A Bundle of Laughs in the City

The 149 converts, the 78 introduces a new alternative, the 168 gets LTs after all and the 159 moves away from its heritage with Arriva to Abellio: all in one article!

Route 149 - Edmonton Green to London Bridge
The infamously busy north London route 149 was retained by Arriva London from Tottenham (AR) on 17 October 2015, with 'New Routemaster' hybrid buses introduced with its new contract. Considering the incommodious nature of LTs, it did not seem wise to allocate them to a route whose buses reach capacity less than five stops into northbound journeys. Arriva started entering batches LT513-516 and LT564-601 into service a few days prior to contract renewal, the latter batch introducing a new font to the 'New Routemaster' displays to quite a few negative reviews from enthusiasts.

Expecting nothing special from the route because of my indifferent impression of its service change, this made me forget the quality I have consistently praised about Arriva's LTs throughout the Borismaster Watch series. I was reminded this quality on route 149 as I boarded from Dalston: the engine switched off to allow the fully charged electric motors to independently power the bus for a quiet and silky drive and the engine interrupted this only for brief sporadic intervals during my journey. With everything running smoothly, we had reached Shoreditch in no time and joined the gradually moving Bishopsgate traffic.

This is when I started to get a bit annoyed. Then, nearing the front of the queue at Liverpool Street Station, we got curtailed to Monument - mocked a stop before a curtailment point which is only two stops before terminus! Just to add to the inconvenience, another LT on the 149 overtook us moments after my bus driver announced the curtailment. Passengers were demanding the driver to stop the bus in front, as passengers usually think the driver can physically do immediately after request. Luckily, the bus driver ahead waited, acknowledging rushing passengers from our initial bus switching onto his bus. With the bus to capacity, it was a busy end to the journey at London Bridge.

Checking out the 149 more times after this, curtailments seemed to be common along the route. The buses were generally frequent, however, withstanding demand well with only the odd bus getting crowded because of small and tolerable gaps in the service. Otherwise, Arriva continue to dominate as the operator with the best LTs, in my opinion.

Route 78 - Nunhead to Shoreditch
Arriva London retained route 78 from Ash Grove (AE) on 14 November 2015. The new contract specified new double-decker battery-hybrid buses for the southeast London route and I looked forward to seeing Arriva make a hybrid order from Alexander Dennis for a change. The distinguished design curves of the allocated Enviro400s influenced a rather fitting picture of a continued relationship between the 78 and Alexander Dennis; although the odd-working VLW-class bus had become more common, more Arriva HVs just did not seem right for the route.

The new Enviro400H MMC would have been the option favoured by those who wanted something from ADL, if not for the manufacturer  adding to the already competitive bus market by introducing a new two-door alternative to the 'New Routemaster': the Alexander Dennis Enviro400H City. A development to ADL's MMC project, the City design poses the ultra-modern styles of the 'New Routemaster' whilst incorporating inspiration from Alexander Dennis' very own Enviro200 MMC. An off-putting boxy roof lining is compensated by a gorgeous rear-end that outshines any double-decker competition in the industry.

In terms of style, the Alexander Dennis Enviro400H City had already annihilated WrightBus' 'New Routemaster'. Be that as it may, the buses, HA1-19, only started entering service from 7 December 2015 to make us wait almost a month after contract renewal. for them to make an entrance. It is also a bit of a shame that individual operator moquettes are unavailable with this bus, like the LTs. However, that does not stop the proposed Routemaster successor's alternative from having an invitingly glossy interior which makes for a luxurious passenger experience, complete with the one-gear BAE HybriDrive excellence accustomed to Alexander Dennis' hybrid products. Having the driveline of your average Enviro400 hybrid bus, then, automatically makes the Enviro400H City annihilate the 'New Routemaster' in terms of performance, too. The only downside I have with this bus, other than the box-like roof design, is that the air-conditioning is louder than the 'New Routemaster' ... and any other London bus!

A leading alternative.
I wonder if the Enviro400H City will soon make the 'New Routemaster' an alternative. We must have been sitting in traffic in various places throughout my first experience of the new bus. It was my second journey, having took the bus from Old Kent Road to Shoreditch and now on a journey towards Nunhead. I was tired, nodding off amidst standstill Aldgate traffic and jumping back up to find myself on Tower Bridge Road: stuck in more standstill traffic. Meanwhile, the ambience was alive with the sound of a young girl singing Christmas carols with a woman encouraging the girl to continue singing as well as encouraging passengers to join in. The atmosphere was beautiful: the young girl's mother was laughing with joy and other passengers were joining in with the laughter, too. It was a delightful highlight of my journey which took out the analytically enthusiastic side of me and replaced it with the type of recollection that our older generation of enthusiasts share with nostalgia about the classic Routemaster. 

