On Cloud W9?

Sullivan Buses, an independent operator in North London, have taken up the chance to increase their portfolio. This time, it's between Chase Farm Hospital and Southgate via Enfield, on route W9.

Sullivan Buses AE27 (DB66 SUL) at Highlands Village on route W9.

Sullivan Buses until the 4th February 2017 only had been running one full-time route, the 298 between Potters Bar and Arnos Grove. However, it was a pleasant surprise when the tender announcement months earlier revealed they stepped up their game and took on a bigger route, with another addition (route 217 between Waltham Cross and Turnpike Lane) joining later in June.

Route W9 runs between Southgate Station, a small yet humble town in North London via Winchmore Hill, Grange Park, Enfield Town, Gordon Hill and the local Chase Farm Hospital. It is a small route, although has been alive since the 1970s and has always linked Enfield and Southgate via several roads that aren't served by other routes and also linking the former Highlands Hospital (which has since shut down with services transferred to Chase Farm and Barnet Hospitals and replaced by the new Highlands Village complex). 

It wasn't until the 1980s that the route was actually extended to Muswell Hill via Bounds Green. This was however a short lived extension as the W9 eventually gave birth to new route 299 about 10 years later in 1992. First briefly operated the route in the late 1990s using a few Optare midibuses from Northumberland Park (NP) depot before Metroline took over for 17 years in 2000 from Potters Bar (PB). 

Step-entrance Pointers (EDRs) were used alongside Marshall Capital (DMS) buses before being replaced by Pointer 2s registered in 2002 (DSD) until 2013 when new Enviro 200s were utilised alongside route 234. However upon retendering Mr Sullivan took the route from his South Mimms (SM) depot on the 4th of last month.

Brand new buses were ordered, typically from the popular Enviro 200 MMC range, 8 of them to fit the route's PVR of 7. All were fitted with the 'default TfL' interior that you see on the Enviro 400 City range buses, gold handrails, Lazzerini seats and customised registration plates in true Sullivan style, each of the first two letters in the plate representing an employee's initials followed by 66 and SUL for Sullivan. 

I took a ride in the first week of Sullivan operation between Enfield Town and Southgate, having just come off the London Overground which terminates there. I spotted AE25, which was to be my W9, coming round the corner and quickly made a dash for it to the bus stop 'Enfield Town / Cecil Road' which the route shares with the 191 route heading towards Carterhatch and Brimsdown. 

AE25 at Enfield Town on route W9.

It was around 3 in the afternoon on a schoolday but surprisingly the bus wasn't actually busy, or not yet it wasn't. It was relatively quiet, the only other passengers being on board where a few retired people and a young family. So off we went descending immediately into a back road where we were already met with a hill, ditching the rest of the Enfield bus network. This was on a 'Hail & Ride' section, however there was a lack of pavement on our side of the road (if I remember correctly) so the bus did glide down pretty quickly) where we eventually turned into Vera Avenue, for Grange Park Station on the Hertford loop on Great Northern Metro services.
For those that aren't aware, Grange Park is a residential town lodged between Enfield Town and Winchmore Hill.

We started to then dive into another side road before joining with route 125 on Eversley Park Road, this section I remember from doing 125 last summer, where we inclined a short hill before turning into Highlands Village where the buses on route W9 go on a loop for a few minutes - the start of it being a pretty large Sainsbury's that serves the housing complex. Here we started to pick up a few schoolchildren, whose day had just finished, making the bus a bit more busier than it was a few minutes before. 

AE26 (WW66 SUL) on route W9 at Highlands Village.
It was at Elizabeth Lodge in the very tranquil and rather lovely Highlands Village complex that I decided to disembark for a spotting session. It was a 40 minute break that I took here spotting any W9 buses that went by. Unfortunately the dull weather had decided to diminish the potential of my photos - can't say this batch was the best ones I could've taken, but they'll do until I come back on a more pleasant day! Buses were to be honest irregular, route W9 suffering from 'first week syndrome' where controllers aren't familiar with operating the route and so are still learning the ins and outs. Two buses towards Chase Farm were bunching together with the next Southgate one 20 minutes after I got off mine. It was around 4PM that I got back onto the W9 towards Southgate, with a very lovely female driver who gave me an insight into life (well, a week) driving the W9.

"The buses are very lovely, similar to the ones on the 298 but more modern and smooth to drive. Probably some of the best single deckers [Mr Sullivan owns]. Route W9, as a route is quite a nice route, aside from the school hours it is often quiet and fast to drive. You don't get much hassle on the route with issues such as traffic"

Passengers did take note of the new W9 buses, particularly the schoolkids that said the buses were quite stylish and new with one passenger stating 'they are like the 125s buses, they always turn off and back on again' - that's a reference to the fact the AEs have stop-start like on most hybrids these days. I personally dislike having stop-start on diesel buses, I find that the buses cut off at the first given opportunity and take a few seconds to restart again. It was quite evident on my W9 journey.

Interior of a Sullivan Buses Enviro 200 MMC.

The buses do handle and accelerate well, as most other Euro 6 Enviro 200s do, these ones being on the increasingly popular [for Enviro 200 MMCs in London] Voith gearbox and remind me of my closer to home batch on route 499. 

I like the new buses and the fact that the independents are starting to step their game up, Sullivan takes on what one assumes is their new flagship route 217 in June, and CT Plus have taken over a handful more routes in the Walthamstow area quite recently. Hopefully this is a trend to continue, and allows more operator diversity in a very 'dominating companies' saturated market. The service on route W9 has improved since I reviewed the route. AE15 from route 298 also made it onto the route for an afternoon in the first week, however due to operational restrictions, this hasn't happened since.

A fleetlist of buses can be found below:
DS66 SUL - AE20
SB66 SUL - AE21
WB66 SUL - AE22
LS66 SUL - AE23
FS66 SUL - AE24
BL66 SUL - AE25
WW66 SUL - AE26
DB66 SUL - AE27

So are Sullivan on cloud W9 over their win? They very well should be.

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