The Stagecoach Masters

Bus routes are being selected more frequently for allocation of the 'New Routemaster' hybrid bus and since the last article, there have been three converts: Stagecoach routes 55 and 15 respectively, and Go-Ahead London route 12 (coming soon).

Route 55 was retained by Stagecoach: East London with 'New Routemaster' hybrid buses on 28 February 2015, however the delivery of batch LT317-356 for the route was surprisingly early.

The routeing takes you through the faster sections to the business end of central London after exiting the busy-ness of the shopping district of Oxford Street. One of few routes to duck towards Old Street from the Holborn area, the route is more or less a straight line via Shoreditch and Hoxton until the Cambridge Heath, Hackney and Clapton area where traffic is encountered and the fun straight line acceleration is given a break. The acceleration is afresh for the long Lea Bridge Road towards the end of the route at Leyton.

Previously allocated with Alexander ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 2 buses and with Scania OmniCity double-deckers common to the route, I was unusually happy with this route selection for 'New Routemaster' operation, a contrast to my usual neutral or unimpressed view on TfL's choice of conversions. The Scania buses made the 55 a route compiled with ageing buildings, a few parks and generally rundown scenery. Nothing could be exciting about route 55, which is surprising considering I normally take interest to the agility of Scania buses in London.

The 'New Routemasters' were a complete modernisation and revival of the seemingly sedating route 55. After the expected traffic along New Oxford Street, we made a brisk dive into Clerkenwell, passing its glossy glass business buildings through the spacious and traffic-free roads the evidently recently constructed layout had to offer. Quite a tranquil section of the route, with very little standing times at bus stops if we did need to stand at a bus stop for passengers, the bus was providing a comfortable and fast experience as we returned to traffic congested roads at Old Street and Hoxton.

The journey was consistently fast as I recognised just how boring the scenery of route 55 was on approach to Hackney and Clapton, taking away full blame on the Scanias. However, these 'New Routemasters' kept me awake the whole journey. My favourite section was easily the Leyton approach after Clapton Pond: whilst traffic was reduced to agonisingly gradual speed back towards Clapton, we were coasting past the much more scenic greenery along Leyton Bridge Road and before I knew it, I was in Leyton getting off from what was a comfortable and swift service well done.

The last full-route attempt on route 55 with Scanias had me resort to taking the much more fun route 56 to east London. Funnily enough, with 'New Routemasters', the 55 seemed faster and, even with cloudy weather, kept a bright atmosphere throughout the whole journey, nevertheless. You know why that was funny? Because I only took the Scania to Clapton Pond - not even the full route. Not to be particularly harsh on a Scania bus, but the marmite-reviewed 'New Routemasters' have completely outshone its predecessors in service surprisingly with more improvements than the service of route 137 when it disposed of its noise-polluting DWs for its own batch of LTs back in December 2014. Most Scania OmniCity double-deckers have been withdrawn (15147-15169), however some have stayed at Leyton (T) for sporadic service on rotues 48, 56, 215 and 275 (15125-15146, 15170-15175).

On the official date of contract renewal for route 55, by then a number of LTs already in service, 'New Routemasters' for route 15 were due to start service. Starting late, route 15 brought in a few buses from new batch LT391-416, 462-463 into service on 2 March.

But let us not forget the interesting hybrid collection of 12128-12153, an outstanding fleet of hybrid buses purchased in early 2012 that started service on route 15, replacing those excellent ALX400 bodied Trident 2 buses that replaced the iconic Routemasters on the route. These batch of hybrid buses are the only Stagecoach buses in London to consist of a green and yellow interior colour scheme and gives the buses a completely different feel aboard, suitably accompanying the vigour of the buses. With LTs now being delivered for the 15 and the new Alexander Dennis Enviro400 MMC hybrid buses no longer to be purchased for the service change of route 56, what would be more of an equally exciting prospect than to allocate batch 12128-12153 to the 56?

My first encounter with the new LTs was traffic-ridden. Waiting around the Strand and Aldwych for a 15 to finally escape the heavy congestion, I was quite annoyed to see the Aldwych bus stop for the 15 closed with no temporary bus stop available. However, all buses were parking at a stop further down so I thought there would be no problem with the 15 doing the same. But of course the one bus out of all two hundred that I actually wanted to catch did not bother follow the sensible actions of the drivers around them. Taking no prisoners, I sprinted to the London School of Economics, by arrival having sprinted out all my anger ... lucky driver. The evening did not get any better, getting off at St. Paul's and walking further along the 15 route for an LT back to Trafalgar Square. I'd reach Cannon Street before one arrived to drive straight past me and leave me in slight melancholy as I waited for another 15 to arrive: a hybrid from route 205.

Notwithstanding this quite demotivating attempt, I tried again: but I started off with the predecessors now on route 56. The new buses gave the service a fresh new look. Okay, the drivers were not on the accelerator as much as they had proven with the Scania OmniCitys previously allocated to the route, but the quality and tranquility of the service had improved extravagantly since. The driver, slightly perplexed about why her bus was being photographed so often recently but full of buoy after I explained I was a bus enthusiast (and not someone from TfL!), she was happy to tell me how the braking system allowed more thinking time, providing a safer driving experience. A bit intrigued by that, since all Scania buses have very sharp brakes, I acknowledged the immense improvement to the comfort of route 56 before I got off at St. Paul's and prepared for another try of the new buses on route 15.

This time, the route was diversion-ridden. Full of them. However, the quality of the journey was good. Looking at the speedometer, I was surprised to find the driver was only going at 20mph, because it sure felt faster than that! The smooth driveline proved beneficial for steering as a number of times where I expected the driver to lift off the accelerator he proved me wrong. Taking bends and corners, therefore, was equally as enjoyable as speeding through the straights of east London. Except for the crowded atmosphere and the initially standee experience on a 'New Routemaster', I was quite happy with the service.

For those of you who don't know about route 15 - shake your head in shame. Since 2009, route 15 has been curtailed more times than it has deserved. Losing all kinds of acknowledgement as a proper London bus route, it was initially withdrawn from Paddington Basin to start back at Regent Street to decrease the amount of red along Oxford Street. No-one has noticed the reduction of London buses on Oxford Street and we do not care about statistics, either. A further curtailment last year in 2014 saw the route curtailed to Trafalgar Square, completely ridiculing the lost popularity of the route in central London's shopping and tourist hotspots.

Anyway, when the bus becomes to that time when it needs to be withdrawn after picking up the whole of Trafalgar Square, route 15 takes the normal routeing of any London bus that does not stop at Aldwych from the Strand towards Fleet Street en route St. Paul's, Cannon Street, Monument, Tower of London and Aldgate. It is a long fast straight to Blackwall from here, taking you past the London Metropolitan University, Limehouse and Poplar before the route arrives at Blackwall Station.

Now for a consultation to return the route to its  terminus at Paddington, maybe? A new deserved routeing via Regent Street, Great Portland Street (route 453), Marylebone (route 205) and the A40 Harrow Road (route 18) ... hint, TfL? Do it.

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