Yesterday the Olympic legacy took another minor leap forward, with the official start of bus services to the Athletes Village and to Stratford International station. Except the Athletes Village hasn't reopened yet, nobody wants to go to Stratford International station and the buses aren't stopping there anyway. Just a handful of teething problems, then...
Route D8: Crossharbour - Stratford International This should have been the simplest tweak of all. The D8 already goes to Stratford City, having been diverted there two years back when Westfield opened. The only change is to continue from the bus station, turn left into International Way and pull up two stops later outside the High Speed station. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. I caught the bus from Bow, mildly excited that a fast rail trip to the Kent Coast was now only one bus ride from home. I was clearly alone in that thought. Everyone else aboard was going shopping, except for one rather loud woman who boarded on Stratford High Street and then realised she was on the wrong bus. Even after two years some passengers are still surprised that the D8 doesn't go to Stratford proper, it takes the detour to Westfield, and there are absolutely no stops inbetween. She dinged the bell, she shouted at the driver, she shouted at the passengers, but all to no avail. Eventually she slumped in a seat and waited as we drove half a mile out of her way. At the shopping mall she raced off, followed by a horde consisting of every passenger aboard. Every passenger that is except for two other ladies, and me, who sat and waited. The driver seemed bemused, and made the international sign language gesture for "shoo, get off now". The other ladies said they wanted to go "to the station", so the driver told them this was a station, and they meekly stood and alighted. That just left me. I'm not precisely sure how the ensuing conversation unfolded because the driver's half was almost entirely unintelligible, but I seemed to have won when the doors closed and we pulled off.
The first stop down International Way was closed. I could tell this because it had a "Bus stop not in use" cover over the roundel, and because a cluster of cars had parked in the space. First morning as a fresh new bus stop, and nobody had yet thought to unveil it. And then the last stop down International Way was closed too. This is the final stop, the end of the line, the "this bus terminates here". A bus stop and shelter had been waiting patiently for at least six months, on both sides of the road, but nobody bothered to open them on the first morning they were needed. I stepped off and walked over to Stratford International station, which is still a massively underused facility, while the driver pulled into the bus stand ahead. This is a vast expanse of tarmac, big enough to stable at least a dozen buses or even a fleet of taxis, but there are none of the latter and never more than two of the former. This looks like an entirely wasted space, and for the foreseeable future it is, but there's a lot more development to go round here. There might even be some other terminating bus services at some point, but none are yet in the pipeline. I was back an hour later (it's quite convenient for Waitrose, this) and waited at the first stop on the other side of the road for a return service. No such luck. The D8 driver drove straight past, because this too was still "Bus stop not in use", so I had to walk ahead to somewhere deemed civilisation. So that's a fail, TfL... a brand new bus service officially extended to a terminus that's shut. I wonder if it's any better today?
Route 97: Stratford City - Chingford (via East Village) There's no change in start or finish point for the 97, but instead a fresh deviation at the southern end of the route to serve the Athletes Village. Less than a year after the Paralympics these shoebox flats are almost ready to welcome their first long-term residents, hence the need for a bus service. Just not many bus stops. TfL have only seen fit to add one bus stop in each direction on the way through the Village, which seems a bit paltry and will result in some long walks, but maybe they'll add more later. A more pressing issue at the moment is that the East Village isn't finished, and therefore isn't open to the public. If you try to walk this way a workman stops you, unless you're working on site that is, creating an invisible impermeable pedestrian perimeter. All that we members of the public can do, can now do, is gawp at the new accommodation from the inside of a bus.
There are a lot of multi-storey flats on site, as you'd expect, because several thousand athletes crammed in here last summer. There are some moderate-sized green spaces, a little bland and artificial-looking to be honest, but the surrounding trees have yet to add character. There's a doughnut-shaped school, Chobham Academy, which was previously the 2012 polyclinic but opens to students this month. There's a triangular plaza called Ulysses Place, which has a Tennyson quotation etched out across a low wall. There are workmen sitting on concrete slabs doing nothing much, although presumably they'll be leaving shortly once all's ready. There are no pubs, or corner shops, or churches, or any of the traditional things you might hope to find near a new home, or at least there were none I could see from the top deck. But I did spot a great big gap between here and the Velodrome where lots more housing will be going eventually, as the perimeter of the Olympic Park thickens up. I'd not choose to live here myself, but thousands soon will, and at least they'll be able to take the bus somewhere else.
