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Route EL1
25 March 2010

East London Transit is a high profile new bus service in the Barking area of London. However, it is nothing to get too excited about! Initially proposed as a tram route, it was then scaled back to hybrid powered diesel buses (for some reason skipping over the obvious intermediate solution of trolleybuses), and since further watered down to conventional diesels. Hence, what we have is a bog standard double decker with a slightly fancy livery.

There are two routes, but for the moment one is simply a shorter version of the other. The shorter route is the EL1, running between Ilford and Thames View Estate, where there is a turning circle for buses at the junction of Bastable Avenue and Abridge Way. That is where WVL345 (LX59 DFE) was photographed on the first day, 20 February 2010.

Photo © Sunil Prasannan.

This is well established as the southern terminal of route 369 which was withdrawn when the East London Transit began and its predecessors, since the area was developed in the 1960s. The EL2 continues beyond this point to Dagenham Dock, and the EL1 is to be extended into as yet undeveloped areas of Barking Reach when the time comes. For the moment, the slightly odd situation remains whereby only the EL1 has a night service and only the EL2 serves Dagenham Dock, but the routes are otherwise identical!

At the other end, the EL1 terminates in Ilford Hill, where a new bus stand has been provided in a former bus lane. The number of buses using this road was greatly reduced following introduction of a direct right turn for buses from Ilford High Road towards Gants Hill or Redbridge in December 2009. WVL347 (LX59 DFG) is seen at the Ilford Hill terminus on 22 February 2010, with another behind. At certain times of day buses switch routes at Ilford, so it is probable that the second bus arrived as an EL1 and will depart as an EL2 the front bus is an EL1 already.

Photo © RNAM200.

The logic of terminating buses here escapes me, as it is some distance from the main town centre area in Ilford; the 369 had continued into the town centre to terminate at Hainault Street. Thus passengers for Ilford town centre are left with only the 169, representing a cut of around 60% in service levels, and passengers from south of Barking no longer have a direct service. Furthermore, the former direct cross-Ilford link on route 179 has also been withdrawn so, all in all, services on the Ilford-Barking corridor have been totally decimated.

Back at the Thames View terminus, and on the first day again, WVL346 (LX59 DFF) waits departure time. The graffiti on the hoarding to the left appear to be art rather than vandalism, but perhaps locals could comment.

Photo © Richard Groves.

There is much to criticise about the whole scheme, and even the blind displays are inaccurate as the route does not reach Ilford station! Ilford Hill is within walking distance of the station, but passengers seeing this display might reasonably expect to be taken to the stops outside the station rather than away round the corner.

The route is operated by Blue Triangle, now part of the Go-Ahead group, although you would have to look very hard to discover that fact! The last of the four photographs submitted to me shows WVL343 (LX59DFC) opposite Barking station on 23 February 2010. The buses are Volvo B9TLs with Wright Gemini 2 bodywork. They are numbered in the common Go-Ahead London numbering system, following on from earlier Volvo B7TLs with Wright Eclipse Gemini bodies; the B9TLs start at WVL274.

Photo © Brian Creasey.

The operational contract was awarded around two years ago, perhaps to allow plenty of time to order specialist vehicles had that option been pursued. Articulated vehicles were proposed as well as hybrids, but consultation showed a preference for double deckers. Initially the route was referred to simply as TG1, embracing both parts of the service, and the numbers EL1 and EL2 only appeared about two months before the service started. One might ask why the 369 number was not retained anecdotal evidence shows much confusion and bemusement among passengers when the revised services began.

The ELT scheme is about more than the vehicles. Millions of pounds were spent on road "improvements," particularly between Ilford and Barking, where pavements have been widened and the road narrowed to increase congestion and ensure buses suffer maximum possible delay. The square in the middle of Bastable Avenue now features a bus only road through the middle, complete with traffic lights to hold buses while cars overtake. On the other hand, formerly pedestrianised streets in Barking town centre have now been opened up to buses, which speeds bus journeys up by a couple of minutes but does rather spoil the environment. Other than that, there are a lot of new bus shelters and pretty new paving material at the stops.

Later phases of the scheme may have been more ambitious, but are on hold for the time being. One leg may have crossed the Thames via Ken Livingstone's planned Thames Gateway bridge (now scrapped by Boris Johnson) to link up with the Greenwich Waterfront Transit (also now deferred indefinitely). It does seem rather strange for so much money to have been spent on a scheme which offers very little benefits to anyone, but a great deal of disruption and hardship, especially at a time when finances are under strain and much needed improvements elsewhere are having to be scrapped but the first phase had already passed the point of no return. Boris Johnson is often accused of pursuing "vanity projects," but the East London Transit must surely be Ken Livingstone's own vanity project!

See also routes EL2, 169, 179

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