diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 29, 2015

London's busiest bus service is the 25, which runs from Ilford to Oxford Circus. But sometimes it feels like two bus services split at Bow Church, roughly halfway, which is where the drivers change over. They're based at a bus garage in Leyton, off-route, but are mustered at Bow Church to chat, swap over and clamber up into the cabin. Sometimes when a bus arrives all the passengers are turfed off off to wait for another service, more often they get to wait for a few minutes while the switch occurs, while at certain times of day the changeover is scheduled elsewhere and there's no delay at all.



Mid-route driver changeovers are never fun, although often essential when garages don't coincide with termini. The lingering 25 particularly annoys me when I'm trying to make a quick dash from Bow to Mile End to catch a train, as the changeover can take longer than the whole of the rest of the journey. Another consequence is that several vehicles often pile up outside the DLR station, as waiting 25s get in the way of stopping 25s and other services. In total three other bus services stop here, the 205, 425 and D8, as does the regular A8 coach, next stop Stansted Airport.

So I thought I'd pop down to Bow Church to watch the drivers swap, and the buses queue, and to see how bad the cluster gets. I picked a Friday afternoon, tried to look like I was waiting to travel, and noted down the times that buses arrived and left. I thought I might have to hang around for an hour, but in fact I learned everything I needed to know in less than fifteen minutes. Oh, and there is a point to this, which relates to the imminent arrival of an upgraded Cycle Superhighway. Bear with me.

Here's what happened at eastbound bus stop A between two o'clock and ten past. Imagine that the buses are running from right to left.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(c)  25(d)←D8
2.00: At the start of my survey there are five buses waiting at the bus stop, four of these 25s. The front two 25s (a and b) are empty, the third (c) is waiting while its driver changes over, and the fourth (d) has just arrived. Meanwhile a D8 bus turns up and leaves.

 25(a)  25(b) 25(c) 25(d) 
2.01: The front two (empty) 25s are going nowhere. The second two 25s finish changing over and depart.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e)←205
2.02: The front two 25s are still going nowhere. Another 25 (e) turns up and the driver plays the "this bus will now wait for a short time for a change of driver" announcement. Meanwhile a 205 turns up, drops off its final passengers and heads off round the corner into Bow Garage.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e) 
2.03: On the 25 front, nothing happens. The driver of the third bus is having a chat with a member of bus company staff who's popped aboard.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e) 205
2.04: Another 205 arrives, drops off and departs. The three 25s do nothing.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e)  25(f)←
2.05: Another 25 turns up and joins the back of the queue. A second driver changeover is underway. The first has been underway for three minutes, and shows no signs of completion.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e)  25(f) 
2.06: Tumbleweed.

 25(a)  25(b)  25(e)  25(f) 205
2.07: Here's another 205 to briefly join the party on Bow Road. That's the second time there have been five buses parked up in a bus stop designed for maybe three.

25(a)  25(b)  25(e) 25(f)  25(g)←
2.08: Lots happens. The empty bus at the front of the queue is finally given the nod to drive back (empty) to the garage. The second driver changeover completes, after three minutes, and the passengers finally depart. Yet another 25 turns up to begin the charade, so there are briefly five 25s on this side of the road (and, incidentally, three on the other). But the poor folks on the bus that arrived six minutes ago are still hanging around. Some of them look pretty pissed off by now.

 25(b) 25(e)  25(g)  25(h)←A8
2.09: Finally, thankfully, the new driver of the Marie Celeste faffs his last, and his busload of delayed passengers moves on. Meanwhile the A8 Stansted coach turns up and, what with the majority of the bus stop still blocked, zips straight by without stopping. I wonder what he'd have done if I'd brought a suitcase with me.

 25(b)  25(g)  25(h) 
2.10: This is the quietest it's been for some time - just three buses, still with an empty 25 at the front and with two driver changeovers underway behind. And that's where I'll end my blow by blow account, because the graphic for 2.11 would have been exactly the same. But I did hang around long enough to see bus (g) eventually move off at 2.12, and bus (h) finally leave at 2.14.

Of the five driver changeovers I observed, one took one minute, one took three, one took four, one took five and one took seven. That's an average delay to passengers' journeys of about four minutes. Again I'll remind you that the 25 is the busiest bus route in London, so that's potentially a lot of people's lives cumulatively wasted sitting around in Bow. And whilst I recognise that every changeover has to take some time, it did look like the staff were engaged in a lot of merry gossiping, and in at least one case some thoughtless shilly-shallying. Does the 25 bus run for drivers' convenience or for passengers'?

Of more immediate relevance, the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade is now in full effect in the Bow area, and considerable amounts of construction work are underway. In particular the bus stop I've been surveying is due to be temporarily suspended from mid-September for around six weeks while a bus stop bypass is engineered behind. Where are all the driver changeovers going to take place then? If it's the bus stop opposite the church where additional buses also stop (and which they're digging up as I speak), just how congested might the queues of vehicles then be?

And when the new bus stop bypass has been created at the bus stop I reported on, will the pedestrian island actually be long enough to cope with four, five, maybe even six vehicles all lined up in a row? Cyclists won't care, they'll get to whistle by in their own safe private lane with a smile. But drivers, pedestrians and bus passengers might not find the arrangements quite so convenient once the pavement's been re-engineered. I'm sure the CS2 planners have thought about this. I'm sure we'll be fine.


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