Route 339: Leytonstone - Shadwell (via East Village) Here's another improbable extension. The 339 meanders through various residential bywaters on its journey from Shadwell, and was extended from Fish Island to Westfield a couple of years ago. It had been hoped to extend it this week to Whipps Cross, but there were problems with finding space, so instead it halts at Leytonstone. Unfortunately there are problems with space here too, so the 339 is forced to use a bus stand 100 yards away from all the other services at the station entrance. Only if you find the apologetic message on one of the bus stops in the western bus station will you be able to find the 339's distant departure point. Don't expect crowds, not least because nobody's got round to adding a timetable yet. I rode from here with one other passenger, on the non-direct route back to Stratford.
One major problem on the journey south was that nobody had yet come along and added the '339' plate to the bus stops. This meant that when a single decker bus turned up, waiting passengers assumed it was their usual service and climbed aboard. One had swiped in before the driver could warn her she wasn't on the bus she was expecting ("no, we're not going to Leyton station"). Others he alerted apologetically before they even had a chance to board ("sorry, you won't be wanting this bus" - and he was right). Stop after stop was numberless, which can only be a temporary aberration, but it didn't help the locals to realise they had a new bus to the shops. And to the doctors. That's the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health & Wellbeing Centre, another 2012 legacy gifted to the community, with the 339 deliberately diverted to stop outside. But again, that's the sole bus stop within the East Village, which seems ludicrously few. And again, the East Village is closed, so this is currently a pointless diversion. And then there's all the stopping at the traffic lights, which in this new part of town stay red for what seems like an age. That may be appropriate in five years time, but it currently means a lot of waiting around for absolutely no traffic at all, because all the signals in E20 have been phased by a pessimist.
Eventually, after not stopping at a number of 'not in use' bus stops, the 339 pulled in alongside the bus station at Stratford City. Not in the bus station, like it used to, but at a separate bus stop over the road. The D8 stops here too, so if you want to catch a bus from Westfield towards Bow (and beyond) you now have to cross the dual carriageway to new bus stop X. Four problems. One, bus stop X doesn't have any numbered plates announcing that the 339 and D8 stop here. Two, bus stop X doesn't yet have any timetables for either of these services. Three, bus stop X has no bus shelter, so when it rains all the Westfield shoppers departing by 339 or D8 are going to get very wet. And four, the original bus stop W on the other side of the road still says the 339 and D8 start there, except they don't. There is a bright yellow notice on stop W detailing the changes, but those who don't spot it will have no chance of dashing across the road in time once they realise their mistake. I'm sure someone'll get round to changing the signage soon, if they haven't already. But it's a stuttering start for these three extended bus services, until the wrinkles are ironed out.
Sunday afternoon update
D8: I caught the bus to Stratford International again. Again everybody else got off at Stratford City, and only I continued to the end. The driver failed to realise that I was aboard, drove past the final stop, pulled into the bus stand, turned off the ignition... and then had to let me out. D8: Both of the bus stops at Stratford International still say 'Bus stop not in use'. Thankfully the outbound D8 driver stopped to pick up passengers on request... 97: ...but the 97 driver refused. It's all a bit hit or miss at Stratford International at the moment. 97: Buses are now stopping inside the East Village (but southbound only). 339: Updated bus maps at Leytonstone station show the wrong bus stop for 339 departures. The online bus map is correct. 339: I waited for a 339 at Leytonstone station, but the driver drove off from the bus stand without once glancing at the pavement. Next bus, 20 minute wait. 339: Someone's gone along since yesterday morning and added '339' plates to the bus stops south from Leytonstone. But they've missed two - one at Ashville Road and one at Leytonstone High Road Thatched House. 339/D8: Bus stop W at Stratford City still says the 339 and D8 stop there, even though they no longer do. 339/D8: Bus stop X at Stratford City still has no numbered plates and no timetables, even though the 339 and D8 now stop there instead.