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Route 5
16 November 2010

The 5 is the only route with a number lower than 20 not to go anywhere near central London, but this was not always so. It seems to have started off as the replacement for trolleybus route 665, from Barking, Poplar and Aldgate via Commercial Street and Old Street to Bloomsbury, although the 5 joined bus route 15 and ran to East Ham White Horse instead of Barking. But it was later diverted to serve Barking once again, and continuing on to Becontree Heath, replacing the 23 group of routes (latterly Becontree Heath Aldgate).

However, the section west of Canning Town was later deemed redundant, except on Sunday mornings when it continued to run as far as Old Street in order to serve the famous Shoreditch Market. A partial replacement for the link to the north of the city was maintained by new Docklands route D3 (East Ham Old Street), but only on Mondays to Saturdays except evenings. Neither the Sunday 5 extension nor the D3 exists now. The Canning Town terminus of the 5 is now in the Jubilee Line interchange.

The general trend for many years has been to shorten routes, in a bid to improve reliability. It was therefore a surprise when it was announced that the 5 would be extended from Becontree Heath to Romford replacing route 87, which duly took place from 25 March 2006. This enabled both the updated photos for this page to be set there. The first is of 17892 (LX03 ORC) on 22 May 2010 in Western Road, a location which cannot be served in the other direction during the evenings.

Photo © Mark Adoko.

Secondly we have older 17136 (V136 MEV) near the station on Tuesday 4 November 2008. Both buses are showing Canning Town Stn, but one in DDA compliant lower case and the other in the pre-DDA style. How long the East London logos survive remains to be seen, now that ELBG is back under Stagecoach ownership.

Photo © Brian Creasey.

The extension has not been without problems; the previous structure, with the 5 and 87 overlapping between Becontree Heath and Barking, provided a good match with passenger demand over various sections of the route. The 5 now has that corridor to itself apart from the final mile into Barking, and the increase in frequency it received was not sufficient to absorb all the passengers displaced from the 87. Meanwhile, the more frequent service was not needed at the extremities of the route, particularly at the Romford end as can be seen in both photographs. A plan to remedy this situation by extending route 238 to Becontree Heath fell through earlier this year.

There has been speculation that the change was done for a completely silly reason: to free up a "prestige" number for use elsewhere as route 77A was duly renumbered to 87 a few months later, with no other really "good" numbers previously having been available! Still, the lengthened 5 provides flexibility of garage allocations for East London; initially Romford had a share (in lieu of the 87) but the route is all now operated from Barking garage, apart from a few journeys from West Ham which work on/off the N15. Potentially West Ham or Upton Park could operate the route as well, illustrating the flexibility available.

Interestingly, in 1936 there was another route number 5, which ran from Streatham Vale via Streatham, Clapham Common, Elephant, London Bridge, Aldgate and Poplar to Upton Park, thus serving part of the ground of the 1970s route 5. This was partially replaced by new route 118 (Raynes Park Morden Mitcham Streatham Clapham Common), the section north of the Elephant already being covered by route 40 (Herne Hill Elephant London Bridge Aldgate East Ham Wanstead); until fairly recently the relics of this alignment were still recognisable in these routes. But there have been many changes over the years and to replicate the route now you would have to catch 118, 255, 155, 40, 15/115 and 330 and even that is not an exact match. Following withdrawal of the original 5, there was a local route 5 from Clapham Common to Raynes Park/North Cheam (later becoming the 189 but now largely covered by the rather different route G1), following which London had no route number 5 for over a decade.

See also routes 15, 118, 60, 255, 155, 40, 115, 330, G1

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