In the late 1980s a large number of second-echelon routes in south-east London went over to minibus operation, some being rerouted through isolated estates, and the 273 was introduced to capitalise on this trend, building on a Christmas-only route numbered L1. Commencing at Lewisham, it introduced buses to Manor Park near Hither Green and to the Horn Park Estate off the Burnt Ash Road south of Lee, terminating at Grove Park. SRs from Catford were used, later to be joined by the MWs that had taken over the 124 (plus new offshoot 284) at the very end of 1989. However, it was withdrawn in 1991, only to make a comeback in exactly the same form three years later. SRs were still going at Catford, though they were replaced in 1998 by three MBs – O.814 Varios with Plaxton Beaver 2 bodywork. In 2002 the contract was lost to First, whose Orpington Buses subsidiary had to run its DP-class Darts (and later DMS-class Dart SLFs) a considerable way from St Mary Cray to reach the 273 roads, and perhaps with an eye to this the routeing was amended to incorporate a long extension over the parts south of Chislehurst that never really worked as part of (successively) routes 161, 161A or 162. Thus the route now terminates at Petts Wood Station – just in time for the contract to change hands again and go back to Stagecoach Selkent at Catford. A dedicated fleet of Enviro200Darts is now in use, exemplified by 36004 (LX56 DZY) at Grove Park on 11th May.
Wednesday 16 May 2007
Wednesday 14 February 2007
Just another example of what I think is good practice in the programming of LED blinds – but in this case, helped by having a short destination and an even shorter intermediate point! Good thing I didn’t photograph any Yorkshire Coastliners going in the other direction (Scarborough) that day.
The 843’s a superb thrash, by the way – a foot-down charge through the Yorkshire countryside at breakneck speed. I took this bus (Yorkshire Coastliner Volvo B7TL 406 (YK55 ATO) as part of my journey to Sheffield to cover the last Dominators for Bus & Coach Preservation magazine on 25th June last year (yes, I know Sheffield is south of York, but to get there on an overnight coach the only way to do it was to overshoot, hence I ended up at York at half past four in the morning, and York is so fascinating that it was well worth it).
Sunday 11 February 2007
Over the past few weeks, my local bus operator Travel London (West) – formerly known as Tellings-Golden Miller – has been re-equipping its Byfleet-based fleet of Dennis Dart SLFs with LED blinds. DP 703 (R503 SJM) is just the latest example, and it’s sure to kick off a debate in these pages that I hope will be as involved as that set off by my mention of Metroline a few posts back.
Most operators around the country have adopted LED blinds as standard, especially since the technology has improved considerably from the first generation of vulnerable and error-prone flip-dot displays, via dot-matrix panels that were subject to the same vulnerabilities, to today’s versatile units that seem to be programmable with just about anything, and which, most importantly for the photographer, don’t just reproduce as two unintelligible single lines. It’s not just the enthusiast who found this a nuisance – think of publicity photographs for operators and the manufacturers, who would be looking pretty daft with their products showing themselves up this way. The previous generation of LED panels would not show at shutter speeds above 1/60, which ruled out pictures in any level of sunshine! Even so, I’ve always kept my camera on burst mode, so that out of a round of five shot off, one would work. This picture shows that the blinds displaying satisfactorily were the least of my worries (despite the fogged glass panel) – there was a lot more traffic than you’d expect for a Saturday morning and I had to shoot through it.
Transport for London, of course, have a different way of going about things. They don’t, and don’t intend to, adopt LED blind technology on their contractors’ vehicles. Given that the standard of blind display since the secretive and highly intransigent ‘BBC’ (Bus Blinds Committee) have come into being is totally inadequate to the point of negligence, with no via points allowed and just a destination (without the benefit of any qualifiers) expected to offer passengers what they need to find out, this is inexplicable. I may be something of a traditionalist, but I’ll declare myself a big fan of the latest LED panels – TfL don’t know what they’re missing and are mad to write off the possibilities this technology offers. For instance, even though this 461 just displays ‘Kingston’, other boards for the 218 in the same region display ‘Kingston’, with ‘via Esher, Walton-on-Thames, Shepperton and Laleham’ scrolling by leisurely underneath. It’s all legible, and from a considerably greater distance (especially at night) – and since I’ve had lousy eyesight since I was born, surely I have a better claim on what is legible and what isn’t.
