On Saturday 18 November bus route 339 was rerouted in the Fish Island area of East London to serve emerging residential areas previously remote from the bus network. This report from the Independent E3 Inspectorate analyses the build-up to implementation and assesses the outcome against key measurable criteria.
Fieldwork: 17, 18 and 19 November
Background: The diversion of route 339 to follow Monier Road was first proposed in 2012 as part of the Fish Island Area Action Plan. Implementation could not proceed until the Monier Road footbridge had been replaced by a vehicular crossing, an engineering objective not achieved until July 2021. Initially the eastern end of the bridge was disjoint from the QEOP road network but a link to Bassett Lane was finally created in October 2023. TfL laid the formal groundwork for route 339's diversion with a consultation in March 2019 (since deleted).
Route history:Route 339 was introduced in October 2000, originally between Shadwell and Fish Island. It eschewed main roads in favour of touring outlying backstreets. In November 2011 it was extended to Stratford City bus station via a double run and the Bow Roundabout. In August 2013 it was extended further to Leytonstone via unserved roads in the East Village. In May 2014 it was diverted through the Olympic Park via Carpenters Road as a more direct route to Stratford City. In December 2018, due to the imminent construction of the East Bank, it was diverted away from Carpenters Road to follow the QEOP Loop Road. It is a multiply-mucked-about-with bus route.
1. Preparing the public
The rerouting of route 339 was first announced on the Bus Changes webpage one month before implementation. A map to explain the text was added three weeks later. Virtually none of the route's 5000 daily passengers will have noticed. Instead they were expected to read a poster installed at bus stops all along the route. Dissemination was carried out with considerable diligence, even at stops where buses would already have passed the affected section. The most exceptional appearance of the poster was in the ticket hall at Leytonstone station where it had virtually no relevance whatsoever to almost any passing passenger.
The bespoke map shows the existing route and the new and withdrawn sections. As TfL maps go, the underlying message is relatively clear. In terms of detail however there are multiple inaccuracies. Three of the blue blobs marked as 'new bus stops served by route 339' are in fact existing bus stops which have been in public usage since 2018. The eastbound stop for Bobby Moore Academy Secondary is inexplicably missing. Also the road labelled as 'Bassett Lane' is in fact Sweetwater Place. The 339 continues to serve Bassett Lane going forward.
A separate poster entitled 'Bus Route 339 will not stop here' was also produced, but was only posted up at two of the five affected bus stops. At White Post Lane it was also only partly readable due to graffiti sprayed on the glass. Hackney Wick is a unbridled hotbed of expressive street art so this is perhaps to be expected.
No announcements were made aboard route 339 in the weeks leading up to the change. This contradicts normal practice before most curtailments, withdrawals and reroutings, with recorded messages played at approximate 15 minute intervals accompanied by scrolling text. This audiovisual absence left many passengers at risk of not understanding that a big change was imminent, an omission which would later have a detrimental effect on customer experience.
2. Installation of new bus stops
Four new bus stops were successfully installed several weeks in advance of project activation. Road markings for the westbound stop at Monier Bridge were painted in July 2021, indicating an impressive level of forward planning. Each new stop additionally gained a bus shelter providing adequate comfort for waiting passengers.
None of the new bus stops displayed posters explaining that they would be used by route 339, nor any proposed date of first use. This oversight is likely to have had a downward negative impact on fare income in the opening period.
Operatives seemed excessively keen to demonstrate that the new bus stops were closed, as exemplified by this wasteful use of three separate covers to shield the flag before the commencement date.
3. Unlocking bridge access
Until Friday 17th November the new bridge was blocked at both ends by concrete blocks, permeable only by pedestrians and cyclists. By the morning of Saturday 18th November these had been removed and buses were able to proceed unhindered. However the associated signage had not been similarly updated and remained under plastic sheeting, befuddling drivers of vehicles other than buses.
Traffic approaching the bridge from Monier Road is now confronted by a newly-opened road with a 20mph speed limit but no official road sign debarring vehicles. The message BUS & 🚲 ONLY is written on the tarmac. Alongside is an advisory LLDC sign which additionally refers to pedestrians. Neither would be likely to withstand judicial scrutiny were any car driver to be fined for straying onto the unlocked bridge. A separate circular sign indicates 'no cycling' despite cycling clearly being permitted, indeed encouraged.
At the eastern end of the bridge the situation is identical, again with road markings, speed limit signs and bagged prohibition notices. A separate roadsign along Bassett Place is the only place where a blue 'buses and bikes only' sign can be seen. This roadsign is unusual in that it points left towards 'Fish Island', a destination drivers cannot access.
