The ELT Takeover

If you go back more than a year, you might remember my post on the extension of route EL2 to Becontree Heath. In today's post we re-visit Barking in another addition to the Borismaster Watch series, something which many might not have expected!

It's my first time writing a Borismaster watch article, and I must say The London Bus Breh has left a lot to live up to! Many of you may not know my opinion on the vehicles as a whole. I personally dislike the vehicles, I feel that it was a great concept executed very poorly. I was very supportive of the return of the open platform as well as the return of open boarding. However both concepts would only work effectively if there was a second member of staff on board the bus, which was the case for the first few conversions but as the second member of staff was dropped for all conversions taking place after route 38, the usefulness of the bus type also dropped.  All this was not helped by the other problems that this bus had, such as the infamous air conditioning and lower capacity than standard buses.

© EastLondoner
On the 29th of July 2016 I was simply minding my own business, however when I picked up my phone it was full of notifications. Realising that tenders had been released that day I immediately went to check them out. It wasn't until I reached the bottom of the long list of routes that I realised that the East London Transit routes had been awarded with the addition of new ELT route EL3. All routes were to be operated by Go Ahead London with New Routemaster buses. Route 387 was to be withdrawn. I didn't know what to say about the results, should I be sad? Should I be angry? or should I be optimistic?

19778 seen at Cambridge Road in Barking
© EastLondoner
I've already given you lot some information on the EL1 and EL2 in the post that I have linked above, but let me run through some information about route 387. Route 387 operated between Little Heath (a green area in Goodmayes) and Barking Riverside. It was run by Stagecoach London from their Barking garage. The route started in Barking Riverside and made its way through Thames Road, River Road and Movers Lane to reach Barking. Once it left Barking it would continue up Longbridge Road until Goodmayes Lane, then it would go up Goodmayes Lane until Green Lane. It would then continue up Goodmayes Road and Barley Lane and double run King George Hospital before making its way to Little Heath. 

The route was allocated with Enviro400s during its last few months of operation, however Enviro400 MMCs and Dennis Tridents worked the route almost everyday. Below I have included some photos of those buses on the route...

10332 is seen turning onto North Street, route EL3 doesn't serve this area
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17904 is seen at King George Hospital a week before the changeover
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However the the 387 isn't the only route involved in this set of changes, nor is it the only route in the area getting New Routemasters. As I mentioned earlier routes EL1 and EL2 are also being allocated with the vehicle type however, they are currently undergoing a phased conversion as opposed to an on the day conversion like the EL3 had. As I've already given you the information on those routes in the post linked at the top, let me just catch you up on happenings since then. Route EL2 nw runs between Becontree Heath and Dagenham Dock while route EL1 runs between Ilford Station and Barking Riverside.

WVL348 seen near Barking Station
© EastLondoner
The EL1 has certainly seen a huge increase in its passenger numbers, as has the 169. The EL2 has seen its popularity growing, with many people south of Barking also using the new link it provides (including me!) as well as people north of Barking using it as an alternative to the 5. Unlike the 387, routes EL1 and EL2 have almost no variety to their allocation through their 7 year history. Since inception in 2010 the routes have been allocated with Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 buses on the Volvo B9TL chassis. Every now and again over the years a few Optare Olympuses and Volvo B7TLs/Wright Eclipse Geminis have crept out onto the route (albeit with no blinds). 

WVL334 seen near the Weavers Quarter development
© EastLondoner
Coming back to more information on the change itself. The EL3 timetables were in place at bus stops more than a week before the service change, with all 387 tiles removed and replaced by EL3 tiles at the bus stop the Wednesday before the service change. Stagecoach London concluded the operation with 19777 performing the final trip to Barking Riverside early in the morning on the 18th of February. Route EL3 then started operation with the first bus running at 0500 on the morning.

With the EL3 being very local to me, I went out at around midday to take a ride on the route. The bus turned up a few minutes after I had arrived at the bus stop. LT911 was going to be the bus which would form my first two rides on the EL3. I boarded it going towards Little Heath. As soon as I boarded the "New Bus Smell" made itself known to me. The front two seats were empty, so I took the opportunity to sit there. There was a scrolling message on the iBus screen informing people about the changes to the 387. We set off from the stop and immediately went onto the route's new routing through Barking Town Centre, following the routing of EL1 and EL2 rather than the 387s previous routing around the town centre going via North Street and London Road. 

