This weekend's two other new bus routes were the 218 and 306. They overlap.
I say new, but the North Acton end of the 218 used to be served by the 440, the Acton to Hammersmith core used to be served by the 266 and the Fulham end of the 306 used to be served by the 391. These aren't genuinely new routes, this is just TfL shortening three other routes and joining up the leftovers.
Also the 218 and 306 could have been one new bus route, but no. Instead TfL have constructed two shorter overlapping routes, at five miles apiece, because shorter routes are more reliable. It also enables them to use single deckers at one end and double deckers at the other, and to run an increased frequency in the middle.
Let's ride both.
[NEW] Route 218: North Acton to Hammersmith Location: London west Length of journey: 5 miles, 45 minutes
The 218 begins its journey alongside North Acton Square, a windswept piazza which workmen are attempting to evacuate before Christmas. Here we find a shelter and two bus stop poles, bafflingly organised. Bus Stop Z has a 218 timetable but not a 218 tile. The other stop has a 218 tile but is actually a bus stand, so clearly states "Buses do not pick up passengers here". But in reality they do, because the driver can't reverse back to stop Z and start there, indeed there's likely another vehicle parked behind. This is exactly the kind of contradictory cock-up we have come to expect from TfL's Bus Stop Team in recent years, and I bet they can't be arsed to come back and fix it.
North Acton is an increasingly highrise hotspot, as in "Aha, here's a station with good connections to central London, let's build lots of tall apartment blocks around it." The odd old building hangs on, like the turreted Castle pub, but otherwise the multi-coloured boxy towers are winning. It's good to escape, even if queuing to cross the A40 takes some time. Anyone heading for Acton shouldn't be taking the 218 - we're going all round the houses - but boarding route 440 instead. Until last week it was the 440 which went all round the houses, but that's now been switched to the main road to provide a better bus service at future Crossrail station Acton Main Line. I do hope local residents are keeping up.
And it's not just round the houses, it's round the recreation ground. North Acton Playing Fields are a giant green rectangle, upon which children are bouncing tennis balls and kicking footballs, and we'll be deviating around three sides of it. The road gets a bit narrow at times, but our driver's persistence is appreciated by local residents who flag us down on each flank. In the distance the towers of North Acton erupt incongruously above a row of semis. But the true attraction on the northwest corner is sight of the official coffeestop from The Apprentice, the legendary Bridge Cafe, where the losing team gather to debate failure and pass blame. A stack of souvenir You're Fired mugs is on display, and up for sale, in the window.
Back on Noel Road we pass an abundance of palm trees on street corners and a cluster of Japanese businesses outside West Acton station. Negotiating past another 218 coming the other way takes some doing. And just when I think the journey's going uneventfully an old lady boards, with questions, and attempts to engage the driver in conversation. He has to open his door to hear her, but seems unable to provide all the reassurance she needs. Unsatisfied she works her way up the now busy bus, her eyes seeking out a spare seat next to a passenger she can moan to as the ride progresses. She selects me.
It's always been the 440 along here, she says, which was good because that went to Chiswick and she likes shopping there. They used to have a Clarks shoe shop in Chiswick, but it's gone now, the high street's not the same. She's very cross about the 218 because that doesn't go to Chiswick, and that means she'll have to change and she's not sure where. She tells me how she's fought several local campaigns before on diverse topics, and how good the local schools are, and how two of her 93 year-old friends died recently, and how good the Christmas decorations are at Chiswick Business Park. Like Lego, that's what they remind her of, like blocks of Lego. I don't risk telling her it hasn'talways been the 440 along here, but I do suggest she gets out by the marketplace. She gets out by the Old Town Hall instead, and I wish her luck.
It's now quite busy aboard, this being the stop where the 266 newly terminates, so anyone who's Hammersmith-bound has to cram into our 29-seater. Folk in Christmas jumpers are spilling out of several pubs. A dozen mopeds are lined up on the pavement outside McDonalds. The Art Deco cinema building now contains a climbing wall. And beyond Acton Central station hurrah, TfL's Bus Stop Team have totally mucked up the tiling again. What they should have done is remove the 266 tiles and put up 218 tiles instead, but instead they've added the 218s and left the 266s in place, ensuring that passengers may continue waiting for a bus that's never coming. I've got a list of the seven consecutive bus stops along The Vale at which this error has been made (VQ VP VR VN VS VM and VT), in case anyone's ever interested.
