diamond geezer

 Monday, May 16, 2022

Five years ago TfL launched a major consultation aimed at tweaking the bus network in readiness for Crossrail services. When we launch fast new trains, they reasoned, people will need better ways to get to our stations. A year later they published their conclusions confirming that over 30 different routes would be affected, and then of course the purple service never launched.

I would link to that consultation but unfortunately TfL deleted it last year along with every other consultation they'd published pre-2021. We're updating to a new platform, they said, it'll be much better but regrettably we'll have to delete our archive. Any pdf they uploaded during the last two years lingers on the site here, shorn of all supporting documentation, but absolutely everything before that has been lost. For details of any consultation launched before May 2019 their official advice is to send in a Freedom of Information request and bugger the expense, presumably because that was still cheaper than coming up with a means of preservation.

Most of the West London changes (routes 140, X140, 218, 266, 278, 306, 391, 440) occurred in December 2019. Most of the northeast London changes (routes 104, 300, 304, 330, 474) are taking place next weekend, just before Crossrail finally unfurls. And a bumper selection of changes in southeast London (routes 129, 180, 469, 472, B11) took place on Saturday, so I've been out for a ride to see what's happened and how successful the implementation might have been.

I think it's fair to say that TfL haven't been particularly helpful in announcing the changes to the travelling public. Turn up at any bus stop along the affected routes and all you'll see is this.

We've made some changes to these five routes, it says, and hints that some of those changes might be quite significant. But it doesn't tell you what those changes are, nor tell you how they might affect services at this particular stop because this is a generic notice designed to be posted up everywhere.
• Some existing routes will be permanently re-routed, extended or stop short of their current destinations.
• The frequency of some routes will be increased or decreased.
Instead the notice suggests you visit a web address, so hopefully you brought your smartphone with you. Oddly it invites you to head to tfl.gov.uk/buses which isn't where the changes are listed. They are in fact at tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/bus-changes, which I presume somebody somewhere thought would be too hard for mere mortals to type. Instead they're relying on those who land at tfl.gov.uk/buses spotting the unspecific link to 'Bus changes' further down the page, assuming they even get that far.

The Bus changes webpage does have all the detail but only in text format. For route 180 for example, TfL expects you to unravel this.
Route 180 will be changed to run between North Greenwich Bus Station and Erith Quarry. Buses will be rerouted at Charlton Station to run to North Greenwich via Anchor & Hope Lane, Bugsby's Way, Millennium Leisure Park, Southern Way and West Parkside. Route 180 will also be extended from Mulberry Way in the Belvedere Industrial Area via Church Manorway, Lower Road and West Street to Erith Town Centre and then via Bexley Road and Fraser Road to terminate at the entrance to the Erith Quarry housing development. Route 180 will no longer run between Charlton Station and Lewisham Town Centre. For Greenwich Town Centre change at Stone Lake Retail Park to route 177. For Lewisham Town Centre change at Millennium Leisure Park to route 129. Route 180 will also no longer serve Fishers Way or Crabtree Manorway in Belvedere. Route 180 will run every 10 minutes during the daytime on Monday to Saturdays and every 15 minutes during the evenings and all day on Sundays.
There are no maps because maps are difficult, or expensive, or at least beyond the capabilities of TfL's current operation. Maps were a fundamental part of the 2017 consultation but they deleted that, remember, and nobody thought to save copies for later when they might be useful. Roger saved them so you can see the full set in his latest blogpost, and Darryl kept the incredibly useful overview map of how all this fits together, but the average punter will never see them.

There are new spider maps. TfL continue to churn these out and a fresh set for southeast London promptly appeared on the TfL website over the weekend. They're also up at bus stops, which is excellent, for example they're all over North Greenwich bus station (but not yet outside Abbey Wood). It wouldn't be rocket science for the Bus Changes webpage to link to the spider maps webpage, or even specifically to the maps for North Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Abbey Wood and Erith. You can work out a lot of what's going on from those.

