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An Attack on the Tower

It's amazing to think that five years ago that we had a huge array of changes on the last day of April. We had the 345 going to Abellio, the 368 going to Arriva, the 35 and 40 going to Go Ahead while there were many new retains throughout London. It's often forgotten that during that time of huge change, among the changes were renewals to routes 28 and 328 by Tower Transit while they also started a new contract on the 69, which got advanced to February due to other circumstances and it ended up missing out on all the attention at the end of April it probably would have got. 

Two brand new electrics at Canning Town
© EastLondoner

5 years is either a short time, or a long time depending on how you view it. Things can change very quickly, but then it can also only feel like a day has passed. But I think Tower Transit would have wished otherwise. While they saw great success in 2016, retaining the 28 and 328 and winning the 69, 5 years later in 2021 it was a disastrous sequence of events for them. The summer of 2020 was certainly not a good time for them, losing two major contracts of routes 25 and 425, but a few weeks following the 425 loss they got further blows. A tender announced in July saw routes 28 and 69 both lost in a single round, with the 28 making a surprising move to RATP while the 69 was lost to Go Ahead from a new expanded base in Silvertown. Most notably, route 328 was missing from this announcement, prompting speculation about major alterations to the route, alongside a possible loss following on from the 28 and 69 awards. 4 long months later, the worst was confirmed for them, with an award in November seeing the 328 awarded to Metroline out of Cricklewood. 

This blow was not softened by the fact that the 28, 69 and 328 were all going to leave on the same day, the 1st of May 2021. While it was clear soon after the 328 award that the route would be heading to Cricklewood (W), there was some doubt over the 28 and 69 awards. RATP did have a garage not too far from the 28, in the form of Park Royal (RP), but the award was actually to RATP: London Sovereign, suggesting Edgware (BT) were the garage taking it on. Although a couple of months passed, and it was made public that the Original Tour depot (operated by RATP) in Wandsworth would be re-opening to TfL services following a reduction in tour buses following the pandemic. This garage however is no stranger to TfL services, operating the 337 many years ago for Arriva, when they owned the Original Tour garage under the code of WD. Although times have changed now, RATP are at the helm and with it comes a new code, JE for Jews Row. This wasn't the only new garage here though. Go Ahead had been on the lookout for new land in East London, following the news that half of River Road garage was being taken over by the council for redevelopment into a multi-purpose business centre. A new site was scouted out not far from the current Silvertown (SI) garage and would be home to the 69, there was some doubt initially over the garage opening on time, but that problem seems to have been overcome

VN37953 seen at Wandsworth
© EastLondoner

Starting off with route 28, a route which has a huge amount of history with Westbourne Park (X) was no doubt a major shock to many enthusiasts. The route's history goes back beyond 1934, with Westbourne Park (X) playing a role in the route's operation since 1938 when it had a partial allocation out of the garage as a Wandsworth Bridge - Golders Green route. A couple of years later, the route was extended further into Wandsworth Town Centre, forming a Wandsworth to Golders Green route which would last an extremely long time until 1999, when route 328 took over the section to Golders Green and the 28 was cut back to Harrow Road. Although in 2006 the route was extended from Harrow Road to Kensal Rise which formed the current route in operation today. In 2011, the route had to temporarily move out to a base in Park Royal (AS), although this was only temporary due to building works at Westbourne Park, the route returned there in 2017. The latest change of operator from Tower Transit to RATP marked the first time that the route would not have an allocation out of Westbourne Park (ignoring the phase AS had) since 1938. The last contract under Tower Transit saw the route allocated with Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 bodied B9TLs, supplemented by a few Wright Gemini 2 bodied DB300s. 

I went out a couple of days following the takeover to see how the 28 was doing under RATP. The new allocation was made up out of Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 bodied Volvo B5LH buses which were previously found on route 139 before that route was lost to Metroline in 2020. These buses were known to be in a notoriously poor state during their time on route 139, they had since undergone an extensive refurbishment. Although interestingly the refurbishment was carried out to different standards on each bus, some buses were fitted with completely new poles which can be easily identified with the new turquoise colour, while some buses continued with their orange poles which were resprayed. While initially confusing, it was later revealed that the refurbishment contract of the buses were split between two companies, Hants&Dorset and Thornton Brothers who each carried out refurbishments to a different standard. Both sets of refurbishments involved fitting of new moquettes to seats along with a deep interior clean. From my experience, the buses rode like new buses following their refurb. Certainly a major improvement from their previous state, I wouldn't even be surprised if people would mistake it for a completely new bus.

