diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bus S2: Clapton - Stratford
Location: London east
Length of journey: 6 miles, 40 minutes

It's not the loveliest bus journey in the world. Clapton's Murder Mile, Hackney Wick and the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. You won't find London's rich and well-to-do riding this overcrowded backstreet route. But it has its moments. A Tudor National Trust townhouse, the birthplace of plastic, and a sulphurous trade union crucible - this bus passes them all. It's the S2, and it dies tomorrow.

endangered S2 in Hackney WickFor me, the S2 has three particularly interesting features. Firstly it's one of London's lettered bus services, the sole remaining outpost of Stratford's dwindled 'S' empire. More of that shortly, if you're patient. Secondly it's one of those buses that goes on a big loopy detour to eventually get back to somewhere it's already been. In this case that's a diversion to Bromley-by-Bow station and the nearby Tesco, much to the annoyance of any through travellers who get to spend seven unnecessary minutes of their life on an arterial road (or considerably longer if the traffic's bad). And thirdly the S2 is one of my local buses, a unique link to the heart of Hackney, in which I therefore have a personal interest. Especially now its days are numbered. Two.

From Saturday, TfL are instigating a major reorganisation of buses in the Bow area. They describe their new plans as "improved bus services", although I'm not wholly convinced. They even describe their changes as "enhancements". Yes, that's not a good sign, is it? Here are the plans.

bus changes in Bow

route 425Of all the buses I might have hoped they'd switch, alas, the bendy buses on route 25 aren't included and will continue to blunder along Bow Road unaltered. But they'll now have competition from a brand new route, the 425, giving a more pleasant alternative to articulated transportation. Although only from Stratford as far as Mile End station. Then the 425 turns right and follows route 277 north through Victoria Park and on to Clapton. The full journey from Stratford to Clapton is less than three miles as the crow flies, but the 425 travels twice as far. And TfL are scheduling this mysterious dog-leg route, which goes nowhere new, with a full double decker allocation. Only time will tell if passenger numbers justify their optimism.

route 276And then there's the 276. This Newham to Stoke Newington service used to run through what is now the Olympic Park construction site. Obviously that journey would now be an unacceptable security risk, so for the last year the bus has been diverted up the A12 via Fish Island. But not for much longer. From Saturday it'll be re-diverted, even further from its original route, following the current S2 through Bow. This may not be good news for long distance travellers, but it gives me yet another way to get to southeast Hackney. I used to have only one direct route to Homerton Hospital, and imminently I'll have three. I just can't imagine needing the choice.

route 488And finally, what of the demise of the S2? Overnight tomorrow it'll lose its letter and be reborn in decapitated form under a new route number, 488. That's almost as high as regular London bus numbers go, signifying an unimportant afterthought of a service. This instant irrelevance is what happens when you cut off the last mile and a half of the bus route, the bit that went to Stratford, the bit that made the journey useful. Southbound buses will now terminate in Bromley-by-Bow, a place that few Hackney residents feel a burning desire to visit. The 488 will be a runty little bus, running less frequently than the S2, carrying fewer people, to nowhere special. And it's got the elderly shoppers of E3 up in arms.

Roman Road's only decent supermarket closed down a couple of years ago, and nearby residents were forced to seek their weekly groceries elsewhere. Never mind, said local councillors, because there's a bus to the Tesco superstore in Bromley-by-Bow and you can go there instead. The S2 is therefore a lifeline to older shoppers, shuffling onto the bus with their single carrier bag and alighting immediately outside the supermarket's front door. Even better, returning S2s leave from exactly the same bus stop beside the trolley park. That loop round Bromley-by-Bow which so annoys Stratford-bound travellers is actually a godsend for shoppers who can't walk far. And the truncated 488 throws that benefit away. It'll terminate one stop past Tesco, then return afresh in the opposite direction on the other side of the A12 dual carriageway. Departing shoppers will have to cross a slip road, negotiate a series of shallow steps (or take a lengthy detour), walk down a forbidding underpass, ascend the ramp on the other side and then... damn, the nearest stop's still a considerable walk away up a completely different street. I can do Tesco to bus stop in four minutes, without bags, but I doubt I'll be quite so capable in 40 years time.

endangered S2 in Hackney WickWhich, if you're still reading, brings me to my main point. Back in November, TfL's Stakeholder Engagement department launched a major consultation to see what local residents thought of their proposed bus changes in the E3 area. You probably saw the consultation document on the TfL website, on the heavily-frequented "Bus route consultations" webpage. Oh you didn't? I doubt that many local residents noticed it either. There were no posters at bus stops, and nothing dropped through the letterbox of residents living along the route. Library users might have spotted a leaflet, and apparently there were some in hospitals too, but it was all terribly hit and miss. For non-inquisitive non-internet-enabled stakeholders, bugger all. No surprise, then, that elderly Tesco shoppers noticed nothing amiss until seven months later by which time the changes were imminent. Too late. And this is especially ironic given the content of the original consultation document...
Why make these changes?
The average age of the population is increasing, and more people are finding it difficult to walk some distance to get a bus. Even for younger people a long walk can be difficult with children or heavy shopping.
updated bus stop at Bow Church Oops. Meanwhile the Bus Stop Route Number Updater has already been out removing all trace of the S2 from the East End's bus stops. Alien numbers have appeared for buses that don't yet quite exist, because this is a change that cannot be reversed. And the results of the consultation have also been just been released, less than a week before the new services begin, with TfL finally admitting that their proposals aren't perfect...
"During the consultation period a number of people noted that route 488 would not provide a suitable replacement to route S2 going to Bromley-By-Bow Tesco. Route 488 will still serve Bromley-By-Bow Tesco's. Passengers will now need to use the underpass in order to access the northbound service. We are continuing to investigate how Bromley-By-Bow Tesco and surrounding areas could be better served in future."
In fact, TfL's proposals haven't changed a bit since the consultation was launched. All the changes they proposed in November are going ahead - same buses, same routes, same roads. Even though they've uncovered problems, even though they're creating difficulties that weren't there before, they're still pressing forward. Nobody's pausing to reflect, or amend, or come up with something better. The entire consultation exercise appears to have been a box-ticking sham to confirm what TfL were already planning to do anyway. Pity. So from Saturday, if you see any struggling stakeholders trying to lug their shopping underneath the A12, please give them a hand. And do say sorry.

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