There are also individual route maps on the TfL website, indeed these have existed since 2014 but TfL often fail to mention they exist. For example you can find a very helpful zoomable map of the 180 bus route at tfl.gov.uk/bus/route/180 - simple as that. Replace 180 with the number of your choice to see any other service (e.g. 129, 469, 472, B11). It would be easy to link through to these maps on the Bus Changes webpage... the catch being that they only show the correct route after the change has been made, which I assume is why nobody ever bothers.

Anyway, because these bus changes are specifically about linking to Crossrail, I've made this summary map of all the routes now serving Abbey Wood station. It's highly simplified and makes no distinction between existing routes and this weekend's changes, but it's a lot better than no map at all.

Here's a look at the five affected routes in a bit more detail.

180 North Greenwich Erith Quarry
This is the most significant change with the route tweaked at both ends. Out east that means extending the route from Belvedere Industrial Area to Erith town centre - a fresh connection that already looks popular with workers at the distribution centres on Church Manorway. The 180 then doubles back to a new terminus on Fraser Road, supposedly to serve a half-finished housing estate stacked inside an old quarry, although the final stop is outside on the existing 99 bus route so I'm quite not sure why they bothered.

Meanwhile out west a grand switcheroo means the 180, which used to head to Lewisham, now heads to North Greenwich instead. Timetables along the route were updated well in advance, some might say too well, and nearly all the new tiles were in place too (although you missed one on Lower Road, folks). But if you scan along the bus station at North Greenwich you won't see the 180 mentioned on the signs inside, only outside on the bus stop at the very far end, so that's not ideal. The supervisor's solution of sticking squinty A4 printouts to boards doesn't really get the message across either.

129 North Greenwich Lewisham
The 129 has been a stumpy thing ever since it was introduced in 2006, indeed it used to be one of the ten shortest bus routes in the capital. Now finally it has purpose, extended from Greenwich town centre to Lewisham town centre along the route formerly plied by the 180. But it doesn't cover the entire lost stretch so that makes interchange awkward, plus part of Woolwich Road has just suffered a considerable drop in frequency. Annoyingly the 129's timetables haven't been replaced yet so that'll have confused potential passengers. At least the tiles were mostly all in place (although the tile outside the National Maritime Museum still says 'Alighting point only' even though there's now another two miles to go).

469 Woolwich Common Erith
This single decker route has been given a nudge to help feed more passengers into Crossrail. Previously the 469 took the lower road direct from Erith into Abbey Wood but now it goes up the hill, along and back down because connectivity is more important than journey time. On my trip I watched the increasingly mystified faces of two dozen passengers who'd boarded in Lower Belvedere as we suddenly veered off up Picardy Road and climbed to Upper Belvedere instead. They did all get to where they were hoping to go, if a few minutes later than expected, but these days it seems you learn by experience rather than being informed beforehand.

472 North Greenwich Abbey Wood
Two tweaks. Firstly the 472 now zips direct between Plumstead and Thamesmead along Western Way, becoming the express service SE28 has long deserved. Its former wiggle along Nathan Way is still served by the 301, another bonus Crossrail route introduced prematurely in 2019. Secondly the 472 no longer follows a complete loop round Thamesmead before terminating, it now bears off three-quarters of the way round and terminates at Abbey Wood instead. When I rode back the other way there were a lot of confused souls outside Abbey Wood station demanding of the driver whether or not she was going to Morrisons. She was, but they'd have been better off waiting for the 244 or 301 which go direct, and this is why maps and proper information are important.

B11 Bexleyheath South Thamesmead
This backroad bus has been pruned at its northern end, some would say shafted. It used to go all the way to the Thamesmead Centre but now stops early on Yarnton Way, nowhere especially useful, beside a bank of demolished flats. It's particularly bad news for residents along Alsike Road who now need to take two buses to get to the shops, or walk further and take one. The B11's chop, combined with a frequency cut from every 15 minutes to every 20, has allowed TfL to save money by using two fewer vehicles on the route. They've also cut the frequency of the 129 and the 472, the latter significantly from every six minutes to every eight.

If you're planning to connect to Crossrail then these bus changes are undoubtedly an improvement. But if you were intending to make your usual journey elsewhere they may not be, and good luck trying to work out why.

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