diamond geezer

 Monday, October 24, 2016

London has a new bus. A secret bus.

Sorry, I may be over-hyping this.

 Route 563: Upper Holloway - Holloway
 Length of journey: 0.5 miles, 3 minutes

It's never ideal to close the A1, but sometimes needs must. The railway bridge at Upper Holloway needs replacing, and has done for a while, with weight restrictions looming if nothing were done. TfL are therefore throwing £25m at the problem, and also taking advantage of the closure of the Gospel Oak to Barking line to get things done. The existing bridge will be demolished and replaced over the New Year, and a additional service duct has already been constructed alongside to carry pipes and cables. In the meantime relocating the pipes and cables is proving awkward work, with the result that the Holloway Road will be either partly or fully closed from this weekend until mid-January. This weekend has been one of the full closures, with the knock-on effect of diverting all the usual traffic elsewhere, including five bus routes. Which is where the 563 comes in.

Often it's only when a road is closed that travellers realise how much they rely on it. The Holloway Road is the only road to cross the Overground for almost a mile, so its closure is sending drivers and bus passengers on an awkward lengthy diversion along semi-inappropriate streets. Meanwhile those living along the broken stretch suddenly have no bus service, which isn't ideal. Those to the north of Upper Holloway station can walk to Archway, it's not far, even if it is uphill. But those living to the south are instead being offered a temporary shuttle service down to the Nag's Head where they can catch numerous other buses, and that's the 563. And it's free. And it's secret.

Not completely secret, obviously, because it runs with a notice saying 563 in the window, and because TfL have employed lots of volunteers to stand around at relevant bus stops and funnel people towards it. But quite secret, for reasons we will now discover, because this is yet another post about how a new bus route hasn't quite been adequately introduced.

I didn't see any posters at, or near, Archway tube station, regarding where to go to catch a bus. The bus stop on the corner with St John's Way appears to have been removed, because it's not needed again until January, so there were no clues there. A couple of hi-vis-wearing officials were standing nearby, but their role appeared to be observing and chatting, and they didn't offer any advice. At the last bus stop before the railway bridge a proper pink-clad volunteer was waiting, and she was charming and helpful. To help me on my way she gave me a leaflet, a double-sided full colour leaflet no less, with full details of road closure dates and bus diversions. But although the leaflet mentioned every existing bus and where to catch it, it didn't once mention the 563.

There is a pdf which mentions all the bus diversions and the 563. It's available on TfL's website, on a special page set up to provide information on the Upper Holloway bridge closure. The text on this page doesn't mention the 563 either, nor the fact that a free shuttle bus exists, but it is mentioned on the pdf along with a complete description of the route. And yet the print-out being freely offered to the citizens of Holloway, at this bus stop and several others along its route, is definitively 563-free. I can only presume that either the people who printed it are inept, or the 563 is indeed a secret bus.

There is plenty going on at the railway bridge, you'll be pleased to hear. A number of diggers were in evidence yesterday afternoon, and several men in protective clothing doing stuff, and a rather disturbing-looking tanker from a 'Suction Excavation Hire Service'. All the action was on the station side of the bridge, where the cables and pipes are being relocated, but with the full width required for more awkward manoeuvres. Contractors have been charged with working 24 hours a day to get the job done quicker, with noisier activities restricted to daytime hours. Meanwhile the main A1 road to either side was uncharacteristically silent, with only the occasional car approaching and turning off up a minor sidestreet to take advantage of 'local access'.

The 563 starts at a temporary bus stop to the south of the railway bridge. Being a temporary stop there is no indication of what stops here, nor that what stops here is special, maybe even a little bit secret. Only if you ask the hi-vis volunteers do you find out, or if the bus is actually parked up waiting to depart, which to be fair it is quite a bit of the time. The destination blind says Special Service, and a card saying 563 has been stuck lower down in the window. 563 Upper Holloway & Holloway, Nag's Head, it reads. And it turns out that one of these endpoints may be a lie.

"Free bus," said the driver, chirpily, because it's not every day you get to tell passengers this. He made his announcement to eight separate passengers, which I thought was quite a healthy number for a secret bus going not very far every ten minutes.

We headed off down the hill, stopping at a bus stop labelled "This bus stop is not in use". That's odd, I thought, because the bus stop clearly was in use, just not by its normal buses, only by the secret bus. The volunteer waiting by the bus shelter had a sheaf of leaflets stuffed in her pocket, again the not-quite-helpful kind on which the 563 was never mentioned.

We headed off down the hill, stopping at a bus stop labelled "This bus stop is not in use", opposite another bus stop labelled "This bus stop is not in use" at which another 563 was stopping. That's fairly typical, I thought. A passenger who didn't speak English very well tried to board. She asked whether we stopped at Highbury & Islington, and probably didn't understand that we didn't, but did understand the word 'free', so came for the ride.

We headed off down the hill, stopping at a bus stop which was very much in use, being the first after the diversion. "All change," said the driver, "this bus terminates here." This surprised me, because we hadn't yet reached the Nag's Head, indeed the map on the TfL website shows the 563 going two stops further. But no, the driver was off to turn his bus around alone, and our three minutes on the secret service were over.

Heading northbound the 563 does indeed depart from the Nag's Head bus stop, opposite Selby's department store. But you'd be hard pushed to tell. The 563 doesn't appear on the bus stop flag, nor is a timetable provided, nor does it show up on the appropriate digital webpage. There's also no poster or notice announcing its presence, and the Countdown display is switched off, or at least it was yesterday. Two volunteers were standing around when I was there, but they were talking to each other, and there was no hint to anyone waiting that it might be a good idea to talk to them about potential trouble ahead. When the 563 turned up they made a fuss, but the rest of the time they didn't, which left plenty of people boarding buses that were about to be seriously diverted when this might not have been what they wanted.

I caught one of these other buses back to Archway to see what happened. Tons of people poured off as I boarded, having been warned by an electronic message that a diversion was coming up - perhaps they'd guessed how long it was going to take. We made a good start up Tufnell Park Road, but this is no trunk road, more a residential street lined with parked cars, and progress soon slowed to a crawl. A lot of the problem was buses attempting to pass each other, five times more than usual, and another issue was waiting to filter through the traffic lights at the far end. All in all we took 20 minutes to escape, during which time I could have walked direct from Nag's Head to Archway and beat the bus.

This was on Sunday afternoon, hardly the busiest time of the week, so you can imagine how grim this week's rush hours might be. The Upper Holloway Bridge is closed all this week, then next weekend and two weekends in November, then all the way from Christmas to mid-January, and the remainder of the time open northbound only, It's not ideal, but it's got to be done, and the end result will be a bridge which should stand for 120 years. In the meantime TfL are running a marvellous free community service - a digitally invisible secret bus running up and down a silent road stopping at bus stops that are supposedly not in use and terminating early. Another triumph.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream