So I thought I’d have a trip down to London for 3 reasons:
1: Try out the new BYD Chinese electric double-deckers on route 98.
2: Have a look at the new Volvo / MCV “Evoseti” type on routes 35/40.
3: See if I can find a “de-furbished” Routemaster (“Re-furbished” back to it’s original condition)
So I’m up at stupid o’clock and it’s not even a work day. First bus of the day to Stourbridge, then a run into Birmingham on the 9. National Express West Midlands has the recently-introduced Enviro 400 MMCs on here, and the combination of high-frequency, new buses and attractive livery is a winner. I notice plenty of “men in suits” boarding. This is good news. I’m always banging on about getting business people to use buses more, like they do in London. NXWM must be doing something right on this corridor.
In Brum, I board the “slow train to London” – London Midland’s service (not least because I can travel for free with my staff pass) and I’m in London for just gone 10am.
Although it’s mid-Monday morning, it’s still a bunfight at Euston. I walk out through the haze of smokers outside the front of the building (vile) and take a look at the busy bus station. Loads of “New Routemasters” everywhere, almost as a tribute to Boris Johnson, who, on this very day, has relinquished his role as Mayor of London. His legacy will live on!
Indeed, it’s one of these design masterpieces I board first – a 68 for a short run down Woburn Place to Russell Square to hunt for all things electric….
The 98 to Willesden Garage starts here, and there is a motley line up of several older vehicles here, opposite one of those fantastic old green “sheds” which used to provide refuge for taxi drivers – indeed this one still does, in the form of a cafe. Numerous cabbies are present devouring grease-laden delights. Horns are honking as a lorry temporarily unloads something and this corner of London grinds to an inevitable temporary standstill. All that moves are lycra-clad cyclists who weave in and out of anything stationary, or moving (as one nearly takes me out, for daring to stand on the pavement).
The temptation of food in Russell Square is too much…
Our trucker moves on, and the blockage recedes, but there’s still no sign of anything electric. I check the London Vehicle Finder on my phone, which reveals my lurking around Russell Square is in vain – no sign of any BYD electric double deckers on the route at the moment (although one made an appearance earlier this morning). I decide the temptation of a full-english in sandwich form is too much and walk off towards Aldwych.
The older set still provide the mainstay of service 98 provision – but no sign of anything electric…
I marvel at the Kingsway tram tunnel and imagine what joys I have missed all those years ago, when London trams used to disappear down below,with others appearing like monsters from the deep…How much fun would a ride on a London tram down there be?
Aldwych is of course the London theatre-goer’s paradise. There’s also much bus action going on. I decide my next move is an RV1 “south of the river” on a Hydrogen bus, which are normally on here. Just off the Aldwych is a side street where the RV1 terminates. But I’m out of luck again. The bus on-stand here isn’t of the hydrogen variety. It’s a bog-standard Enviro 200, it’s driver perched on the back seat chewing away on a sandwich.
My app says the next departure is 11 minutes away. I decide to attempt something of an “arty” picture, involving said bus and theatre adverts. I cross the road and line up something resembling “arty” (you may disagree – art is very subjective), but then our man gallops down his bus, into the cab and departs quicker than Linford Christie in a 100m Gold Medal race. So much for my app information.
My attempt at an “arty” picture (yes, I know…) – seconds before the driver runs into the cab and drives off, leaving me on the other side of the street…
A few minutes later, a “proper” hydrogen bus appears and I hop on that. We take in Waterloo station and battle with traffic up to London Bridge, where roadworks has got everything at a standstill.
I’m looking for some unusual double deckers here – MCV “Evoseti”-types on Volvo chassis. Go Ahead have bought an initial 20 or so of these for routes 35 & 40. I’ve also always been fascinated by the destination “Dulwich Library” on the front of some London buses. What a delightful place to terminate – a library! I’ve never been to Dulwich. Enid Blyton was born here, and it’s also where Margaret Thatcher came to live after she left Number 10.
I can see a 40 in the distance, but it takes an age to reach us. When it finally appears, a young driver opens the door, accompanied by a man of more advancing years wearing a Hi-viz with “MENTOR” on the back. He barks in cockney at a man who doesn’t touch in properly with his pass “and again, my son, and again…”.
