Cry Me a River Road

As bus enthusiasts we often ask ourselves the question "When will the tenders be out", TfL issue an estimated time frame when a tender result should be coming out for a specific set of routes. Routes 5, 15 and 115 were all due to be announced in December however their result was not out until the end of March. Most people were expecting the expected, Stagecoach to retain all three routes just as they had always managed to retain them over the many years.

A 5 and 115 together in East Ham
© EastLondoner
I still remember the day the result came out, as if it was only yesterday. I was out on the hunt for a new pound coin during my free time, after failing to get a new coin I admitted defeat and boarded an Enviro400 on the 86. Like most teenagers I reached straight for my phone, I loaded up the internet and I saw something which made my heart completely drop. The results for the 5, 6, 15/N15, 18, 22, 98 and 115 were all out. With the 5, 15/N15 and 115 all awarded to Go Ahead London, I didn't have anything to say. I didn't even realise that Metroline had lost route 18, and I imagine it's quite safe to say among enthusiasts the 18 result was overshadowed very much by the result of the 5, 15/N15 and 115. All three routes were going to be run from Go Ahead's River Road Barking garage. 

WVL347 was to be one of the buses released for the 5
© EastLondoner
Soon after the results the orders were announced for the routes. Route 5 was based on mostly an existing bid, using spare Wright Eclipse Gemini 2/Volvo B9TL buses which were floating around the company, however there was an element of new Hybrids on it. Route 115 was going to be fully allocated Euro6 Hybrids while route 15 would hang on to its allocation of Euro6 New Routemasters. This would also mark the first operator change of a route operated by New Routemasters. Route N15 was also to start using New Routemasters from that date, bringing the bus type out as far east as Romford. 

17888 stands at Canning Town Bus Station
© EastLondoner
Before we get onto some information about the service change, let me give you some information about all three routes involved in the change. Route 5 is one of the busiest routes in London operating between Canning Town Bus Station and Romford Market via East Ham, Barking and Becontree Heath. It was previously operated by Stagecoach from Barking (BK) garage with some early and late journeys operating from Bow (BW) using Hybrids from the 205 and 277.Out of all three routes it was probably safe to say it was the 5 which had the most variety in its allocation. Mostly being allocated Tridents but there'd usually be a few Enviro400s and Enviro400 MMCs on the route as well alongside the Tridents.

19762 seen outside Barking Station
© EastLondoner
Out of all three routes involved in the change, route 5 is the route which I can most relate with. I've known the route since I was a very small child, having lived along it for pretty much all my life. I remember using the route to watch my first ever sports match live at the stadium. Using the route for regular shopping trips when I was in Primary school and often using the route to come home after various events at school in Secondary school. Using the 5 was always special, especially after 2012 when the 5 became the last route in Barking allocated Dennis Trident 2/ALX400 buses, a bus type which once dominated the area, and a type which will often not be seen in Barking too much in the future, with just the 238 providing a handful of strays. It is sad to see the demise of probably the best bus type of the early low flow era, however it was going to happen eventually. Times do change, and things become memories.

10323 seen outside Barking Station
© EastLondoner
17931 seen along Barking Road
.© EastLondoner
Route 115 was operated by Stagecoach London from their West Ham (WH) garage. Unlike route 5 this route had a very strict allocation for most of its time with Stagecoach, remaining solidly Trident. However it has seen a few workings of Enviro400s and with its last few weeks at Stagecoach Scania Omnicity buses started to make a few appearances on the route. The route ran from East Ham, Central Park to Aldgate Bus Station via Canning Town, Limehouse and Stepney. It was one of only two routes linking that part of East London with Central London (the other being the 25). The route is pretty much a straight line apart from two turns at either end of the route.

Like route 5, route 115 does hold a special place in my heart. Probably because it was a route I'd often use to get into Central London to avoid the infamously crowded 25. However it's the satisfaction of seeing one of your local routes in Central London, an area from buses all over the city, and using buses that you love. Operation of this route has always been questionable, however due to the unpredictable traffic situations in the city, the A13 and Barking Road it is no surprise that the route was a pain to operate. It's going to be weird riding different buses on it that are not Tridents, however judging by most batches of MMCs in London the EHs could potentially be worthy successors to the route's previous allocation.

