever waited at that shelter; ever.

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It must be London’s least used bus shelter, by far!

IMG_3814.jpgAnd ironically the spider map it displays doesn’t show the 969; the one route passing by; it’s relegated to being classified as an “other route”. It may not have a coloured line on a map; but it’s got a bus shelter!

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A quirky ending for a quirky bus route tale.

Roger French

 

Sparks are flying on GOBLIN

Monday 28th January 2019

You’ve got to feel sorry for the growing number of passengers who rely on the GOspel Oak to Barking orbital railway line in north east London, known affectionately as GOBLIN for short.

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The former down-at-heel and unloved Silverlink Metro line transferred to TfL back in 2006 when the future was bright, the future was orange, as it became born again as part of TfL’s Overground network. This higher profile, together with greatly improved service quality, released huge latent pent up demand as passengers soon discovered the extensive travel opportunities this Cinderella of commuter lines offered. Boarding a train just a stone’s throw from Hampstead Heath in north London and arriving in central Barking in East London in little over half an hour is impressive. Many passengers also transfer at Gospel Oak to and from the West London line from Clapham Junction/Richmond via Willesden Junction continuing into the North London line via Highbury & Islington to Stratford and the East London line south of the Thames offering a fantastic number of convenient interchange possibilities.

It’s undeniably one of the most successful rail line turnarounds in a decade with 10,000 passenger journeys now being carried a day. Plans to electrify the line and introduce a brand new fleet of 4-carriage trains to replace the 2-carriage diesel units were therefore hugely welcomed when first announced. What a shame things haven’t quite worked out as planned.

The eastern end of the line closed in June 2016, with the western end following a few months later in September to allow Network Rail to install overhead electrification. This extensive work included rebuilding ten bridges as well as lowering the line in four places to allow for the necessary clearances. Weekday services were reinstated in February 2017 while weekend services resumed in June 2017 but passengers didn’t get to benefit from electric trains as the grossly over crowded 2-carriage diesel operated Class 172 trains carried on running with a promise of brand new Bombardier built 4-carriage Class 710 electric trains to be introduced with a new timetable from May 2018.

In pre-overhead wires days at Harringay Green Lanes

As well as an absence of electric trains, it wasn’t long before it became evident the electrification works hadn’t been properly completed either and a further eight week full line closure became necessary between November 2017 and January 2018 to finish things off.

Never mind, at least the new electric trains were due to appear in May 2018; except they didn’t despite the first train being delivered to Network Rail’s test facility in Leicestershire at the end of 2017. To make matters worse the May 2018 timetable initially removed five vital peak hour extra journeys (known as ‘PIXC-busters’ – ‘passengers in excess of capacity’) designed to cope with the crush loads. These were subsequently reinstated by TfL, except within a matter of weeks, they were withdrawn again. The problem being Class 172 diesel train availability – all eight trains were due to come off lease and transfer to the West Midlands by December 2018 and to meet this deadline one train, effectively the spare used on peak hour extras, was withdrawn so it could be overhauled and refurbished for its new owners.

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As is the way with these things, for reasons best known to PR and media people, despite no chance of the new trains being imminently introduced, TfL held a high profile launch of the brand new Class 710 trains in June 2018 (just as the ‘PIXC busters’ were withdrawn again) reassuring passengers understandably frustrated and annoyed at having a new train dangled in front of them only to be swept away again back to the test track with the rather limp commitment that “the new fleet will be in service by November”.

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The only thing that happened in November 2018 was the announcement of a reduced timetable at weekends to allow for engineers to service the fleet of hard pressed Class 172s as another was withdrawn for its new life in the West Midlands.

As 2019 began and still no sign of the much promised (and publicly launched) new trains and all the Class 172s having to be withdrawn at the latest by mid March, TfL’s been forced to come up with a Plan B, the first part of which was rolled out this morning as a modified spare Class 378 5-carriage electric train set reduced to just 4-carriages (so it will fit into the platforms along the line) took to the tracks as another Class 172 train has been withdrawn. Two more spare Class 378s are being similarly modified to hit the tracks as two more Class 172s are withdrawn in mid February.

