diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 15, 2014

Around 1990 a whole suite of Docklands 'D' buses was introduced to make connections with the Isle of Dogs. The DLR wasn't so extensive in those days, and the Jubilee line had yet to be extended, and bankers needed a network of buses to help get them to work. The current D3 wasn't one of those, it was introduced a decade later using a redundant number, and followed pretty much the same route as it does today. And that's a wildly twisty route - barely three miles end to end as the crow flies, but over ten on the bus. Only the driver, or a fool, would ride the lot.

 Route D3: Bethnal Green - Crossharbour
 Length of journey: 11 miles, 50 minutes

London buses flock to hospitals like moths to a flame, with the D3 drawn to two. It kicks off in the leafy avenues surrounding the London Chest Hospital, deathly quiet at weekends, and a short walk from Victoria Park. Only two of us are waiting, the other considerably younger than me but with the inner confidence of a regular traveller. I climb aboard and wave my Oyster card at the reader... which doesn't beep. "Take a seat, it's not ready yet," says the driver, in a weary yet particularly trusting manner. The iBus display also has yet to kick into action, and I mention this only because it will turn out to be significant later. In fact quite soon.

We squeeze out of the sidestreets onto Cambridge Heath Road, where suddenly many passengers pour on board beside the exit from the Central line subway. And as we turn onto Bethnal Green Road, Emma Hignett's automated voice kicks in with an unexpected lie. "This bus is on diversion. Please listen for further announcements." We very much aren't on diversion, we're going the completely normal way, past a bustling selection of shops and the general E2 massive. I can hear the sound of much beeping from the front cab as the driver attempts to reset the system. The iBus display gets one stop right and then fails again, as Emma's dulcet tones continue to fib about our diversionary status. We pass the house built on the site of the house where the Krays used to live, and a bus stop called Fakruddin Street, which Emma usually pronounces extremely carefully.

The majority of passengers alight as we graze the Royal London Hospital, where we should be carrying straight on except there's a red metal sign blocking the middle of the road. The driver yells to confirm the news, that this bus is about to go on diversion, and suddenly everyone else skedaddles. They've judged how long the alternative route is going to be and wisely escaped, leaving only me to enjoy the mile-long Aldgate deviation. And unexpected silence. It's finally Emma's moment to shine and make her diversion announcement properly, except she doesn't, despite having made it repeatedly and inappropriately earlier on. I smile, because this is narrative gold and means I won't have to spend eight paragraphs simply repeating what I can see out of the window.

Out of the window I can see all sorts of things I wasn't expecting - the textile shops of the Whitechapel Road, the pristine skyscrapers of Aldgate and the luxury flats being erected where News International used to stand. I decide that this extended loop is a good time to touch in, so surprise the driver by appearing behind him and beeping. He kindly checks that I'm not being too greatly disadvantaged by the diversion, and then continues with my one-man tour of the East End. I'm expecting someone else to join us, surely, as we finally rejoin the correct route on The Highway, but no, it seems I'm about to get Wapping all to myself too.

The D3 is one of two buses to serve this compact riverside community, its cobbled backstreets notorious for their narrow twisting nature. But the driver's clearly well practised and hurtles along, judging the gaps between the speed bumps perfectly so as not to have to slow down. A pop-up dockside market is underway, where a small girl hiked up on her father's shoulders waves to us as we zip by. Back on the main road we continue to make up for lost time, taking advantage of an empty bus lane to undertake the Limehouse traffic. But then my solo run is up, as a diminutive shopper flags us down and drags her spotty wheely basket aboard... for two stops only.

There is no rush of bankers heading for Canary Wharf today, only the temporary company of an oversized man in a graceless parka. The estate's security guards raise the barrier for us as we approachWestferry Circus - they look as if they're glad to have something to do this far outside normal working hours. Alone again after the DLR drop-off I realise I'm about to be treated to my second private detour. A major development on Heron Quays, and a plethora of water nearby, means a riproaring alternative route is temporarily required. We dip underneath the new Crossrail station, head briefly onto the dual carriageway and then, really, up the backroad past the cinema? I've never been right to the end before and down into the tunnel, where Canary Wharf's secret delivery entrance leads off beneath the towers. It's been good this special diversion, if a proper timewaster... and no, of course Emma hasn't mentioned it.

At last we're back on the proper route, and about to undertake a spiral round the Isle of Dogs. The D3 exists to distribute the residents of Millwall and Cubitt Town around the peninsula, but two other buses do the same and today they're clearly taking all the strain. This and the fact that if you really wanted to go to Asda at the end of the route you could walk faster that the looping path we're tracing. I can sense the driver edging up to bus stops in a "you don't really want me, do you?" manner, and accelerating triumphantly when body language indicates "no". Eventually two ladies call his bluff and actually get on, though again not for long, more like they couldn't be bothered to walk for a few hundred metres.

The rim of the island is a fascinating mix of habitats, from shiny apartments paid for by annual bonuses to out-of-sight out-of-mind council flats. We also kink into the interior for a bit up the delightfully named Spindrift Avenue, where actual dockers would have lived back in the day, and where a "20 Slow Down" sign lights up as we pass through. No chance. Light loadings and lack of traffic on Manchester Road allows the driver to speed up to the extent that the seat in front of me vibrates and hammers repeatedly against my kneecaps. It therefore comes as light relief when we finally pull into the 1980s technovillage on Marsh Wall, and curl round to the supermarket car park where several buses terminate. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed my chauffeured private dash through Docklands, but the D3 is a route that feels like it's on diversion even when it's not.

» route D3 - route map
» route D3 - timetable
» route D3 - live bus map
» route D3 - route history
» route D3 - The Ladies Who Bus

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