Route 488: Bromley-by-Bow - Dalston Junction Location: inner London northeast Length of journey: 6 miles, 35 minutes
Every now and then, but not too often, one of London's bus routes extends. Sometimes there's a new development to connect, sometimes a new road to follow, and sometimes a new part of London to serve. Yesterday the 488 did the latter, extending from Clapton Pond to Dalston Junction. Along the way it nipped down Rendlesham Road and past Shacklewell Green, neither of which had a direct bus service before Saturday. And now they do. So that's great... apart from the huge white elephant at the end, of which more tomorrow. I took a ride.
The 488 starts outside my local supermarket. One day this'll be Britain's first 'TescoTown' - a newbuild hypermarket surrounded by housing, a primary school and hotel. But for now it's just an under-performing retail outlet alongside a concrete dual carriageway. Oh yes, it's an ideal place to get away from. A twelve minute gap between buses is just long enough for a collection of mostly-pensioners with shopping to accumulate in the bus shelter. They don't want to go to Dalston Junction, they don't even want to go to Clapton Pond, they just want to lug a couple of bags of groceries home. Or, on the journey I took, a grubby black pushchair part-filled with bread, milk and olive spread. The old lady pushing this makeshift trolley struggled aboard and up the aisle, then slowly took her seat as the bus edged out onto the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. I assumed she'd be on for a while, but no. As soon as the bus had done its loop-under and reached the bus stop on the opposite side of the road to Tesco, off she pushed. I could have walked through the subway quicker... but she very obviously couldn't. Never underestimate the communal importance of a door-to-door bus service.
On through Bow, dropping off another three-stop passenger, but this one fit enough to have walked. His seat was taken by a bloke with a stepladder, plus a holdall full of tools which took up the entire luggage space. No problem, it's not a busy route the 488. At each stop a poster announced the 488's extension to its new final destination, not that I imagine many E3 residents give a damn about a direct link to Dalston. The last pair of Tesco shoppers hobbled off at Roman Road, because the one thing this famous shopping street no longer has is a decent supermarket. And a few of us meandered on, back under the A12 and through the streets of Hackney Wick. They've got new red-ended bus shelters along Kenworthy Road, I noted, but there was nobody waiting.
Along Homerton High Street a corpulent boy appeared in the doorway, begging with the driver to wait for his mum. She panted up several seconds later, clearly even more unused to running than her son. "It's not a taxi," he taunted, although our driver had kindly paused as if it were. They stayed on through the detour round Homerton Hospital, then nipped off quarter of a mile later, sugary drinks in hand. Another group of three kids lasted only one stop, this time each clutching a box of ketchup-soaked chips. There appeared to be an inverse correlation between the number of calories a 488 passenger consumed and how long they stayed aboard. Why walk the streets of Hackney when there's a waistline to increase?
We soon pulled in opposite Clapton Pond, where the 488 used to terminate. I wondered whether anybody would get on to do the new bit, but nobody did. This could have been due to the travelling public not yet realising the new bit existed, but it was probably because TfL haven't yet removed the plate saying "488 alighting point only" from the bus stop. At least I wasn't alone on the bus, a mother and daughter stayed aboard as we ventured into newly-served streets. Mmm, narrow roads and speed humps - always a challenge for both driver and passengers. We welcomed two more passengers on board at a spanking-fresh bus stop in the Nightingale Estate. An elderly couple this, one with a walking stick, and precisely the kind of Hackney residents this extended bus route is designed to assist. Going all the way.
At a sharp corner on the edge of Hackney Downs, two 488s met. That won't have happened before, but the two drivers deftly squeezed and manoeuvred their vehicles through without quite scraping anything. Across to ShacklewellGreen, which had the look of an engulfed village centre whose time had passed. The 488's arrived too late to save Jeff's Grocery from closure, but maybe the remaining handfulofshops and Caribbean cafe are ripe for renaissance. I spotted a few residents looking up as our bus passed by, unused to seeing a big red vehicle round these parts. But nobody climbed aboard, we were too near our destination for that.
Tell a lie, two girls did. They were clutching a big white box which I suspect contained a cake, and were evidently unwilling to carry it down busy Kingsland High Street on foot. Further conclusive evidence of food-related laziness, I fear, or perhaps they thought the bus was going further than it was. I thought the bus was going further than it was. I was expecting the 488 to roll into the brand new bus station beside Dalston Junction, the one specially built for it, but no. Instead the "this bus terminates here" message kicked in at the stop on the opposite side of the road, and we remaining passengers had to get out and use the pedestrian crossing. The bus drove on empty, when it could perfectly easily have kept us aboard. And it's only when I followed on foot that I discovered the huge white elephant I mentioned earlier. Oh my word. And yes, I'll tell you more tomorrow.