Go-Away from Bexleyheath

Go Ahead are arguably the most established operator in Bexleyheath, however on the 20th of January many dents were made into their established operation in the area, notably by Arriva London and Stagecoach London. The results to the much awaited tranche of routes which contained routes 99, 269, 401, 422, B14 and B16 were announced on the 21st of July 2017. Routes 99, 269 and 401 were all announced as passing to Arriva London while routes 422 and B14 were both announced as passing to Stagecoach London with only the B16 retained by the current operator. 

No doubt this would mean many changes to all three operators involved in the change, Dartford (DT) garage would get three new double-decker routes to operate, all using spare Wright Pulsar Gemini bodied DB300 buses made free from contract retentions in North London. Stagecoach London were letting go route 99 from Plumstead (PD) and route 269 from Bromley (TB) however to replace them route 422 would go into Plumstead garage while route B14 would go into Bromley garage. Bexleyheath (BX) garage were seen to be the biggest loser this time around, losing three routes and not getting any routes in replacement. This post will focus on routes 99, 269, 401 and 422.

12355 seen at Woolwich Arsenal
© EastLondoner
As you regular readers probably know by now, I will go through a bit of history on the routes involved before moving onto details about the service change. Starting off with route 99. The route initially started back in 1934, running from Woolwich to Erith and it remained in this form for many years until 1979, when it was extended from Erith to Slade Green. However this extension was then backtracked in 1985 when the route was once again cut back to Erith. The route then remained in this form until 2009 when the route was extended to Bexleyheath following the withdrawal of route 469 from the area. The route also has a history of being with many different operators starting off at an older Plumstead (AM) garage, later this was reallocated to today's Plumstead (PD) in 1981. In 1982 the route was partially reallocated to Bexleyheath (BX) garage. The route continued to switch between the two garages until privatisation when Bexleybus took it from Bexleyheath (BX) garage in 1988, this then moved to London Central ownership in 1991. In 1999 the route was retendered and it returned to Plumstead (PD) garage, this time under the ownership of Stagecoach London where it remained ever since. 

During the 99s time at Stagecoach it initially started off as a single decker route in 1999 operating with Alexander Dennis ALX200 buses, it was fully converted to Double Decker operation in 2004 using Alexander Dennis ALX400 bodied Tridents. In 2011 this route had its contract renewed and the Tridents were replaced with Alexander Dennis Enviro400s. These Enviro400s have since moved on from Plumstead (PD) to Romford (NS) to make up the allocation on route 86, meaning the 99 for the last year of its contract has primarily been using Hybrid buses.

17967 seen at Bromley North
© GloriousWater
Another route going from Stagecoach over to Arriva is route 269, which currently operates between Bromley North and Bexleyheath Shopping Centre. This route is slightly younger than the 99, starting in 1977. However its routing was very different to the 269 that we know today, it operated between Sidcup garage and Woolwich via Bexleyheath and Erith. Two years later its Sidcup terminus was altered to be Queen Mary's Hospital. In 1985 the route was extended from Sidcup to Bromley North, and in 1988 the route was withdrawn between Woolwich and Bexleyheath which was replaced by route 469 forming the 269 that we know today. The route was at Bromley garage since 1999 and since 2004 the route was allocated with ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 2 buses. The route had the honour of becoming Stagecoach Selkent's last fully allocated ALX400 route, however a few Tridents do linger on at Plumstead (PD) and Catford (TL), and some are expected to stay back at Bromley (TB) to help top up allocations on other routes. 

A PVL seen in Bexleyheath
© LondonBuses72
Along with the two routes from Stagecoach, Arriva are also taking over the contract to route 401 which operates between Thamesmead and Bexleyheath Shopping Centre. Originally starting service in 1988 the route ran between Woolwich and Dartford Heath. However this very long route didn't last very long and in 1991 the route was withdrawn between Woolwich and Thamesmead with the withdrawn section being replaced by route 244. In 1999 the section between Bexleyheath and Dartford Heath was withdrawn, being replaced by route 601, this formed the 401 that operates in the same form today. The route was operated out of Bexleyheath bus garage since inception and this service change marks the first time it has been operated out of a different garage. Go Ahead London used a mix of Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7TL buses and Alexander Dennis Enviro400 buses during their time on the route. 

WVL455 seen at Woolwich Arsenal Station
© EastLondoner
Despite the losses of the 99 and 269, all is not lost for Stagecoach this time around. Route 422 which operates between Bexleyheath and North Greenwich was won from Go Ahead. This route, like route 401, started operations in 1988. It started operating between Bexleyheath and Woolwich, with some Bexleyheath journeys at different times of day running to Bexleyheath, Bus Garage. Later in the year the route was cut back fully to Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre due to the contract being re-assigned to Boroline Maidstone, in 1992 the contract was reassigned to Kentishbus from Crayford and in 1993 the route was moved to Dartford garage which was now under ownership of Arriva. In 1999 the route changed operator yet again and returned back to Bexleyheath garage now under the ownership of London Central, the route was also extended from Woolwich to North Greenwich to co-incide with the opening of the Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line Extension opening. Contract renewal in 2004 saw the route re-extended to Bexleyheath bus garage, however at all times of day. The route has now once again been cut to Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre with the new contract under Stagecoach.