The final three Class 172s leave in mid March when Plan C comes into play. This entails the timetable being halved to run every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes. TfL say in such an event “there should be adequate capacity for anyone wishing to travel along this route” pointing out four-carriage trains running every half an hour equals two-carriage trains running every fifteen minutes. Except the less frequent service will be more than twice less attractive (you really have to adjust personal travel schedules for a half hourly service in a way you don’t for a fifteen minute one) and the longer trains have much reduced (longitudinal) seating meaning more standing passengers, albeit “standing in greater comfort”.

I gave the new slimmed down Class 378 train a ride this morning. Obviously the interior and ride quality are well known from travels in these trains on other parts of the Overground orbital lines, but it was a novelty to ride the line from a longitudinal seat which is not welcome as you have to sit askew to look out of the window behind you to enjoy the fascinating suburban scenery the train passes or you have to spend the journey avoiding eye contact with the passenger opposite.

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Today’s train was well able to cope with the numbers of passengers travelling who are used to squeezing on to a two-carriage diesel. Passengers were noticeably pleasantly surprised at the extra available room, all the more so as they must have initially been disappointed thinking our train was not operating as it failed to appear on departure screens, nor, mysteriously, is it recorded in Real Time Trains records.

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It was noticeable how acceleration between stations was much better than with the Class 172s and we easily reached the termini ahead of schedule, even with the padding at the Gospel Oak end. I reckon passengers really will welcome the new Class 710 trains and hopefully this hiatus will be forgotten once they’re introduced just like the summer 2016 closure for bodged electrification works is now a distant memory.

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Of course, Bombardier don’t come out of all this at all well. TfL’s latest public statement claims the manufacturer “has still not been able to fix the software problems that are causing the delays”. There’s not even a date for “when the new trains will be ready for driver training to start”. No doubt TfL are hammering them with compensation claims for extra costs and loss of revenue – they’ve already extracted a promised of a months free travel on the line when the trains are finally introduced.

Meantime, it look’s like another Spring (and probably Summer) with crowded trains and longer waits for the hard pressed GOBLIN passengers.

Roger French

 

 

 

New Keep Fit regime for commuters at Victoria

Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station is renowned for its deliberate policy of directing unfamiliar passengers via strategically placed signs to take the longer circuitous route from Kings Cross National Rail station exit via the northern ticket hall and barriers to reach the deep level lines.

Those in the know ignore the signs and within  a few strides are through the barriers in the original southern ticket hall, down the escalator and on the platform.

TfL’s attempt to spread the load by nudging passengers by clever signage works well as time precious commuters know how to avoid leisurely wheelie suitcase carrying dawdlers.

No such luck at the new look expanded Victoria Underground ticket hall which showed off its new subterranean route march to weekday commuters this morning. We’re all forced to take the longer route to the platform while the old escalator down side stands idle and taped off. Even the announcements playing out regularly over the PA warn it’ll take three minutes to walk to the platform.

And after two escalators and what seems like a mile of passageway you arrive at the same crowded platform except at its northern end rather than the southern end. Those of us who knew the trick of using the Circle/District Line entrance and easily nipping down to the Victoria Line platform are now thwarted as that’s where everyone else now arrives after their labyrinthine journey.

It was always obvious that with virtual continual tube running on the Victoria and ever over-crowded peak hour platforms, the only thing a new entrance would bring is a way to stop the queuing in the ticket hall backing up to the main line station and instead occupy everyone on a bit of a walk underground for a few minutes. Still, at least it gets the step count up. And should work for another few years until passenger numbers grow and the queues build up again along the new passageways. Just remember to allow for that extra three minutes in your commute.

Roger French (live from Victoria Undergtound station).     27th August 2018

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