Yesterday the way you board buses on route 8 changed. Previously you could enter through any of the three doors and tap in on the reader behind. Now you can only enter at the front.
From 9 August, customers will only be able to board New Routemaster buses on Route 8/N8 using the front door. We are making this change to ensure that everyone pays the right fare. We will review what happens during the pilot scheme before introducing front door boarding on other routes operated by New Routemaster buses.
Previously when buses arrived at Bus Stop M - the first stop on the route - all three doors opened. Now only the front door does.
The rear door has a new sticker on it with two instructions. One says Board bus via front door and the other says Please use card reader by driver. Red circular symbols reinforce the message that boarding is prohibited. The sticker appears twice so that it can be read even when the door is open.
The middle doors also have new stickers on them. It's much the same design as on the rear door, but with a big arrow pointing to where the front door is. It also has a wheelchair symbol on a blue background, because a blue background is the internationally-recognised signage format for (erm, which one is it again... ah yes) a positive instruction. Wheelchair users can indeed board here. Buggy pushers are not mentioned.
The stickers are stuck to the bottom half of the window, so can be easily missed. I watched one young man at Bus Stop M march confidently right up to the doors, then wonder why they weren't opening, having completely missed the fact that the answer was staring him in the stomach.
What's interesting is that fresh stickers have also started appearing on other bus routes using Bus Stop M, namely the 25, 425 and 488. These stickers are a lot smaller and a lot simpler - all they say is No entry except ♿. They're also positioned higher up on the doors. I'd like to suggest that a simple message at eye level is more practical than a complicated three-part message lower down.
If you do step inside the bus at the middle or rear doors, most likely because somebody else was getting off, the card readers are still there. However they no longer function. The yellow pad has been covered by a sticker showing a yellow pad with a red line across it, and the display has been covered by a sticker saying Card reader no longer in use. Underneath, in smaller letters, it says Please board bus by front door and use card reader by driver. Given that you have already boarded the bus at this point, the advice comes too late.
Yesterday morning I took a ride on route 8 from Bow to Liverpool Street, and back again, to see how the new system was getting on. I can assure you that all of the events I'm about to describe actually happened.
Bow to Liverpool Street • At Bus Stop M I stood in front of the middle doors to see what would happen. They opened. It seems I caught a bus operated by a rebel driver who had decided to open all three doors at every single stop for the entire journey. This did not happen on the way back. • At a stop in Bow, two passengers entered by the middle doors and two at the rear. Three walked up to the front and tapped in, but the fourth cheerfully nipped upstairs and enjoyed a free ride. • At another stop in Bow, four people entered via the wrong doors. By the time the miscreants had worked out they needed to board at the front, the doors had closed. • At another stop in Bow, a dozen people were spread out along the pavement waiting to board. Those entering through the middle and rear doors then forced their way forwards towards the driver's cab, against the flow of passengers entering the bus correctly. • A lady who boarded through the middle doors decided not to force her way to the front of the bus so sat down without paying. She looked uncomfortable throughout her journey, as if she'd really rather not have done that. • A young woman boarded at the front but bypassed the driver, expecting to be able to tap in by the middle doors. When this proved impossible she alighted from the bus and boarded again at the front. • An elderly lady with a shopping trolley boarded via the middle doors and made no attempt to tap in before sitting down. • A lady boarded via the middle doors, 'tapped in' on the defunct card reader and sat down without realising her card hadn't registered. • At a stop in Shoreditch the rear door opened so slowly that a man headed to the middle doors instead, then realised the card reader wasn't working and barged his way up to the front.
Liverpool Street to Bethnal Green • At Liverpool Street station everyone boarded via the front door except for a partially-sighted lady who headed for the middle doors (like she normally does). Before she could enter the bus the doors started closing, very nearly trapping her stick in the doors before she was rescued by an additional member of staff. She was escorted to the front door, then had to make her way back down the bus to find a seat - an extra trek which wouldn't previously have been necessary. She almost managed to sit down in time before the bus driver drove off. • The extra member of staff I mentioned was wearing a hi-vis jacket labelled 'Driver Mentor'. He had the look of someone who'd been a driver once but was approaching retirement, and had been sent out to keep an eye on operations on Day One. • At a stop in Broadgate, the Driver Mentor yelled down the bus "Can you board by the front doors please?" • At a stop in Shoreditch, the Driver Mentor stepped off the bus to yell down the pavement "Can you board by the front doors please?" • At a stop in Bethnal Green, after yelling the usual phrase to no effect, the Driver Mentor addressed a lady in a hijab by saying "front... doors' in a slow and somewhat patronising manner. She obeyed.
Bethnal Green to Bow • I'd had enough of the Driver Mentor, so alighted and boarded the next bus. Its driver was unaccompanied, and he followed all the new rules about not opening the middle and rear doors unless this was absolutely necessary. • On the luggage rack I found a discarded leaflet explaining the changes to route 8. I never saw any leaflets anywhere else. You can always tell things are serious when TfL go to the expense of printing a leaflet. • The rear staircase was no being longer used by passengers boarding the bus, only by those alighting, so what a waste of space it now is. • At a stop in Bethnal Green, where nobody wanted to alight, the driver only opened the front doors and everybody dutifully trooped in like they were supposed to. • At another stop in Bethnal Green, where two people wanted to alight, the driver only opened the front doors and they had to ding again to get him to allow them off. • At a stop in Mile End, a passenger engaged the driver in conversation as he alighted through the wrong door. "Today?!" he said. "Ha ha, no more free travel!" • At a stop in Bow, a lady waiting with a suitcase wanted to enter through the rear doors. She was lucky, because somebody wanted to alight so the back doors opened and she climbed aboard. She was unlucky because the card reader wasn't working, so she tried the card readers in the middle and they weren't working either, so she had to abandon her suitcase and walk up to the driver, and she was lucky it was nearly the end of the route and the bus was almost empty, and that was 30 seconds wasted.
I confess I hadn't been expecting to get that much bloggage out of a single there and back journey, especially in the absence of a pushchair or wheelchair to make things genuinely complicated. But Day One is often a teething troubles kind of day, as passengers who've been hardwired to behave in one way have to be nudged to behave in another. It's going to be messy for a while as people make their first journeys under the new regime, but ultimately it's going to be fine. Regular users of route 8 learned to use three-door buses five years ago, and will learn to use them like normal buses again.
All we're seeing here is that change is difficult, and that how you explain that change has consequences. Let's hope TfL learn from their trial on routes 8 and N8, and that rolling out this change on all the other affected routes runs more smoothly. And maybe don't buy any more rear-platformed three-door sweatboxes from a snakeoil salesman again, eh?