Now that is what I call a new Routemaster. A bundle of laughs that does not only come from annihilating competition by style and performance, but from its luxurious passenger experience, too. Well played, Arriva.

Route 168 - Hampstead Heath to Old Kent Road Tesco
Metroline started their new contract to route 168 from Cricklewood (W) on 26 September 2015. Specified new double-decker hybrid buses for its new contract, Camden Council were not having the infrastructure of Hampstead Heath changed to cater 'New Routemasters' for the 168. Therefore, the LTs already built were reallocated to route 16, ousting its TEHs to route 168. Clearly a temporary allocation, as LT641-663 have entered service on route 168 with no road layout altercations at the terminus in Hampstead Heath. So route 168 could have got LT543-563 on the day of its new contract, after all. What a completely unnecessary farce of a service change. The LTs are alright on the 168 and suit the route both in looks - with the capitalisation of the displays' destination qualifying points - and ride, but if route 16 was left out of this absurdity then its service would still be running exceptionally well with outstanding double-decker hybrid buses. I've said enough about this: onto a more interesting change.

Route 159 - Marble Arch to Streatham Station
Route 159 is one which had become a flagship of Brixton Bus Garage since the route was introduced to the garage for its weekend services in summer 1964. The former Streatham Garage took over the Brixton (BN) allocation to the route in 1969 and a year later, Routemasters were introduced onto the 159. Brixton returned to operating the route from 1982, sporadically throughout the '80s, before officially taking over most of the service into the '90s.

The route went on to run London's last RM service on 9 December 2005 and has become a heritage of Arriva and the Routemaster. Therefore, it was arguably inevitable that the route was going to convert to 'New Routemaster' service, but no-one would have guessed that this would be with Abellio London from Battersea (QB). LT602-640 were introduced into service on 12 December 2015.

Abellio gets ready for the first duty as Arriva finishes
one of their last on route 159. ©Lgee Faure.
Battersea (QB) are a garage that have a fleet of quality buses and their services can be just as good. I was not surprised, then, with how frequent buses were on the 159 and how good the LTs were. They were not non-systematically deciding when to stay in diesel and when to switch into electric: for the most part, the buses were using the diesel engine to charge up the electric motors so that the bus could run in electric whilst on stand and for a sufficient duration after we got on the move again. Okay, one 'New Routemaster' did completely shut down at a bus stop in Brixton, but we were on our way again after a few minutes.

The only criticism I will state is that I'm not entirely sure how LTs are to accommodate a service which does not force you to wait for the next bus at Brixton Station, where crowds await the 159 in its most popular section. Otherwise, the 159 is still a frequent and reliable service in the hands of a new but equally good garage.

It was a little bit more difficult to add the latest 'New Routemaster' routes to the hierarchy. The 149 was generally good, bar the curtailments and the occasional gaps in service; the 168 was decent but suits LTs well and the 159 also suits the buses well, with the exception of that one bus that did stop running, forcing the driver to restart the bus completely. Nevertheless, after considerable thought, the Borismaster Performance Hierarchy looks as follows: 38, 73, 148, 9, 8, 453, 137, 15, 55, 149, 159, 168, 16, 12, 88, 11, 10, 390 and 24.

Arriva have lost big this year, but have still managed to give us back some quality new buses. Their new Enviro400H Citys are on another level to our Borismaster Performance Hierarchy. They are exceptional buses that prove that the BAE HybriDrive's one-gear acceleration is yet to be matched by any competing hybrid double-decker bus in the market. So, of course the 78 tops the above list. 'HA'.

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  1. Love your reviews bus breh but you always pick the wrong time to test a route, yes the busier the better, and glad you pointed out the 149s curtailment issue after leaving Liverpool Street Station! I used to use this route to work and by far every morning you'd never reach London Bridge without changing buses. The only issue is now we have a two floor ex bendy bus route with three doors encouraging the hoppers who don't wish to pay fare!

    I tried this route at night, 10pm to 11, the journey took 40 minutes, the driver really gave it the beans and when the road was clear the bus did 35 or 40!

    The best time to try these buses out is at night mate.

    1. Thanks, CTN! You reckon? Personally, I think I can determine the quality of a bus regardless of how fast or slow the journey is. The HAs, I tried in the early evening and late evening, brilliant buses in traffic and breezing through clear road.

      The 149 is generally fast and good fun, particularly on approach to Shoreditch. Fare evasion is not a surprise with the LTs, it's like TfL are welcoming this issue back. But I do agree, there is more guarantee of fast journeys at night!