VH45119 is seen at Kensal Rise
© EastLondoner

VH45192 at Kensal Rise
The new allocation, as mentioned earlier comes out of Wandsworth (JE), which operates as an outstation for Stamford Brook (V), which as a result means any heavy maintenance is carried out there alongside any checks the buses will require. As a result buses may rotate between the two garages, and there's one allocated journey each day which goes back to Stamford Brook garage at the end of the day as opposed to Wandsworth to allow for routine maintenance. For this reason, some of Stamford Brook's own allocation will often appear on route 28. The day I did the route there were quite a few Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses out on the route. These buses are likely to appear on route 28 every couple of days should any of its own allocation require maintenance that results in it being out of action for a few days. Service on the route so far has been of a good standard, and all that's left is to hope that this good standard of service continues over the next 5, or maybe 7 years for this route!

VH38132 seen at Chelsea
© EastLondoner
As I mentioned, the lost section of the 28 to Golders Green was replaced by route 328 which was introduced in 1999, making this route a lot younger compared to its sister. It was introduced in 1999 as a Chelsea to Golders Green route and has remained as such ever since. The route was based at Westbourne Park (X) since inception, although it too did move out to the temporary site in Park Royal during the building works at Westbourne Park in 2011 before returning in 2017. Its most recent contract saw it allocated with Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 bodied Volvo B5LHs which were brought for a retained contract in 2016. These buses are similar to what it will eventually be allocated at Metroline, although currently they are on route 7 as that route waits for the introduction of Hydrogen buses. 

A loaned TT bus on the 328
© EastLondoner
However, due to a delay with the Hydrogen buses, Metroline found themselves in a sticky situation where the buses the intended to use on the route would not be ready. Due to spares not being available elsewhere in the fleet, the decision was taken to loan the buses from Tower Transit in order to start the service out of Cricklewood (W), with them gradually being replaced by the intended allocation of native Metroline Gemini 3s as the buses became available following the introduction of the Hydrogen buses. When this will happen at the moment is unclear, the pandemic has delayed the Hydrogen programme considerably and it could range from just a few weeks to many months until the buses are ready. Despite the loaned buses are the exact same allocation as Tower Transit, the move to Metroline did mean that native Metroline buses kept at Cricklewood (W) can appear on the route. Workings of native VWHs, TEHs and MMC TEHs have already happened on the route.

TEH2087 seen at Elgin Avenue
© EastLondoner

Arguably the most notable change of the trio was to that of route 69, which was the only route to get new buses. Unlike the 28 and 328, this route has managed to bounce around operators quite a bit. It still feels like yesterday when I wrote the post about route 69 making the move from Stagecoach to Tower Transit and it's already changed operator once again.

DN33653 seen at Walthamstow Central
© EastLondoner
Route 69 under Tower Transit was often a route that left a lot to be desired, bunching all over the place and unreliable service made the route very infamous among the local demographic. Therefore despite coming at a time when Tower Transit were suffering many route losses, it was probably a very welcome award. Fittingly, the move to Go Ahead was to bring brand new electric buses to the route, following on from the virtual electric buses that the route used to have a partial allocation of under Tower Transit. As expected, the preferred order was to be ADL BYD Enviro400 City EVs, a type that is becoming increasingly common in London. Currently as I type this the orderbook for that type alone exceeds 150 across all operators for London alone. Alongside the virtual electric buses, the majority allocation were standard Alexander Dennis Enviro400s. These buses have now been predominantly withdrawn from the TT fleet, although two are expected to remain at Lea Interchange (LI) for spares. 

