Judging by the half hour I spent hanging around the bus stops by the Pond first thing this morning, the first London-wide bus strike for decades has been well supported by the drivers. I spotted just two in the space of about an hour. The aim of the stoppage, called by Unite, is to bring about a single, pay deal for drivers employed by all the different bus companies that operate routes in the capital.
It was there just after 7:00 this morning as I walked through the gloom towards Palm 2. Boris Johnson has taken pride in very few of his hire bikes being dumped or vandalised. Here was one of the few. Was it left there as an art statement? Should it be dismissed as mere arsing around? Is there a difference? I took this photo on my way back home at around 7:45 (the shopping and coffee are mine). When I went out again just after 9:00 it was gone.
First came the white boxes with their glinting red reflective stripes. Their arrival, so silent and enigmatic, suggested Steven Spielberg might be involved, or perhaps those people who put the "spudniks" on the bus shelters on route 48. Then came the upright black poles and the Event Zone banners, initially foretelling a new parking regime from 21st June. The signage lashed to lamp posts saying "authorised permits only, 8 am - 9 pm" is of a lightweight construction suggesting impermanence and yet, perhaps predictably, some local motorists suspect a devious Council plot to deprive them of their parking rights forever.
The last time I posted about The Killer Crossing was, incredibly, three years ago almost to the day. The big news then was that nothing could be done to improve it until at least April 2009. Before that, I'd rashly predicted that "change is at last on its way." Hmm. Well, now it really, really does look as though it really, really is. Transport for London even have a diagram on their website. This proves that neither I nor my camera have been imagining things. You'll see from the diagram that the works are scheduled to be completed at the end of March. Oh, happy day.
The last leg of my recent overnight excursion to faraway London boroughs was a ride on a 38 all the way from one end of its route at Victoria station to the other end here at Clapton Pond. Of course, not all 38s travel the full distance. Lots of them skive off at Hackney Central and presumably idle away their time drinking tea and watching telly in the bus garage there. Knowing this, I was unperturbed when the destination indicator of the first empty 38 to roll in to Victoria showed the bus wasn't going the full distance. For once in my life I wasn't in a frantic rush so I waited happily for the next one.
I think you know where this is going. The second 38 too was going only to Hackney Central. So was the third. The fourth was even lazier, announcing without shame that it would jack it in at the junction of Essex RRoad and Balls Pond Road. The fifth? Hackney Central. The sixth? Piccadilly Circus. And the seventh? Hackney Central again. By the time the eighth 38 arrived bearing the legend "Clapton Pond" I'd waited 37 minutes.
This seemed a bit excessive. It's not that I mind the walk up the Narrow Way or through the graveyard towards home and I suppose we pay-as-you-goers have come to accept that some of the time we're going to have to pay twice to be conveyed all the way up Lower Clapton Road. But only one bus in eight going the full distance? Imagine how narked I'd have been had it been one of those that decides on "a change in destination" (or whatever it exactly is that nice robot lady says).
I rang Transport For London. Was this unusual or did it happen all the time? A press officer of quality and distinction (I speak from experience) explained that there were indeed fewer 38s making their way to the centre of the universe (my term) for the time being because of the diversion caused by the road disruptions at Dalston. "You get more bunching of the buses on any route experiencing those kinds of delays, and that means you need to start more of them on their return journey sooner." In other words, you can re-regulate the frequency of service back to Victoria more easily if you stop more of them at Hackney Central. Do you follow? Normally, only alternate 38s are deprived of a visit to Clapton Pond.
So there we have it. The same helpful press officer also supplied with a link to TfL's all-new Google-mapped bus planner. She thought people might like to see it. And they might.
I've recently made - well, helped to make - two video films for the Guardian. The first was about the last day that bendy buses worked route 38. I've recently been trained in using a professional standard video camera. As you will see, my technique is still pretty rudimentary - a polite word for "hopeless" - but I think this failing was more than made up for by the fellow Claptonites who kindly let me point the camera at them. The clip, which was edited together by Guardian video producer Rebecca Lovell, is necessarily very short and to-the-point, which means that some good stories about the old Routemasters, which preceded the bendys, were cut out. I've remembered them, though. And with the contract to build Boris Johnson's alleged "21st century Routemaster" to be awarded by the end of the year, I might yet have an opportunity to make use of them. I'd like to thank everyone who appeared in the film. Watch it here.
The second film is about residents of Hackney Wick and their feelings about the approaching Olympics. This took much longer to make and my role was that of interviewer and provider of "voice over" in the Kings Place editing suite. The real work was done by producer Francesca Panetta of Hackney Podcast fame and photographer and cameraman David Levene. The result was the first of what will be a series of collaborations about the impact of the Games on communities bordering the Olympic Park. Watch it here.
Today is the last day that bendy buses will work route 38, one end of which (as you may have noticed) is a bus stop by Clapton Pond. Route 38 is the third to be de-bendified (following the 507 and 521) but the first long-haul one, terminating as it does at far-off Victoria. I'm a bit sad that they are going: not hugely so because it's daft to get too worked up about any kind of bus, but I'll miss their novelty shape and the smooth ride they provide.
You'll be familiar with the arguments about them. Traditionalists, many cyclists and Ken Livingstone-haters dislike them for not being double-deckers (especially for not being Routemasters), for being hard to overtake and for being Ken Livingstone's idea. Admirers point to their high capacity and the fact that their replacements - double-deckers in the case of route 38 - will take longer to load because of having fewer doors, and be more numerous in order to maintain capacity. Both factors seem bound to add to road congestion at least to some degree, especially in the centre of town.
There's also the question of cost - a particularly important one in view of Transport for London's financial woes. All buses need replacing eventually, but Boris Johnson's anti-bendy policy means that these are being replaced sooner than would have otherwise been necessary, resulting in TfL having to pay more to the bus operating companies. Those higher contrast costs would have been higher still had the London Mayor not been persuaded by TfL to only de-bendify when contracts came up for renewal rather than purging the whole lot straight away.
Of course, the one thing almost everyone agrees about bendys is that their having three sets of doors make fare-dodging a cinch. A recent written answer (you might have to click twice) to a question by London Assembly member Valerie Shawcross about the cost of de-commissioning bendys - or, to be formal, "articulated buses" - factored in an anticipated increase in revenue resulting from less fare-dodging in future. Is this projection exaggerated? Shawcross thinks so. Would money have been better spent on providing more inspectors? I don't know, because I've yet to do the maths. Maybe someone else has.
These debates will rumble on and time will provide the best test of them. My one firm opinion is that there are more important things to get worked up about, whichever side of the argument you're on. But I'll still mark the bendys' passing from Lower Clapton Road with a small sigh.