[NEW] Route 306: Acton Vale to Fulham, Sands End Location: London west Length of journey: 5 miles, 50 minutes
I could have stayed aboard the 218 to Hammersmith bus station, and rest assured I have, but for narrative purposes let's switch to the alternative 306. It's a double decker so has a better view of its surroundings, plus it's less crowded, mainly because it's going somewhere nobody around here has heard of. My driver decides to stir things up by failing to change the destination on the display so it still says Acton Vale. I can hear the blinds whirring after we set off.
The first stop is called Second Avenue and the second stop is called First Avenue, just for a laugh. After this comes the painfully slow right turn into Askew Road, the traffic lights only allowing through a dribble at a time. But Askew Road is a meandering middle class delight, the kind of quirky Zone 2 neighbourhood Time Out goes crazy for, mixing Georgian terraces with bijou outlets like Monkey Temple, Happy Sky and Ginger Pig. If you live close by, you've done well. We appear to be running just ahead of a 218 so are picking up plenty of passengers. Last week Askew Road was only served by the 266, but now it has two new routes going the same way at increased total frequency, so everyone's a winner.
Top marks to our driver for pausing to let a blind man cross the road ahead of us, even before he's stepped onto the other half of the zebra crossing. Paddenswick Road is perhaps even more pleasant, though lacking in shops (if that's your measure of desirability). Ravenscourt Park (the park) is accessible alongside one of the older houses, and Ravenscourt Park (the station) hidden somewhere beneath the viaduct at the far end. Because King Street is one-way we have to approach Hammersmith via the backstreets, past a lot of cosy-looking pubs and the rear end of a Christmas market. Everyone in the know gets out beside the Hammersmith & City line station rather than enduring an extra stop across the gyratory and a lengthy twiddle round the bus station.
This is where the 218 terminates, at the lower bus station, whereas the 306 continues via the upper bus station. This divergence is only truly annoying for passengers heading back the other way, who have to decide whether to wait at the Upper or Lower for half the buses to Askew Road, and no way of knowing which is best.
Now for the bit of the 306 that used to be the 391 - initially heading east, then making a break for the Thames. Hammersmith Road has become an odd mishmash of glassy offices, mansion blocks and redbrick Victorian. The 21st century appears to be winning. Before we get to Olympia it's time to turn off down North End Road and follow it for just over a mile down to Fulham. This will take twenty minutes, thanks to bad traffic, especially the queue to cross the A4 which takes six attempts because the yellow box is never quite empty enough. There is much honking.
I spot one lady checking the posters @LDNBusUpdates have taped to a bus shelter, because they've been busy here too. She's ultimately not interested, but the family waiting outside West Kensington station are, and up they come to join me on the upper deck. Daughter wants the front seat so she can pretend to drive the bus, so Daddy sits alongside and humours her, then Mummy shuffles in next to me so as not to be left out. "Have you been drawing on your hand again?" she asks. "Pink label Christmas trees are better than yellow label." "I don't think we've got time to go back for your glasses." "Daddy's being silly now, isn't he?"
North End Road is an eye opener for those who think Fulham's upmarket. It starts posh, with billboards advertising designer handbags, but eventually descends into pawnbrokers, jerk chicken and those minimarkets with colourful plastic containers stacked outside, before finally returning to creperie respectability. Iceland is packed, the cake boutique with ice-white decor dazzlingly empty. At the end of the street Daddy guesses wrongly which stop the family should alight at, and the trio face a hike back across the Broadway. Meanwhile our 306 is proceeding unhindered riverward, into the mean streets beyond the New Kings Road.
Welcome to the moneyed world of Chelsea Harbour and Imperial Wharf, luxury Thameside bastions built upon former gasworks and industrial powerhouses. We pass several recently demolished zones awaiting transformation into prime real estate, and Laura Ashley's Head Office, and signs listing the byelaws of the pseudo-public promenades beyond. Most residents take taxis if they need to get anywhere, or hop onto a train at the Overground station the developers gifted. But the 306 is always there if they feel like slumming it, finally pulling up at a temporary stop opposite a two-floor Sainsbury's, and does anyone fancy a slow haul back to Hammersmith?