17816 is seen alongside 15085 at Canning Town Bus Station
© EastLondoner
Finally we come to route 15. I am assuming most of you reading will be very familiar with the route. Operated by New Routemasters it has become a victim of Boris Johnson's vanity project. Routes 5 and 115 both hold a special place in my heart, as you are probably aware of by now. However that feeling for the 15 is different. Today's 15 runs between Blackwall Station and Trafalgar Square via the Tower of London. However just 7 years ago the route was completely different, running from Blackwall to Paddington Basin. It was arguably one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious route in Central London. It passed almost every tourist attraction in Central London you could think of. 

12142 at Trafalgar Square
However upon contract renewal with Stagecoach in 2010, the first stage of the route being stripped of its crown started. In order to reduce congestion along Oxford Street the route was going to be cut from Paddington Basin to Regent Street, Conduit Street (with the 159 being extended in its place). The route would no longer serve Oxford Circus, Oxford Street, Marble Arch and Edgware Road. Three years later in 2013 it was "temporarily" cut back to Trafalgar Square due to roadworks in the Regent Street area, meaning it no longer served Regent Street or Piccadilly Circus. In 2015 the route was converted to New Routemaster operation, like most other Central London routes in the area. Its final and most latest development will be on the day when Go Ahead London take over, and its cut from Regent Street to Trafalgar Square is made permanent. 

I would be lying if I said the 15 holds a special place in my heart like the 5 and 115 do. The "old" 15 does, it was one of the first ever routes I had a ride on in Central London, often when I was a little kid we'd have a family trip on it to see the Christmas lights along Oxford Street. But that 15 is no more, today's 15 holds no special place in my heart, it's a boring route. Only passing St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London as places of significant interest, its buses are very boring. The route is plagued with traffic, and I often finding myself asking "How long is it until I can get off this thing". The bus route which was once probably the king of Central London is certainly not anymore.

LT259 seen at Tower Gateway
© EastLondoner
As Stagecoach's days on the 5, 15 and 115 were wrapping up enthusiasts from all over London were flocking to the east of the city in hope to bag some pictures of Stagecoach, the change was shaping up to be potentially the most covered change in years. Stagecoach ended their phase on the N15 with 12408, an E40H MMC from the 277 batch. A few hours later 18201 became the last 5, LT245 became the last 15 under Stagecoach and 17996 became the last 115. LT926 and LT915 were the first N15s out operated by Go Ahead, using buses from the batch intended for the ELT routes. These were soon joined by a few more buses, including some LTs which were branded for the ELT routes and some brand new E40H MMCs which were intended for route 115.

WVL495 on stand at Romford Market
© EastLondoner
I went out on the first day to sample the changes on the routes. I started out with my most local change, the 5. I arrived at Barking Town Centre and WVL495 turned up a minute later. I boarded the bus and grabbed the front right seats at the front on the upper deck which were free. However we didn't move off straight away due to a driver change. Not the most sensible location to change drivers but we'll get onto that a bit later. We eventually set off and we were off down London road, which is full of potholes. It was weird experiencing this on a Volvo B9TL as they'd never been down this road in service before. We picked up a few people at Barking Station and we headed down Longbridge Road. It wasn't long until we were at Fair Cross passing Stagecoach's garage in Barking. There were a number of Tridents parked up inside awaiting their blinds to be removed and transfer to West Ham garage (WH) for disposal. I got off the bus when we reached Becontree Heath as a woman downstairs had decided it was acceptable to start being rude at people. However upon looking at the countdown screen the next 5 wasn't for 15 minutes. So I took a quick ride on VLA133 to Romford Market. Upon arrival there WVL451 was on stand along with WVL495. 

E137 seen at Queen's Hospital
© EastLondoner
© EastLondoner
Also on this day, following months of campaigning from locals and the local MP route 5 was rerouted via Queen's Hospital instead of South Street. I wanted to sample this rerouting so I took a quick ride of WVL451 down to Queen's Hospital, also using the opportunity to get a few photos of the varying allocation on the route there. As I mentioned earlier the 5 had an existing as well as a new element to its allocation. The existing allocation was made up out of Ex ELT Gemini 2/Volvo B9TLs as well as Ex 19 Gemini 2/Volvo B9TLs. Late delivery of a few of the E40H MMCs meant that some Ex First WVNs drafted in from Northumberland Park (NP) were also present on the route as well as E137 which was transferred in from Bexleyheath (BX). On top of this a few LTs crosslink onto the 5 in the mornings and evenings from the N15. All this together provided a lot of variety to keep enthusiasts busy on the first day. I happened to cross paths with LT938 on the evening of the 26th of August. This one is branded for the ELT services. This illustrates very well a limitation of branding buses, buses that are branded for a specific set of routes ending up on a completely different route. However that rant is best kept away from this post. While snapping at Queen's Hospital I did observe people using the route's new link. Although I imagine with a bit more time the link will become more popular as people realise the new link. 

