Going around and around

After a couple of losses two weeks ago in Bexleyheath, Go Ahead on February the 3rd gained two routes, the 153 and 343 however all was not good news they lost three more, the 299, B14 and W4. Today's post will focus on Go Ahead's takeover of route 343 which operates between New Cross Gate and City Hall.

9047 seen on stand at City Hall
© EastLondoner
Route 343 as a route in itself is relatively young, only starting operation in 2001. However its roots date back to a route known as the P3 which started in 1970 which was a circular route in Peckham originating from Peckham bus garage running via Nunhead and East Dulwich. In 1978 route P3 was extended to London Bridge Station, no longer making it a circular route and in 1987 it was rerouted away from Nunhead and extended to New Cross Bus garage. The route remained in this form until the 2nd of February 2001 when it was renumbered route 343 from the next day. In September 2002 the route was rerouted in the London Bridge area and extended down to St Thomas' Street in Tooley Street. In 2006 the stand at St Thomas' Street was replaced by a new stand at City Hall, making the 343 what we know today. 

Route 343 gained fame in London among the public and enthusiasts when it was highlighted in the 2013 documentary "The Routemasters: Running London's Roads" due to severe overcrowding on the stretch between Peckham and Elephant & Castle. Route 136 has since been extended to Elephant & Castle to combat this, however since then the patronage levels on route 136 exceed those on route 343 so it can be wondered how long this fix will actually last. 

9554 seen at London Bridge on the last day of Abellio
© EastLondoner
Route 343 since 2001 has only been operated by two operators out of two garages, starting at New Cross (NX) from 2001 to 2006 when it passed to Abellio out of Walworth (WL) where it remained since until the most recent tender which has seen it revert back to operating out of New Cross garage. Abellio operated the route with Volvo B7TL buses on the Wright Eclipse Gemini body, although these buses may not have had the best reputation among the public and enthusiasts alike. Other types that were commonly found on the route included ALX400 bodied Dennis Tridents, Enviro400s and E40H Hybrid Enviro400s as well as the E40H Enviro400 MMC buses which were ordered for routes 45 and 415. 

2520 is seen on the 343 at Elephant and Castle
© EastLondoner
Abellio wrapped up their phase on route 343 with Enviro400 9557 being the last bus. Go Ahead started operation on route N343 shortly afterwards with EH189 being the first bus. I decided to catch up with the route on the first day to see how Go Ahead were doing on it. I made my way to New Cross Gate on the Overground and was met with EH176 sat on stand, however despite this it wouldn't end up being the bus I would get as it was suffering from technical faults and so the decision was taken to drive the bus back to the garage. It wasn't long until the bus behind turned up, and this was in the form of EH188. 

EH176 at New Cross Gate
© EastLondoner
After a short driver changeover the driver allowed us to board and wait on board the bus until departure time, although when departure time came the driver that had just taken over the bus didn't know how to start it. Thankfully another bus had turned up behind and the driver of that bus helped start EH188. It wasn't long until we had driven past New Cross Bus Garage, where EH176 was parked at the entrance, and we were heading towards East Dulwich. The bus was pretty crowded by this point, much to my surprise. It wasn't much longer until we reached Peckham Rye and the bus was very full, almost close to capacity. However most of the passengers alighted in Peckham and it wasn't long until we were on our way towards Elephant and Castle. This bus was also being followed by a 136 from this point, so most of the crowd between Peckham and Elephant & Castle was shared between the two buses. 

EH188 on stand at City Hall
© EastLondoner
It wasn't long until we were at Elephant & Castle and most of the people on the bus got off here, luckily being a Saturday afternoon the traffic in the area wasn't too bad and it wasn't long until we were at London Bridge. At this point the bus took a right turn and headed down Great Dover Street towards Bricklayers Arms, this was due to the fact Tooley Street is currently closed in the long term to facilitate works at London Bridge Station related to the Thameslink Project. At around this point the driver also started to drag the bus, stopping at every bus stop despite nobody wanted to get on or off. I was confused as to why he was doing this when the last stop was effectively just around the corner, not to mention another bus was just a few minutes behind us. However we did eventually reach City Hall, despite being caught in traffic from Bricklayers Arms to Tower Bridge. 

Upon arrival at City Hall EH176 was waiting at the bus stand with City Hall displayed on the blinds, no doubt showing that whatever issue it was facing earlier was a quick fix and that it entered service somewhere mid-route. 

EH176 seen after reappearing at City Hall
© EastLondoner
Overall the service was not great with me noticing many bunchings along the route, however with a central London route that's affected by roadworks and busy town centres, as well as high demand. No doubt Go Ahead will eventually improve on the route and hopefully the service will remain in good hands for the next 5 or maybe even 7 years!