LT911 seen at Little Heath
© EastLondoner
We then swiftly moved onto Barking Station, where for the first time I saw some people boarding through the rear two doors as opposed to the front door. We then continued our journey up Longbridge road, barely picking up anyone until the end of the road just before the bus took the slight left onto Goodmayes Lane. We eventually reached Green Lane, an area I was anticipating because of the turns the bus has to perform here. The bus performed then with ease before over the bridge and across Goodmayes High Road onto Barley Lane. We then reached King George Hospital, the turn into the hospital grounds was quite tight here and we just about humped the curb, but the bus pulled all the other turns in the hospital grounds with complete ease. It should then be plain sailing to Little I thought. Upon leaving the hospital grounds we were met with a traffic jam, reaching the A12. We took about 10 minutes just going the distance to the bus stand, in reality that should take 30 seconds. Upon arrival the position of the traffic along with the size of the bus stand meant that the 11.3 meter LT was not going to fit in at all, so the driver let us get off at the alighting point before proceeding to the first stop of the route to stand. 

I then used the opportunity for a few pictures before boarding the bus for the return trip to Barking Riverside. For the first part of the journey I filmed the bus from the lower deck (video can be viewed here) before making my way upstairs. We eventually reached River Road and entered Barking riverside. Most of the roads here are usually flooded with parked cars due to the various industrial areas as well as the bus garage located in the area. The bus navigated most of the turns and roads pretty impressively. As we entered the various housing estates in the area the turns started to get a bit tight, the bus continued to pull most of these off except the last turn from Galleons Drive onto Mallards Road, which to be fair is challenging in a normal bus. 

LT911 seen on stand at Barking Riverside
© EastLondoner
After spending some time at Barking Riverside with some fellow enthusiasts, I boarded LT881 for my journey back home. Overall a very good first day, considering the lack of turns on the route - as is common for a first day not to mention the decent service. There were a few gaps in the service but that will no doubt wear out eventually as Go Ahead get used to operating the route.

For the first few days of the EL3s operation, routes EL1 and EL2 which were also due to convert to the controversial bus type continued on with their existing Volvo B9TLs until more New Routemasters became available. It wasn't until the 2nd of March when the EL2 started its conversion to the bus type. I went out the next day to take a ride on the route, the route was converting pretty fast with only three Wright Eclipse Gemini 2s out on the day.

LT885 seen at Becontree Heath Bus Station
© EastLondoner
I made my way to Becontree Heath Bus Station to get the route. The bus station was overcrowded (like usual) with LT885 parked on the western side of the bus station prior to departure. After a few minutes the bus departed and we set off on our journey to Dagenham Dock. The bus didn't attract as much attention from any of the passengers like route EL3 did during its first few days of operation. We made our way around the corner onto Wood Lane before being met with the traffic lights at Dagenham Heathway. At this point the driver got a call from the garage to turn the bus to River Road, Waverley Gardens (The turn for River Road Bus Garage). We made out way down Wood Lane, past Valence Avenue and Bennetts Castle lane before being greeted with a hefty amount of traffic at the Lodge Avenue junction. After a lot of waiting we made it through the traffic lights and continued along Longbridge Road at a steady pace towards Fair Cross. Around this point we started to get quite a handful of fare evaders, no doubt who had become used to the presence of these buses on route EL3 which parallels the route along this section. We made it to Barking Station, however I got off at Vicarage Field Shopping Centre to get some lunch, and so that I could wait for another EL2, which would be doing the full route. 

LT909 stands at Dagenham Dock Terminus
© EastLondoner
Upon getting off, I realised that LT907 which was behind also was turned to River Road, as well as the bus behind it. I then gave up waiting for the next bus to Dagenham Dock which was going to be over 30 minutes away. So far from my experience, the EL2 was just continuing business as normal with its new allocation. Nothing much had changed about it, the route didn't feel too different to how it felt when it used Gemini 2s and the passengers didn't really care about the "state of the art" buses that had started to appear on the route. It wasn't until many weeks later I got around to riding an EL2 down to Dagenham Dock. LT909 was my bus, we set off from Barking with me as the only passenger until Movers Lane where a few more people boarded. The bus made the turn onto Bastable Avenue far better than I expected. All the other passengers got off along this stretch, leaving me the only passenger as we went onto Renwick Road and then Choats Road on our way to Dagenham Dock. This part of the route is very industrial, although it did give me an opportunity to see how far the development of Barking Riverside had come. The new Riverside school building was taking shape very nicely, as well as a new bus stand (more on that further on in the post). We reached Dagenham Dock Terminus a few minutes later. I was the only passenger on the bus by this point and it wasn't surprising to see why. There's literally nothing there besides a train station with a service every 30 minutes. However when more housing is built, this link could very well become more popular.

