One of the few TfL transport projects to escape Boris's 2008 budget cull was the East London Transit. Yes, the East London Transit, a project which launched last month to so little fanfare that most Londoners probably aren't even aware that it exists. This lack of publicity is probably down to three important factors. Firstly the ELT is merely a posh name for a new bus route. Secondly the ELT only serves the boroughs of Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham, where few of the capital's movers and shakers deign to live. And thirdly the ELT runs to a destination so spectacularly unwelcoming that you'll almost certainly never feel the need to use it. To Dagenham Dock. How could I resist?
Rather than ride the entire length of the East London Transit, I skipped the busier Ilford end and kicked off my journey in Barking. I wanted to start by tracking down "The Catch" - the fishing net sculpture deemed so important that it stars on B&D's very own Olympic pin badge. It even has its own website, because Barking and Dagenham take their public realm art projects extremely seriously. I eventually found The Catch in the middle of a roundabout, two curved aluminium nets glistening with metal mackerel in memory of the town's Victorian fishing industry. Almost kinetic, and pleasingly intricate, although inaccessible on foot and unlikely ever to become a major tourist draw. [photo]
My bus departed from a stop just up the road outside Barking station. There are two East London Transit routes, unimaginatively numbered EL1 and EL2. Both run along exactly the same route, except that the EL2 runs a handful of stops further at the Dagenham end. Obviously I waited for an EL2, then took my place on the top deck alongside estate residents returning home after shopping. They're absolutely nothing special these buses, just brand spanking new (at the moment) and painted with a rather swish swirly orange-y red design. But they are allowed through the town centre, via a route which the 369 (which they replace) was never permitted to travel. And they do have rather posh bus shelters, sleekly designed in red and white, and with more than your average protection from wind and rain.
It didn't take long for shops and lemonade highrises to give way to parks and houses. Soon we were queueing at the mighty A13, waiting to cross into the netherworld on the lonely road to Creekmouth. One day there'll be an "EL3" heading straight on towards the Thames, serving yet-to-close factories and yet-to-be-built estates. Instead my EL2 turned off into Bastable Avenue, spine road for the Thames View Estate - a mile-long isolated community populated with baselineaccommodation. Some have lived here for 50 years and have Union Jacks fluttering in the garden, others have been living here only since their last country kicked them out. Minimal community facilities keep things ticking over, but there's no Thames view here, only a skyline of pylons and post-industrial brownfield.
After a spurious "dedicated busway" across an elongated roundabout, we drew up at a lone bus stop beside a building site. Several highrises have been demolished here, in whose place B&D council is now promising "local houses for local people" in a desperate attempt to keep long-standing residents on-side. This remote outpost is the point where the EL1 gives up, but the EL2 braves four more stops across some of the most desolate landscape in London [photo]. We passed one last chunk of more modern housing before following a long road across hundreds of acres of marshy bleakness. One day, when Britain has more money than sense, people may actually live here. In March 2010, however, the only inhabitants were a herd of windswept horses perched on a fenced-off embankment, and sooner them than me [photo]. An increasing number of pylons drew the bus closer and closer to Barking Power Station, approaching through an auto-related industrial estate, before finally drawing up at our destination. Of which more tomorrow.