diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 29, 2018

A 48 hour strike on the DLR has been impacting on public transport across East London. I went out yesterday morning at the end of the rush hour to give the disrupted system a test drive. I wonder if things'll be any better today.

TfL have put together a special DLR strike webpage to tell customers what's going on. It's not especially helpful, except as a portal to other information. Yesterday morning it stated "DLR services will be severely impacted", but failed to say what the impact actually was. This paragraph was later updated to explain what was and wasn't running, but too late to assist rush hour travellers.

The DLR strike webpage also promised that "extra buses will run on key routes along the DLR network", but failed to say what those routes are, assuming we don't need to know. A single tweet at 7:12am by @TfLBusAlerts confirmed they were routes 108 115 135 147 277 474 D3 D7 and D8, but that was easily missed, and hasn't been repeated since. No rail replacement buses have been provided, because TfL prefers not to waste money like that these days, given that passengers can usually use proper paid-for services instead.

In lieu of this minimal information, the strike webpage directs passengers to Twitter, Facebook and email for up-to-date news, and to the Journey Planner for replanning their route. TfL put great faith in their Journey Planner as a solution to passenger disruption, assuming you can easily access it even if you can't. We'll have a laugh at the Journey Planner's expense later.

The other place passengers have been prompted to look for information is the TfL Status Updates webpage. Even this failed yesterday, because the underlying software can't cope with an unusual strike. "There are currently no major line disruptions reported on the network", screamed the grey box slapped on top of an empty map. You had to look to the side to see the DLR was in fact operating a Reduced Service, and click on that to see how badly.
Due to strike action the service is only operating between LONDON CITY AIRPORT and CANNING TOWN and between BECKTON and POPLAR until approximately 16:00. There is no service on the rest of the line. Your tickets will be accepted on the local buses and the Underground and Overground.
It would have been really useful to see this on a map, particularly to get some idea of what wasn't running, but no. Once again the Status Updates page has failed to be as responsive as it should be, and even though TfL must have realised this yesterday, nobody had the coding skills, permission or opportunity to put it right.

And all of this was before I ventured out of the house to give five different journeys a try. Wish me luck.

Bow ChurchAll Saints
Normal DLR journey: 4 minutes
My journey: 40 minutes (28 minute wait + 12 minute bus ride)
In the absence of a train, the 108 bus is very much the best way to travel three stops down the line. Or at least it is if one turns up. Even though the route was running with extra buses, meaning the frequency should have been better than usual, no 108 turned up for nigh on half an hour. When one did finally arrive it was of course very busy, but thankfully capacious enough for us all to squeeze on, so off we set. The scrolling message on the electronic display read "No DLR service today due to strike action", an over-simplified summary which wasn't actually true. By the time we reached All Saints two other 108s had overtaken us, these the promised extra buses ferried in from other operators, too late to be of any use. It would have been considerably quicker to walk, but also considerably wetter.

All SaintsCanary Wharf
Normal DLR journey: 4 minutes
My journey: 32 minutes (26 minute wait + 6 minute bus ride)
The platforms at All Saints were chained off, with signs saying 'Station closed. Refer to information displayed". The information displayed said 'No DLR service from this station due to RMT strike action', and advised referring to local tube, rail and bus maps. The local bus map said two bus routes went to Canary Wharf, the D7 all round the houses and the D8 straight there. I found the appropriate stop down the road and waited for the D8. Five D7s came instead. Some were extras slipped in from elsewhere, essentially offering a free ride, and several Docklands-goers hopped aboard despite the considerably longer ride. I should have joined them, I'd have got there faster, as once again the augmented bus service failed to deliver.

Canary WharfPoplar
Normal DLR journey: 3 minutes
My journey: 8 minutes on foot
Even though Canary Wharf DLR station was closed, two helpful ladies in pink jackets were available to proffer advice on the downstairs concourse. They looked up Poplar on the sheets of paper they were holding, and suggested taking the D8 bus. Or you could walk, they added, which was by far the most sensible option. Poplar's only a short distance away, on the other side of the Crossrail station, and no buses stop anywhere close. I ignored the advice of the Journey Planner, which was a 19 minute Jubilee/DLR round trip via Canning Town, starting with an 8 minute walk to Canary Wharf tube station. And I definitely ignored the 'bus only' suggestion, which was a lunatic half-hour two-bus journey to Blackwall, from where I was expected to walk another 12 minutes back to Poplar. But it was only 8 minutes to walk to Poplar direct, as the very last option on the page stated, and which proved fastest of all.

PoplarRoyal Albert
Normal DLR journey: 11 minutes
My journey: 11 minutes (by DLR)
'No DLR service from this station due to RMT strike action' said the notice plonked outside Poplar station, which was inaccurate, because there was. Management had been operating a limited service between Poplar and Beckton since 07:30, but there was no clue to this at the entrance, so who knows how many potential passengers missed out. On the overbridge above the station three staff in orange hi-vis stood chatting, and carried on chatting while I stood there looking lost for a minute, there being no electronic displays up there to help me out. Down on the platform another member of staff was yelling instructions into a megaphone, but they were hopelessly inaudible upstairs, because throwing personnel at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it.

It turned out trains were only departing from platform 1, but every 8 minutes, which is a better through service than the line normally gets. I noticed that the scrolling message on the platform displays still said ***No DLR service from this station***, contradicting everything Megaphone Boy was shouting, and reality. Only a handful of passengers boarded when the train arrived, but numbers climbed as we headed east, with Canning Town the key draw. The member of staff patrolling the train looked like management, and still felt the need to go round checking our tickets, just like the real operators do. I reached my destination on the Beckton branch in the normal amount of time, barely inconvenienced at all.

London City AirportCanning Town
Normal DLR journey: 6 minutes
My journey: 6 minutes (by DLR)
London City Airport was the only operational DLR station I visited whose posters acknowledged that a limited service was running. 'DLR service until 1600 only', it said, which made me wonder why proper printed posters couldn't have been rolled out in place of misinformation elsewhere. At least a dozen cleaners were socialising on the platform, because they weren't on strike, except there was hardly any litter to pick up along the line because there were hardly any passengers.

A member of staff demanded I tell him where I was heading, and directed me somewhat stridently towards platform 1, whereas I was intrigued by the supposed arrival of a train to Pontoon Dock on platform 2. Sure enough the platform 2 train arrived first, its digital destination blank, and its operator frantically beckoning waiting passengers to come across. An impressively regular service was running, but unusual enough that electronic displays weren't coping particularly well, wrongfooting staff. Still, full marks to the one-off train operator, who delivered a comprehensive and word perfect list of onward travel options as we approached Canning Town.

Alas Canning Town also had out-of-date posters. 'Potential DLR strike action' they said, as they had for days previously, which wasn't helpful when DLR service were actually operating in three directions. The general story seemed to be of a temporary service doing its best, but backed up by insufficient explanation unless you were plugged into all available channels. For those on unserved sections of the DLR (and for everybody after 4pm), finding alternative routes was considerably more awkward, and digital solutions didn't always deliver. With strikes destined to continue until the latest dispute is sorted, it'd be helpful if the dissemination of information was sorted first.

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