This is the first sizeable order of EvoSetis in the UK. I’m not overly-excited. The seats are hard, but apart from that, the journey isn’t overly uncomfortable. Our mentored driver does well, negotiating the Elephant & Castle, and we head south to Camberwell Green, where a recorded message tells us that a driver changeover is taking place. We move on, but then another computer voice tells us that “the destination of this bus has changed”. We’re now going to terminate at “East Dulwich” instead. I have no idea where we are, as we’re hiked off by a railway station. Our Evoseti roars off and I’m left to ponder what life is like for non-regular bus users, who must get this similar feeling of not knowing what to do with public transport next in unfamiliar surroundings. I have no idea if Dulwich library is within walking distance or not. The map doesn’t make it particularly clear in the shelter. This whole idea of terminating a bus at short-notice has happened to me on quite a few occasions in London now. It may well be necessary, but it’s nothing like that in Birmingham.
Another 40 turns up. This time it’s a new Enviro 400 MMC. But it also is terminating here. At least the weather is decent. Eventually another new Enviro 400 appears. This one IS going to Dulwich library, so I flag it down. I conclude that, whilst the Evoseti isn’t bad (apart from the seats), the Enviro 400 is a better vehicle to ride. In the “looks” department, the Evoseti isn’t really a head-turner either, but it’ll be interesting to see if this is a breakthrough in the UK double deck market for MCV though…
One of Go Ahead’s new Volvo B5TL / MCV “Evoseti” double deckers, opposite Dulwich library
Also on Go Ahead London routes 35 & 40 are new ADL Enviro 400 MMCs
So this is Dulwich library. Looks a fairly unassuming place. I hop off opposite said building and my 40 roars off up the road and turns left. I pursue it and come across a pair of Borismasters on the 12 laying over in the side street. I eye up the monsters and their drivers eye up me. The road around the corner leads back to Dulwich library, and I stand here to capture a few pics, whilst an old friend who I didn’t know lived in these parts picks up on the fact I’m local from my blabbing on Facebook and offers an impromptu meet up. He works with London’s trams and has a meeting at HQ, so takes me over in his car. Like me, he’s into politics, so we talk about Sadiq Khan’s ascension to the biggest job in London, and what that might mean for public transport in the City.
I tram it from Tramlink’s Therapia Lane HQ across to Croydon. Here, there are plenty of red buses, but I don’t appreciate just how far out from Central London we are here. The bus stop information doesn’t show any direct links back to the Capital apart from a peak hour service. So I use Southern’s rail service back to London Bridge.
Back in the metropolis, I cross the water and stand on Cannon Street looking to head west back towards Aldwych. It’s traffic chaos. Nothing is moving. Tourists look longingly at the bus stop pole and it’s fictitious set of timetables. Eventually, an “original” Routemaster appears on the opposite side of the road. It’s RM1933 – a recently “de-furbed” example. It’s heading just up the road on “heritage” route 15 to The Tower. I decide to throw caution to the wind, cross over (nearly getting splatted by yet another lycra-clad cyclist) and hop on, whilst it’s stationary in traffic.
The Conductor (there’s a novelty) grabs my Oyster and scans it. I bound off upstairs.
Only a family of 4 are on the upper deck at the front. I seize the back seat and am immediately transported back to the mid-sixties. Hants & Dorset trim – apart from having a wonderful name – has done a wonderful job. The money saved by abandoning the other heritage route (9) is being ploughed into the RMs on this route. The vehicles are being brought as closely as possible back to “original spec”. The result is stunning. Outside, the cream band is back. Inside the floor has old-style treadmaster flooring, reupholstered seats (with original 60s-design moquette) and yellow “canary” roof. There are even light bulbs. Traditional light bulbs! Who knows how many courting couples have canoodled their way along London’s streets on the back seat I’m now occupying, but it’s a real nostalgia treat!
The “de-furbed” Routemaster upper deck
At what amounts to barely half a mile later, we arrive at the terminus opposite The Tower of London. Our conductor winds the rear destination blind back to Trafalgar Square. I hop off and continue my fine tradition of being almost-splatted by a cyclist – the new cycling “super highway” is here, between bus stop and real pavement.
I decide to await the old girl’s turnaround and catch her back to The Strand, but the heavens suddenly open up and I end up resembling a drowned 6’7″ rat. There’s no sign of RM1933, so I flag down a passing “new” Routemaster on the “proper” 15.
It’s now evening peak time and traffic is predictably horrendous. I listen intently to an American couple sitting opposite, who seem horrified that a van driver is happy to push his way into the traffic and block the road off for our bus. I contemplate striking up conversation on Donald Trump but think better of it.
I hop off on The Strand and take a mooch around the London Transport Museum shop, where I threaten to buy my own weight in books (but limit myself to only 3). Back on The Strand, the skies open again and half the London population try to cram under the shelter. Luckily a 91 appears very soon and I hop on back to Euston, where my wait for a London Midland service back to Brum is made much easier by some lubrication in The Doric Arch public house….