There’s great potential in this. With GPS technology already coming into play for the successor to Countdown (known as iBus), is that once the bus crosses a point on the route the system can knock out the appropriate via point from the display, thus nullifying one of the objections to via points. Buses can also display them in the opposite direction, without the need for expenditure on linen (or Tyvec); since operators never seem to trust drivers to change the blinds anyway (and the unions reluctant to let them without a little something in return), all this doesn’t even need to be done at the push of a button. You can even have different colours for route numbers, like the panels on buses in Reading.
So give it a try, TfL. I have a feeling that in ten years or so all London buses will have LED displays.
Wednesday 10 January 2007
The Fuel Cell trial ends on Saturday after nearly two years of operation. During that time three adaptations of the standard Mercedes-Benz Citaro single-decker ran on the 25, switching after six months to the more sedate RV1, both operated on a special dedicated schedule out of First London’s Hackney (H) garage. They were part of a Europe-wide trial in which ten cities have been evaluating the buses.
So what’s next, is the question. To hit you with a barrage of questions all at once, in fact, I’ll start with where are the buses going to go? What of the hydrogen fuelling facility, in this case sited at Hornchurch (admittedly some distance away from the RV1’s roads but still within range after a morning’s work). Are we, the public, to be privy to the results gained from the experiment? And most importantly, is there any future in the project – because, as a convinced fan of this type of propulsion, I should hate to see the whole thing quietly dropped now that hybrid buses seem to be in the ascendancy, especially when hybrids, from experience of the 360’s feeble and rarely-seen DAF SB120 adaptations, are clearly not up to the task. There is, of course, a colossal cost differential, but funding has never been a problem for TfL, not recently in the public’s estimation at any rate. How about putting the recent extortionate fare hikes towards some more fuel cell buses?
So here’s a view of ESQ 64992 (LK53 MBU), the second of the three fuel cell Citaros, at the RV1’s Aldwych terminus on 14th November 2005.
Wednesday 13 December 2006
The most famous ticket machine on London’s buses may have been the Gibson used by London bus conductors from 1953 to 1993, but the Almex E designed for OPO buses ran it a creditable second with approximately twenty years of service. The last of them came off at the end of 1987, and indeed had come into their own once the accompanying self-service ticket machinery had been abandoned in 1979.
They issued a little square ticket with a resounding ‘ptatka!’ sound made possible only by the machines’ being powered by an electric current; otherwise, a lever had to be fitted to snap the ticket out manually. A couple of London Transport garages issued their conductors with Almex Es as an experiment, the most familiar in my experience being Norbiton, whose 65 and 71 were treated during 1983. The ticket on the left is from box 5880, which at the time of issue (Friday 26th June 1985) belonged to Southall and was allocated to route 232. The stage number (10) is next, which for this route was Southall Broadway. Underneath you get the usual London Transport ownership markings, and then upside down is the fare code (A), which that year was the child fare of 15p, and beside that the ticket number (9004). When I was a kid, we used to consider tickets that added up to 21 lucky, and there were fairly reasonable odds of getting one with tickets that only ran from 0000 to 9999.
This ticket is from a batch of Almex Es that were actually acquired from Strathclyde Transport in Glasgow, and while broadly similar to the traditional version could be set to display part of the date – in this case 18th October (1985). Box 7100 (showing the last three figures inherited from its original owner) was allocated to Victoria garage for the 39.
An unusual postscript revealed to me recently by former London bus driver and California expatriate Malcolm Allan, who was kind enough to send me the final picture in today’s post, is that some of the Almex Es found new owners once redundant from London Buses. This one is seen fitted to a Long Beach Transit GMC, and is unusually mounted pointing down, baseplate and all! The driver would issue the ticket and then hand it to the boarding passenger.
Thanks to Malcolm for providing this subject matter – readers are more than welcome to send me pictures and information that you think might be worthy of inclusion in these pages.