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Route 603
2 August 2006

The 603 is a school route with a difference. The route started in 12 January 2004 amid much fanfare and publicity, initially for an “experimental” 6 month period, and follows a thoroughly novel route between Muswell Hill and Swiss Cottage via upmarket areas of East Finchley and Hampstead. The regular bus network in the area is unusually sparse and has seen very little in the way of new links in recent years, so the 603 provides some interesting new links.

The normal allocation comes from Metroline’s oldest low floor double deckers, the TP class short Trident/President dual door vehicles with central staircases and bonded glazing, although other batches of buses occasionally appear on the route. In this view on 15 May 2006 TP 26 (T126 KLD) commences its morning journey to Swiss Cottage. The photographer has a slight problem in that after photographing the bus he has to get on it!

Photo © Robert Sanderson.

The 603 was designed to fill some of the obvious network gaps and primarily to help alleviate congestion problems in the area caused by the school run; the link from Muswell Hill to Highgate, for example, despite being quite a short distance, would previously have involved a change of buses or a short walk, and there are a number of other smaller schools in the Hampstead and Swiss Cottage areas. To travel the full length of the route would involved either a ridiculous number of changes or a ridiculously roundabout route!

There are two journeys in each direction: the first morning journey is mainly used for travel to Hampstead, while the second bus is mainly used between Muswell Hill and Highgate Village where most passengers alight. The double deck service also provides relief for the 143 between East Finchley and Highgate Village. These patterns are obviously mirrored on the afternoon journeys.

One issue identified with the “school run” was the desire by many parents of younger children to travel with them to school, and obviously they then need to be able to get back, so the 603 buses run back in service; these “against the flow” journeys are not suitably timed for children themselves.

The other unusual feature is that the route runs all year round, rather than just during school times – this was in a bid to try to capture some of the local commuter traffic as well. Whether either of these innovative features has proved successful I don’t know, but the route has continued to operate its original timetable so must have been a success overall.

There was talk (or maybe just rumours) that the service could be enhanced to an all day service. However, this would need additional buses, and it is not clear how much demand there would be during the day. It is also worth noting that much of the route runs along roads that are normally only served by single deckers, which in some cases is partly down to residents’ concerns about privacy, so running the double deckers all day may not be an option.

The route got off to a bad start with the buses running horrendously late and various mechanical and bodywork defects in evidence on the buses chosen, and many drivers not seeming to know the route properly. Even now the service is not renowned for its reliability; the buses are often late starting at Muswell Hill, having run empty from Holloway garage where there is usually congestion, and often get further delayed as the route runs over roads that are variable for traffic in peak hours because of school run cars. The problem with it being so unreliable is that people use the bus as their only method of transport to school, and being late is usually out of the question.

See also routes 102, 234, 143, 210, 268, 46

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