diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 22, 2022

It's the weekend before Crossrail so several bus routes in south Newham have been significantly tweaked to provide better rail connections. "We need more buses at Custom House", they said, "so let's break existing routes and then break others to fill the gaps and then cut others short while we're at it".
The U-shaped 104 has been split into two straighter routes, the 104 and the brand new 304.
The 241 has been curtailed to Prince Regent, so the 474 has been diverted along its former route, so the 330 has been extended to cover the 474's former route.
The incredibly twisty 300 now twists down very different roads.
The 101 no longer goes to Beckton Retail Park, and the 262 now goes no further.
I went out yesterday to experience the changes first hand, and it may not surprise you to hear that the changes have been implemented badly. I know I slag off The Bus Change People a lot, but this is even more of pissup in a brewery than usual. Missing timetables, wrongly-placed tiles, out-of-date maps and useless generic advice all contributed to a lot of mystified passengers and some rather angry ones too.

With changes of this magnitude what you really need is a summary map, but no such map has been provided. I can't even show you a summary map from the original consultation because there wasn't one, plus that consultation's been deleted, plus this is actually two consultations combined, plus a number of the routes aren't doing what was suggested anyway.



So I've made my own summary map, given TfL can no longer be arsed. It's based on the maps they gave up making in 2016 and it's a bit rough and ready, but it's probably the only way you'll get your head round what's going on. Click to embiggen.

See how Custom House is now served by six bus routes (it used to be three). See how you can now get to Custom House from every direction (except south). See how TfL have stopped duplicating the DLR (you can no longer get a bus between Prince Regent and Royal Albert, nor between Pontoon Dock and City Airport). And see how Beckton Asda is now the terminus for five routes (it used to be three) which may be why the bus station was seriously clogged up yesterday.



But this yellow notice is all that's been posted up at affected bus stops. It does mention there's a brand new bus route, so that's a plus, but everything else is unhelpfully vague. It relies on you checking a webpage which, as we discovered with buses in Abbey Wood last weekend, isn't even the page where the changes are listed. Even if you get that far the text doesn't link to the individual route maps on the TfL website, perhaps because nobody's updated those yet so they still show what these buses used to do. Also, although a dozen spider maps have been updated on the TfL website I didn't spot any of these in real life, only old maps rendered obsolete overnight. All that useful information and they keep it to themselves.

The most useful place for proper information would be Custom House station, given TfL have tweaked all these routes ready to cater for onward passengers, but no such luck. The bus stops immediately outside only display timetables for a nightbus, i.e. nothing for the existing 147, the new 304 or the newly diverted 474. The bus stop facing the platforms still has a spider map dated August 2013, so is egregiously wrong, while the bus stop across the road is still stuck in October 2021. I think there's a new spider map just inside the ticket barriers where nobody can yet see it, but there's nothing outside on the footbridge nor any signs pointing to where the buses are nor anything whatsoever useful at ground level.



On my travels I discovered that timetables for the 241 have been updated but not those for any other route, suggesting TfL's contractors only printed one set before heading out in the van. I also discovered several stops where the yellow notice had been stuck on top of a correct timetable concealing it, while leaving a now incorrect timetable on full display. If you can't get a change right that's been five years in the making, what hope is there?

The most disgruntled passenger I met yesterday was a pensioner at Beckton bus station. He'd travelled here on the 300, discovered how mangled the new route was and was now waiting to go home. He was not happy and shared his disquiet with fellow passengers and an off-duty bus driver. "What's happened to the 300?" The bus driver was very knowledgeable, and politeness personified. "Well how is anyone supposed to know that?!" None of the maps or timetables at the bus stop had been updated. "Gordon Bennett!" He admitted he'd seen the yellow notice but had disregarded it. "Never in my wildest dreams did I believe it would mean this." He was a pensioner with an app on his phone so fairly alert, but in the absence of a map all he could do was read out a list of stops. "It no longer goes down Stansfeld Road, it's a ridiculous route." He advised another passenger not to take the 376 instead. "It goes all round the houses, it takes forever." He grumbled with the actual bus driver as we boarded. "I can't believe it, this is stupid." And he prolonged his disappointment by engaging a growing entourage all the way to Plaistow. "A lot of people are going to go to the wrong place today." He was not wrong.

