From Metrobus the vehicle to Metrobus the company. On 8th December they acquired the entire First Orpington Buses network, buses and all. Demonstrating a number change at a bitterly cold Orpington Station forecourt that first afternoon is 10.1-metre Dart 381 (LK51 JYL), renumbered from DML 41412 and displaying both numbers.
Twelve years ago, the award of much of the Orpington-area network from Roundabout (latterly part of Stagecoach Selkent) to what was then CentreWest came as one hell of a surprise, but it demonstrated that the newly independent former subsidiaries of LBL didn’t have to be constricted by their geographic fate. With First selling off what remained of that network, maybe expanding far from their roots is not such a good idea after all.
Of course, tendering was what made it no longer viable; the loss of the T31 and T32 to Arriva London South not long ago and the 61 to Selkent before that weakened the St Mary Cray operation, with the inevitable result. It is a shame tendering has always failed to take into account local needs in that staff are likely to have ambitions and commitments lasting for longer than five to seven years. In this case, however, the staff, as much fixed assets as the buses, have been transferred themselves, ensuring a little more stability.
However, demonstrating the further lunacy of tendering (or at least the whims of whoever makes that decision – one we’ve never been allowed to see), Metrobus has now taken a hiding itself, losing three of its original routes!
New route 332 was introduced last Saturday; operated by new Enviro400s from Metroline’s Cricklewood garage (or the temporary outstation across the road, at least), it links Paddington (not Marylebone as I said the other day – sorry about that) with Neasden, via the 16 and 316.
Here leaving Paddington on Sunday 14th October is TE 835 (LK57 AXP).
From time to time I look at my search statistics and see if anyone’s asked questions that brought them here, and whether I might be able to answer them. One I just saw is ‘Will the 316 gain double-deck buses’?
No, and yes; from 13 October it’s being split in two and the northern section handed over to new double-deck route 332, which will provide a further link towards town as far as Marylebone. The 316 was already part of a split route, the old 16, which was curtailed at Cricklewood garage this time ten years ago. Once the White City complex is in place, the 316 will be projected southwards towards it. The 316 started under Thorpe’s late in 2002, but the subsequent movement of that company under Metroline brought in its existing Darts like DLD 110 (T39 KLD), seen swinging into Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury’s on 3rd March 2007.
Two contract awards on 30th June placed the 406 and 418 with Epsom Buses, who trade as Quality Line. This brought them their first double-deckers, in the shape of ten Enviro400s (four each and one spare). Here at Kingston on the traffic-plagued first day are DD 04 (SK07 DZD, left), and DD 10 (SK07 DZL). Just visible behind the second bus is an example of the other contract change to take place on that day, the transfer of the 465 from Travel London (West) back to Arriva Guildford & West Surrey with six new Enviro200Darts.
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.
It’s an elusive sort of route, the 273, its most recent upgrade bringing it to only every twenty minutes rather than every thirty – but at one point it disappeared entirely for three years!
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.
A comment made a couple of days ago asked if I’d profile the 7, as it’s been in the news lately, so here goes.
You last heard about the 7 from me the day it lost its RMLs, 2nd July 2004, and since then it’s been just another anonymous OPO route with unremarkable Dennis Tridents like TNA 32952 (W952 ULL) – although one individual took it upon himself to deplete the route’s stock by setting fire to Westbourne Park garage, a crime for which he got no punishment whatsoever. However, it’s just been awarded to Metroline for takeup in June or July this year. OPO conversion had been introduced midway through its five-year contract, and to be fair it was almost one-manned at the start of it.
Metroline’s joy at winning such an important route caught swiftly in their throat with the news that they have lost the 24, one of the most important central London routes and one stocked with brand new vehicles; although not speculating about from which garage they could operate the 7 (none are within five miles of any point on the route!), Holloway will soon have some space! Still, there will be four or five months separating the 7 and 24 changeovers, not to mention that each contract bid specifies an operating garage, so we can worry about that when the time comes. The vehicles will comprise Scania N270UDs with East Lancs Olympus bodywork.
In the absence of much going on at the moment, not to mention the weather getting in the way of any serious forays, I’ve decided to institute a new piece concentrating on routes; a bit of history, a current vehicle used and so on. Today’s features the 219, which was one of the only routes I got a decent picture of while out in south-west London yesterday.
The 219 is one of those routes that has migrated away from its original geographic area since introduction; in this case it was created to fuse the ends of two crew routes and save just that little bit of money on a few conductors’ wages. The routes in question were the 19 and 88; when introduced on 21st November 1987, the 219, in its path from Sloane Square to Mitcham allowed the 19 to fall back from Tooting Bec to Clapham Junction and the 88 from Mitcham to Tooting Broadway. Merton DMSs were in charge.
On 17th June 1989 an alteration to the northern end was made to the 219 with its re-routeing to terminate at South Kensington, but the Wandsworth area scheme of 25th May 1991 restored the Sloane Square section to allow another new route (349) to pick up the South Ken section. At the southern end, the Mitcham segment was diverted at Tooting to Colliers Wood, allowing the service to terminate outside its home garage. By this time Ms had replaced most of Merton’s DMSs, with the last Fleetline moving on in January 1992.
However, unrelated problems began to retract the 219 from its cross-river remit; Battersea Bridge was hit by a careless freighter and closed for much of 1992, forcing all routes to cross via Chelsea Bridge or terminate short. When the bridge re-opened on 7th February 1993 the change was made permanent, with the 219 falling back to Battersea and the emphasis given to new route 319, introduced on that day. It wasn’t long, therefore, before the route was pulled back still further to Clapham Junction (14th January 1995) and the inevitable minibuses introduced (30th June 1996), though in this case the route had declined to a secondary status and its Metrobuses were reallocated to the far more important task of restoring an upper deck to the 155. Merton’s mixed fleet of Darts (DRs and DWs, later joined by DRLs and DPLs) continued to ply between Clapham Junction and Tooting Broadway (the Colliers Wood leg coming off with the single-decking). The crowding with buses of the stand at Longmead Road has never thrilled residents of this street, however, and the 219 was extended to St George’s Hospital on 12th December 1998 – but the most important change to affect the 219 occurred on 29th May 1999 when it was extended over the 155 to Wimbledon, acknowledging finally the timetable-destroying congestion suffered along the Clapham Road.
Low-floor buses appeared in 1999 in the form of LDP-class Dennis Dart SLFs with Plaxton Pointer 2 bodywork, and thus has been the case ever since, with the various batches taken by London General (as superseded London Buses Limited in 1994) co-existing peacefully at Merton despite differing numbers of doors and engine specifications. Today you’re likely to find the extra-long Pointer Dart variety holding the fort, exemplified by 10.7-metre LDP 134 (Y834 TGH) at Clapham Junction on 20th January 2007. These buses were bought to try and make single-deck operation viable on the 155 for a second time, but any passenger of this still-important service would tell you that was never going to work, and indeed the 155 is now double-deck again with PVLs.