Go Ahead and Stagecoach both wrapped up on the 99, 269, 401 and 422 with the last buses being 12344, 19800, E242 and E42 respectively. I went out on the first day to see how Stagecoach and Arriva were doing with their new routes. My first point of call was the 422 from North Greenwich. Upon arrival I noticed 12355 leaving, displaying the blinds for the revised terminus of Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre. No longer serving the garage.

12355 passes WVL375 at North Greenwich
© EastLondoner
10196 on stand at Woolwich Road, Bexleyheath
© EastLondoner
The change of terminus means that there are now three routes which run from Bexleyheath, Shopping Centre to North Greenwich station. Not everywhere you see that! On its first day route 422 was using a variety of vehicles, as is probably to be expected from Plumstead garage. The main allocation on the route was predominantly made out of 64reg Enviro400 bodied E40Hs, however a few Enviro400 bodied E40Ds as well as a few Enviro400 MMC bodied E40Hs were also out on the route. I had a ride on the 422 until Woolwich, where I decided to bail for a 96 that had turned up behind in an attempt to save some time, as I didn't have a lot available. However in the end that proved to waste even more time as we got beaten by the 12355 to Bexleyheath anyway. Upon arrival I made my way to get a quite bite of lunch before coming out to check out on how all the other routes were doing. I first went out to check where the 422 was standing. The answer was that they were standing on Woolwich Road, which is quite residential. This was usually used as an overflow stand previously. 

DW441 seen on stand at Friswell Place, Bexleyheath
© EastLondoner
After investigating the 422s stand arrangements I made my way to see how the 269 was doing, unfortunately this would also be the only route that changed operator that I would not be able to take a ride on due to time constraints. All of the 269 drivers that I saw were in Stagecoach uniform, probably to be expected as similar happens with many other changeovers. Operation on the route seemed to be alright in general with no extremely large gaps in service. Although a quick look on the LVF later in the day showed that the service had deteriorated a bit since I saw it. However this is to be expected of an operator on the first day while both the controllers and drivers get used to the new route and the challenges that it presents.

DW441 picks up people at Bexleyheath Clock Tower
© EastLondoner
A 401 and 132 stand at Bexleyheath
© East Londoner
After seeing how the 269 was doing I turned my attention to route 401. This route seemed to be the best operating route out of the four routes to change operator. I didn't have to wait long for a 401 to turn up at the bus stop and this was in the form of DW439. Those of you who know me well know that I do not like DW class buses at all. However DW439 was not as bad, certainly not as bad as the examples that were found in East London at DX. The route was well loaded throughout my journey from Bexleyheah to Nuxley Village, for most of the journey every seat was taken with only standing room available. The route is one of the shorter routes in the area, as well as being a very residential route. I was later quite shocked to find out that this route runs only once every 15 minutes, I would suggest that this route needed a frequency increase to go with the new contract, however going by TfL's recent trend I should probably be grateful that its frequency didn't go down instead.

DW439 seen at the Eardley Arms
© EastLondoner
DW435 seen at Bexleyheath
© EastLondoner
Routes 99 and 401 both cross at Nuxley village, so I used the opportunity to take a ride on route 99. This route was not having a great day, with gaps throughout the route and bunchings of buses. However luckily I didn't have to wait very long for my bus to turn up, DW444 was going to be my ride and it was also bunched with another DW. The bus was pretty lightly loaded for most of the journey despite there being a sizeable gap in the service ahead of us. However to my surprise a massive crowd of people boarded the bus at Plumstead heading towards Woolwich. The bus itself exceeded my expectations despite my expectations not being very high. The bus was nice and warm, something that was most welcome on a cold winters day. It wasn't long until I had to get off at Woolwich.

DW433 seen picking up passengers outside Woolwich Arsenal Station
© EastLondoner
Overall there's a mixed bag with changes. Many routes have ended a long history with their previous garage, however now they have 5 years with a brand new one. Go Ahead have lost two routes out of Bexleyheath garage, with a third route leaving two weeks after this set of changes however Dartford garage get new routes. It's hard to tell after just a few days how the services will manage for the next 5 years however to both Arriva and Stagecoach this has been a reasonable start and no doubt they will improve their performance in time.

I would like to thank GloriousWater for allowing his picture to be used in this post, please check out his Flickr stream and YouTube channel. I would also like to credit LondonBuses.co.uk by Ian Armstrong as a reliable source of information during the writing of this post