As well as riding the 300 I also rode the brand new 304 from end to end. This is the eastern half of the former 104, broken at Prince Regent Lane and extended to a new bus stand at Custom House. It starts and finishes at a Crossrail station (which you might think was unique but the 86 does too). And it wasn't busy...

Route 304: Manor Park to Custom House
Location: London east, purple zone
Length of bus journey: 5 miles, 30 minutes




The first stop on the 304 is just opposite Manor Park station (whose roundel looks to be retaining its TfL Rail branding to the bitter end). The 474 also starts here and follows the same route south through East Ham for the next two miles, so that's the bus most Day One passengers were going to catch. They'd never heard of the 304 and there wasn't a map or a timetable, so when a bus came along saying Custom House on the front they gave it a miss. At least someone had been along and changed all the tiles from 104 to 304, but it clearly wasn't yet enough. On Forest Drive a lady waved us past. Across Romford Road a mum refused to let her son board on the way to his violin lesson. On High Street North a dad asked the driver if she was going to the market and decided to give the 304 a punt. Everyone massing outside the tube station piled aboard the 474 behind us instead. One day they'll learn but in the absence of useful information that day was not today.

Not everybody bailed. A dozen folk boarded by the town hall, having deduced that a route number ending in 04 might be what they wanted. A dishevelled man clutching a plastic dinosaur flagged us down with deliberate intent. But at the next stop an old man carrying two stuffed Asda bags was not so fortunate. He stared bemused at the front of the bus, checked the timetable except there wasn't one, looked briefly inside the shelter for a bus map, raised his eyes to read the Countdown display which didn't help, and before he'd finished faffing we'd driven off. If only he'd read the yellow notice and put his shopping down and got his phone out and checked tfl.gov.uk/buses as the Bus Gods intended... but there wasn't time and he didn't look like he owned a smartphone anyway.



Just before the dual carriageway the 304 bears off down a residential backroad running parallel to the Greenway. This is Lonsdale Avenue where for a confusing half mile the old 104 and the new 304 coincide. A mother with a tiny baby stopped us to ask if the bus was going to Stratford, like every bus down Lonsdale Avenue has since the 1980s, but we weren't so she had to wait for an original. Levels of confusion were not helped by the tiles at two stops now saying "towards Newham Hospital, Beckton or Upton Park", whereas for Beckton you actually needed to be on the other side of the road. Just before we reached the brand new section the only other passenger upstairs alighted and I was left with the upper deck all to myself.

We crossed the Greenway and entered Newham General via a bus gate. Two of the stops along this section don't yet have a 304 tile, which thus far is a rare mistake. But on the far side of the A13 the Tile People have totally buggered it up for a different route, the much maligned 300. Perverse tweakage means the 300 now follows Prince Regent Lane in the opposite direction to before, i.e, you need to be waiting on the other side of the road, but for some reason all the tiles have been removed so it looks like the 300 doesn't run this way at all. This is what happens when you send rank amateurs out to do a job of work.



The 304 terminates after a brief run along Victoria Dock Road parallel to Crossrail's tracks. I spied a purple train pulling out of the platform, running empty while operating yet another test service for the umpteenth month in a row. When we finally stopped there were only three of us left on board, including the man with the plastic dinosaur so I reckon he must have known what he was doing. The driver parked up on the 'new' stand, which has actually been waiting for this moment since 2020, and a phalanx of Day One bus photographers excitedly captured the moment. I checked the bus stop and obviously there was no map and no timetable because why would anybody bother? As you listen to the fanfare of Crossrail publicity over the next few days listing all the train facts in copious detail, remember that nobody gives a stuff about the buses.


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