LT907 takes stand time at Becontree Heath
© EastLondoner
Route EL1 was to be the last ELT route to convert to New Routemasters. The EL1 was going to be the route which would show how the New Routemasters could really benefit the ELT service. The route is very popular at Barking and Ilford, ferrying people between the two major town centres. Most of the time a bus would arrive at its second stop in Ilford and not be able to depart until the next bus would roll up behind it due to the sheer time it took for the huge crowds of people to board the route. The open boarding on New Routemasters could potentially solve this issue. 

LT889 seen on stand at Ilford Hill
© EastLondoner
It was on the 8th of March when the first New Routemaster crept out onto the EL1 for three hours in the morning peak, however due to other commitments I didn't even notice this was out until the evening. In the days following more New Routemasters started performing duties on the route, however this was mostly in the evening. It was on the 27th of March when I made it to Ilford on my way home to be granted with LT889 on stand at Ilford Hill. It wasn't too long until the bus departed and we were on our way towards Barking. When we arrived at the infamous Chapel Road bus stop (known very well locally for its crowds and never ending stream of people) people used all three doors to board. I did initially worry about this as the never ending stream of people could mean the driver would struggle to close the doors, however it certainly wasn't the case. The bus loaded up much quicker than the Gemini 2s did. It wasn't too long before we set off and made our way down Ilford Lane towards Barking. This is probably the most popular part of the EL1 route despite only being around 6 stops long in total, but the EL1 itself isn't a very long route at only 4 miles. Many people along Ilford Lane made use of the open boarding and dwell times at bus stops were greatly improved. I got off in Barking as time wouldn't allow me to ride the EL1 down to Barking Riverside. 

LT883 seen in Barking
© EastLondoner
Since my first ride, on the EL1 I've caught many more New Routemasters on the route, sometimes being intentional, but mostly being completely unintentional. Even before the EL1 became a New Routemaster operated route, I'd always suggested that it should be an open boarding route. It carries a huge amount of people for short distances. It's high frequency and huge crowds used to lead to buses constantly bunching throughout the route. With the New Routemasters this is no longer an issue, people board the bus within a minute and the bus sets off from the stop. I may hate to admit it as I'm still not a huge fan of the bus, but the New Routemasters are right at home on the EL1. 

When the initial consultation results were released for the introduction of the EL3, TfL did announce that all vehicles on the ELT network would be branded, much like how the Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 buses that previously worked the routes were. When the New Routemasters were introduced, they all entered service without any branding, fully red. However through July and  early August the advert frames on the buses were removed, showing that the buses were still going to be branded. LT939 was the first bus to be branded, it entered service with its branding on the 7th of August 2017. The branding is similar to that previously used on the old allocation, although modified slightly to accommodate the design differences of the New Routemaster.

LT939 showing off its branding on the EL1
© EastLondoner
The final stage to these set of changes were to happen on the first week of September. The routes were to be extended further into Barking Riverside, past the location of the new Riverside School building to stand where the new Barking Riverside Station would eventually be opened in the early 2020s. Route EL3 was going to be rerouted slightly so that it would run along Minters Road (a new road) and most of Thames Road would be left unserved. The extension to routes EL1 and EL3 would also involve a new busway, something quite rare for London (the only other busway is found at North Greenwich and it is to be removed soon) as well as a new road called Drovers Road.

LT927 is seen in Barking on the EL2
© EastLondoner
Although as has probably become expected by this point, the roads were not finished on time, route EL1 would become the only route to be extended and that would only be as far as Riverside school. Route EL3s extension was delayed until June 2018 which was the new date set for the opening of the new roads. Route EL1s extension would also only be effective on weekdays between the hours of 6am until 9pm, and at other times the route would be curtailed at its current stand. However due to the operating times of this extension, and the fact I'm usually occupied during the times of its extension I have been unable to grab a photo of the area there. However do keep an eye out for another post next year when the EL1 and EL3 are extended further into Barking Riverside.

LT925 seen in Barking on the EL3
© East Londoner
Meanwhile, what's next for the New Routemaster buses?

The much anticipated (or maybe dreaded) final bus is approaching. These buses are expected to form the bulk of the allocation for another suburban conversion - route 267 which operates between Hammersmith and Fulwell. However with all the cuts TfL are making to bus routes in Central London don't be too surprised to see another one in the future.