Yes, the Metrobus is a London bus.
If it was new to London Transport, and that covers everything that was delivered up to 10th January 1995 (the date of the completion of South London’s sale to the Cowie group), it’s a London bus. (The Upton Park SLWs, delivered right across the cusp of their subsidiary’s privatisation, thus find themselves in two camps). Everything after is only half-valid – it’s a ‘bus in London’, in the way that Transport for London only obliquely counts as London Transport.
Found a picture of M 1353 (C353 BUV), that’s been talked about a fair bit; while Hammersmith Bridge was undergoing another protracted period of repair during 2000, a route numbered 509 was commissioned to take people from the station to the north side of the bridge. The fact that the route had to come seven miles from Hounslow just to take people a hundred and fifty yards was spectactularly wasteful, but it was worth photographing, so I have a few shots of the route. This one is at Hammersmith on 29th October 2000.
I remember M 1353 best as a Sidcup crew bus, allocated to convert the 21 from RM in November 1985 alongside the garage’s existing Ts (representing an extremely rare mixed-type operation that became more common as standards slipped). Once Ls came to replace the Ms, it was off to Stamford Brook and settled in what became London United territory, eventually working from Hounslow (as here), Fulwell and Hounslow Heath.
Would the pair of you that’s been arguing fit to burst over the merits of the Routemaster versus the Metrobus shut up a minute and pay attention? I thought of deleting your posts outright, because they’ve been getting on my nerves, but I can do better than that.
Having just finished and handed in The London Titan, the book I’ve written on the type to come out in April next year, I’ve since been given the nod for one on the Metrobus in the same style. So there goes another summer, spent sat in front of a computer…
Where my standpoint lies is pretty much exactly in between the old guard of solid open-platform fans and the younger generation that has felt, quite rightly, that its own favourite vehicles have been ignored or belittled. I had the best of both worlds in that there were still plenty of RMs around when I was getting into this crazy pastime, while the very last of the London Transport stuff was coming on stream – the Ts and Ms, both of which I was hugely fond of. Even the DMS, which I grew up taking to school and back, didn’t give me any trouble. They all deserve writing about, and now that I’ve done two RM books it’s given me a bit of credibility to pursue the newer stuff that just hasn’t been tackled – the Titan book is the first manifestation of that, and now I’m getting to do the M! So everyone wins.
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.
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.