The bridge sees only eight vehicles an hour, suggesting that the zebra crossing is technically unnecessary.
4. Activating the changes
Tiles on the new stops were uncovered in a timely manner for the start of the new service, likely overnight. The '339' tiles at the stops on White Post Lane were simultaneously removed. This is commendable because tiles are often swapped days in advance while existing services are still operational, confusing multiple passengers.
Each new stop now displays the legend 'Not served during stadium events'. However it is not made clear where the 339 might go during stadium events instead. Should any potential passenger realise that they have in fact turned up during a stadium event, they would have absolutely no idea where to go to catch their bus.
Two stops on White Post Lane are no longer served by any bus route. These stops no longer display a tile for any numbered route - another commendable overnight switcheroo. Each has also gained a red tile saying 'Buses on diversion stop here', although it is entirely unclear what kind of diversion might necessitate this.
Contractors have however been negligent in not removing tiles from the other three unserved stops. The southbound stop on Wansbeck Road and both stops at Rothbury Road continue to display '339' tiles even though the 339 now serves Monier Road instead. It is of concern that staff have comprehensively updated the tiles on six bus stops but entirely ignored three others in the immediate vicinity.
Additionally at Rothbury Road the poster saying 'Changes to route 339' has been affixed on top of the timetable for route 488. This means that the timetable for (diverted) route 339 is still visible whereas the timetable for (unchanged) route 488 is impossible to read. Contractors should not still be making this basic schoolboy error in this day and age.
No timetables have been added to the new bus stops, nor removed from the newly-unserved stops. This is particularly unhelpful on Monier Road where potential passengers have no way of knowing precisely where their new bus is going.
The webpage for route 339 and its associated list of stops was correctly updated overnight, thereby ensuring that passengers using apps received correct travel information both before and after the change. The associated digital map, however, unhelpfully depicts both old and new routes simultaneously.
5. Customer experience
Two sample journeys were taken to evaluate the Day One customer experience.
Westbound: At the stop immediately before the diversion the driver paused the bus to make a special announcement. Unfortunately it was inaudible, in part because he gabbled but mainly because the bus was rattling very loudly. Passengers turned to each other and made the internationally-understood gesture for "I didn't get any of that, did you get any of that?" This was a substandard customer experience, and could have been avoided had the garage not sent out an ageing replacement for the usual quiet electric vehicle.
Eastbound: As the bus turned into Monier Road, a passenger leant round and tapped on the driver's cab. "You're going the wrong way," he said. The driver confirmed that he wasn't because the bus now went this way as of this morning. The passenger continued to be demonstrative and the driver repeatedly pointed out that "the changes have been posted on the bus stops for the last four weeks". The driver's tone was professional and polite but could also be described as relentlessly patronising. The unfortunate passenger alighted at the first available opportunity and stomped off to where he actually wanted to be.
Customer confusion is augmented by a lack of electronic announcements. Not only are the next stops not announced but the database for the onboard display has not been updated. This is a deeply unsatisfactory customer experience extended over a distance of one mile.
Westbound: on leaving the London Aquatics Centre the next stop is shown as 'Fish Island' whereas this is actually five stops away. Eastbound: on leaving Wansbeck Road the next stop is shown as 'London Aquatics Centre' whereas this is actually five stops away. Both directions: the display reverts to '*' at intermittent intervals as if the bus still thinks it's on diversion.
The onboard display is missing not just the two new stops but also two pre-existing stops - Bobby Moore Academy Primary and Bobby Moore Academy Secondary. Both of these have been served by route 339 since December 2018, a period of four years and eleven months, and yet nobody has successfully added them to the system. This is sloppy inadequacy on another level.
6. Local Case Study
On Carpenters Road, immediately before the East Bank worksite, two bus stops have been mothballed since the 339's previous diversion in 2018. Both still have posters listing the nearest alternative stops, although five years later this information is now incorrect. Both shelters also display spider maps showing the local bus network in 2014. One of these maps is for the correct location whereas the other is for the Eton Manor end of the Park so has always been useless. Incredulously a contractor has visited stop L during the last few months and added a poster advertising the £1.75 Hopper fare.
Somewhow an incorrect and out-of-date spider map is being displayed in the shelter alongside a very recent advert at a defunct bus stop with zero passengers. If this is the level of cumulative ineptitude at a stop unserved since 2018, what hope is there that the newest inadequacies on 339 will ever be fixed?
Bus drivers on route 339 were successful in following the original route on 17th November and the diverted route on 18th November. This is perhaps the only thing that ultimately matters.
But come on TfL, you can do better than this.
The Independent E3 Inspectorate is available to provide network implementation analysis at very reasonable commercial rates