Operation on the first day was very questionable, many turns were evident along with a lot of bunching on the route. However no doubt after some time service quality will improve on the route as Go Ahead get the hang of it. Below are some pictures of the other buses found on the route during the first few days of Go Ahead operation on the 5.

EH144 seen entering Queen's Hospital
© EastLondoner

WVN27 seen on stand at Canning Town
© EastLondoner

WVL348 seen on stand at Canning Town, this is an Ex ELT bus
© EastLondoner
LT408 seen on its first day as a Go Ahead vehicle
© EastLondoner
After I had finished my photo session at Queen's Hospital, I made my way back to Romford Station to catch a ride on a Class 345 train into Central London so that I could take a look at how the 15 and 115 were doing with their new operator. As I mentioned earlier route 15 is keeping its buses, therefore there is not a notable difference to the service apart from the fact slightly newer LTs from the ELT routes make occasional appearances on the route, and older LTs from route 8 no longer appear on the route. From my observations Go Ahead operation on the route seems to be decent, far better than the service was on the 5 and far better than I expected it to be, especially for a central London route that is subject to high amounts of traffic. I didn't bother too much with the route as much of the experience on the route would be exactly the same as it was under Stagecoach operation.

Buses stand at Aldgate Bus Station
© EastLondoner
After snapping the 15, I turned my attention to the 115. Two of the new E40H MMCs on the route were on stand, attracting attention from some of the Arriva drivers on stand with the 67 and 254. It wasn't long until one of them left. It was EH143 and that was to be my ride. This time I opted to stay downstairs on the bus. The "new bus smell" was evident, and many members of the public were talking about the new bus. It wasn't long until we were zooming away from Aldgate and we were along Commercial Road on our way to Limehouse. We reached Limehouse in a matter of minutes, swiftly moving onto All Saints. Within Half an hour we reached Canning Town, and after looking at the traffic on Barking Road I decided it would be a good opportunity to get out and take some photos at the bus station. 

Go Ahead's presence in Canning Town is far more evident
© EastLondoner
After getting off at Canning Town Bus Station I had to take a moment to think of all the changes that have happened in the past few years. Canning Town was once a Stagecoach heartland, literally every route there was operated by them except for the 309 and 474. Now it's clearly evident that Go Ahead have the Lion's share of routes there with Stagecoach left with the 241, 323 and 330. Although route 474 shall be joining them in 2018. The new E40H MMCs themselves are beautiful, perfectly suited to a route like the 115 which is a nice mix of traffic free roads and can be non stop traffic sometimes. However it's hard to say what state these buses will be in after a year or two's work on the route. It just goes to show how good the Enviro400 MMC bus type is, for a passenger at least. 

I decided to leave Canning Town on a 5, opting for a ride on newly refurbished WVL348 which was on stand. The seat covers on the 5s refurbished Ex ELT buses are blue as opposed to those on the X26 which are grey. Other than that there's not much of a noticeable difference. I mentioned earlier that Barking Town Centre was the new changeover point for the 5, and that this was not the smartest place to change drivers. Upon arrival at Barking Town Centre, everyone was turfed off WVL348 onto EH149 which was parked behind at the 169s stop, much to the irritation of a 169 driver. There were another two 5s having a changeover on the other side of the road taking up much of the stop. This stop is extremely busy, and route 366 already has changeovers at this location. Adding the much more frequent 5 to the mix does not help the crowding the stop already has to deal with - however not much can be done about that now

Competitors Stagecoach and Go Ahead side by side
© EastLondoner
Go Ahead have some work to do on the 5s operation, the 115s operation is a bit questionable but far better than the operation on the 5. The 15 is operating far better than I thought it would. No doubt Go Ahead will get used to the routes and hopefully given some time they can bring the service levels to the standard Stagecoach had, and maybe even beyond the standard Stagecoach had set. Meanwhile the tendering war continues, with Stagecoach making up for these losses elsewhere at different garages and Go Ahead continuing to win routes, balanced out by a few losses. There are many more changes to bus routes to come this year and next year, and I imagine it will be safe to say soon many bus enthusiasts will stop and think how much places have changed, just like I did at Canning Town.