The 7 duly passed from First to Metroline on Saturday 23rd June, but with its Scanias not ready yet, the real interest of the day lay in the route that supplied the 7’s temporary batch of TPs – the 297. This fellow Perivale-based route saw a mix of TALs and TNLs hired from First plus a couple of Metroline’s own TPLs pulled from the iBus float.
The sceptic in me would wonder if the fact that the 297’s service crumbled during the day swung public opinion against ‘First’, the name on the buses (and not removed, as is usually done during hires). The poor passenger tends to curse the operator without knowing the reason why the service is the way it is. It’s taken a long, long time for the blame to be heaped upon whoever runs the companies rather than ‘London Transport’, but the divide and rule thing didn’t work in 1986 and still doesn’t today. Companies are more and more willing to co-operate by hiring vehicles back and forth, like today, and the pettiness of refusing entry to ‘enemy’ garages as termini is falling away (though the 33’s withdrawal away from Fulwell garage when transferred to NCP severed an important link in that area), so there ought to be less objection to just doing the decent thing and reunifying what never should have been split asunder in the first place.
Poor old First have been battered in the tendering stakes as it is and the 7 is a severe loss, but Westbourne Park is bursting with buses and will appreciate the space. After helping out on the 297 (and perhaps the 460, though there wasn’t any evidence of that today), the TALs at least will be heading off to Glasgow, a city where the passengers mete out even more vicious treatment against their buses than London! And by next week the first few Scanias should be in service on the 7.
Covering the 297 are TNL 32905 (W905 VLN) at Wembley Park and TNA 32941 (W941 ULL) at Ealing Broadway, while inaugurating the 7 are TP 298 (LR02 BFJ) at East Acton and TPL 242 (LN51 KXV) at Marble Arch.
Change is afoot on the 7. Actually had a hard time finding any pictures of the route as it is now, as I only seem to have taken thirteen since its OPO conversion – that’s how little it matters any more.
At the moment it’s Trident-operated from Westbourne Park at First London (aided by Volvo B7TLs of varying bodywork and classification, like the 28 group’s VNW 32396 (LK04 HXE) in Oxford Street last 12th November, but on Saturday 23rd June Metroline take over with new East Lancs Olympus-bodied Scanias. Or will be once they’re delivered – the first few days will be accomplished with fleet TPLs while the First TNAs are hired and tucked away out of sight on the 297 and 460.
More on or shortly after Saturday’s changeover.
On 2nd June, after little more than a year of operation, Southdown PSV gave up two of their three Surrey routes, the 409 and 411. They went straight back to Metrobus, who had operated them before, and they of course derive from London Country and London Transport Country Area services south of the border towards Redhill and East Grinstead.
Blame the free travel for pensioners – or at least that offered by the parallel-running 405 operated as a TfL contract by Metrobus; the affected age group would pass the 409s and 411s by, as would the other segment of the population being funded, under-18s, with the result that the 405 became so overcrowded it had to be converted to double-deck, while the PSV routes withered. As they couldn’t hope to break even with this going on, they made a tough decision to get rid of the routes before the routes got rid of them. All they have left is the 410 operating further to the south, and the core business of bus sales is unaffected.
While I’m happy with free travel for pensioners (who’ve not only worked to secure a little relief, but are better-behaved), I’ve never been thrilled about that concession having been offered to under-18s; while not wishing to resort to any headline-grabbing, there is a palpable perception that it’s increased the level of rowdiness on buses. Certainly in London bus travel is often noisy and at times outright threatening. It seems a shame that this sort of official irresponsibility is driving away the very small firms that TfL have always said they wanted to invite to compete.
For now, here’s a line-up of three operators of recence on the 409, all taken in Croydon: Arriva Croydon & North Surrey Metrobus M 521 (GYE 521W) on 11th May 2000 (left), Southdown PSV Dennis Dart SLF 388 (X188 BNH) on 22nd April 2006 (centre) and lastly, Metrobus’s Caetano-bodied Dart SLF 376 (Y376 HMY) on 9th June 2007.
Like the DMS, the Merlin was another grand failure of its time that only now is starting to be appreciated as their rarity value grows. All buses, whatever their reputation, should have at least one example in preservation so that people of today can see what they were like.
MB 641 (AML 641H) has been in preservation for some years, after the typically short career spanning just seven years between 1969 and 1976. Though now immortalised as a Potters Bar bus, it never worked from there, seeing service at Bromley (routes 126 and 138), Merton (152), Walthamstow (275) and Cricklewood (268). The 84 did see MB operation for a spell, so the depiction is theoretically correct.
It was working shorts on the 84 during the Potters Bar running day of Sunday 20th May, and performed competently throughout. The seating capacity is impressive by comparison with today’s full-size buses (50 are seated in this single-door bus) and the Merlins in general were always attractive, with a clear physical lineage to the RFs of two decades earlier – except in conditions other than Red Arrow standee services, they didn’t work. Then and now, Londoners don’t like to be treated like automatons, and accordingly refused to get to grips with the automatic fare systems provided, and nor did they ever appreciate standing. Just like the modern incumbents on today’s Red Arrow routes, the Merlins worked there perfectly but nowhere else. At least back then the powers of the day knew when to admit they were wrong, and replaced the vehicles as soon as they could without feeling they had to save face. We’re still waiting for the same courtesy from today’s lot…
Very few Merlins (or Swifts, for that matter) are left at all, and MB 641 is the only one people can really ride on when the event warrants. Despite the spiteful and narrow-minded legislation that is the Low Emissions Zone, they just escape the ban and can still run into town. Thanks to Brian Nash for turning out MB 641 on the 84 that day, and to all who brought their buses to Potters Bar – it was a good day out!