DH38503 seen at Canning Town
© EastLondoner

Ee50 seen at Canning Town
© EastLondoner
The new garage operating route 69 was given the code DS, and is being referred to as Henley Road, presumably to avoid confusion with other garage a few units down. Prior to the announcement of River Road's downsizing, the intention was for Henley Road (DS) to actually be a fully electric operation, although that's no longer happening, planning documentation says the intention is for it to have a fully electric fleet in the future which makes it London's first purpose built garage for electric bus operation. This shows us increasingly where the future of London buses now lies, despite fully electric routes were once a pipe dream, they are now very much a reality and route 69 is just one addition to a growing number of routes. The buses themselves are not too different from the other electric BYD double deckers in London, although for some reason they have the middle seat at the rear of the lower deck blocked off. Other than that there's nothing special about the batch compared to other Go Ahead examples. 

Ee56 seen at Walthamstow Central
© EastLondoner

While these three routes all show promising future at their new operators, what does the future hold for Tower Transit? Every operator has its ups and downs, we only need to remind ourselves of the time when Stagecoach lost the 5, 15 and 115 all on the same day to Go Ahead just to bounce back a couple of years later taking on the 25 and 425 from Tower Transit. Arguably Tower Transit are having a far rougher patch, due to their small size. Routes 212, 444, 25, 425, 28, 328 and 69 have all been lost since the start of 2020, with only the C3 coming in as a result. Although route 414 will be making a move to Westbourne Park (X), it doesn't make up for the losses faced by the company. Routes 308 and 488 have been welcome retains for the company since the start of this year, however routes W15 and 13 are both due tender results over the next few weeks. Can they keep a hold of them and maybe win some additional work? Time will only tell. 

A Tale of Two Halves

It's rare that a route is the centre of attention as soon as a year after it last got some attention, however that's exactly what recently happened with the 306 which runs between Acton Vale and Fulham, Sands End Sainsburys. 

If you remember back a year ago, I wrote a post on some changes that took place in the Hammersmith and Acton areas where a couple of new routes were introduced in replacement for ones that had been cut back, one of these routes was route 306 which was introduced as a replacement for the lost sections of route 266 and 391. Now while route 266 has managed alright since it was cut back, route 391 hasn't been managing so well ever since it was shortened and TfL have made further changes to the route in the form of a merger with route 110. At the same time, route 306 has also been tendered on a brand new 5 year contract with potential for a 2 year extension and Metroline came out victorious for that route. 

Usually with routes that change operator I give you a bit of background to the route, talking about its history and how it evolved over time. However with the 306 only being a year old there isn't much to talk about, the most I can do is point you in the direction of this post where I covered the introduction of the route. It might be a bit weird, a route changing operator a year after it was introduced although I assure you there's a really good reason for that. Route 306's introduction resulted in a hefty cut to the 391 last year, and the cut was big enough to a point RATP would require some compensation. Therefore TfL decided to split the 391 contract into two and hence RATP took over the 306 under the terms of the old 391 contract, but as a result the new 306 shared the same contract end date as the 391 which happens to have been this December when both 306 and 391 were put up for tender. 

As I already mentioned, Metroline were the winners of the route with RATP unable to retain the route when it was put out for tender. When the route was awarded it was mysteriously awarded with its bus type "To be confirmed" which led to speculation about what the route would end up using. Eventually it was confirmed that the buses that would operate the route were actually the buses that were previously allocated to route 212 under Tower Transit operation (VH38101-VH38111), these were coded VWH2697-VWH2702. Prior to their entry into service they were given a refurbishment and temporarily put to work at Uxbridge (UX) as school extras before making their way down to Brentford (AH) where route 306 was planned to operate out of. 

My ability to go out and cover the 306 change was put short by two separate lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic, so by the time I managed to cover the 306 it was April by which point Metroline have been operating the route for 5 months. I went out on the 5th of April, a couple of days after non-essential travel was allowed once again. Having rode the 306 from Acton Vale to Hammersmith last time I covered the route, this time I opted to cover the route from Hammersmith Bus Station to Sands End Sainsburys. While I was waiting for the bus I did see VWH2705 pass me heading towards Acton Vale which is illustrated in the picture on the right. Shortly after that bus passed my ride arrived in the form of VWH2707, which was one of the 15reg examples on the route. The 306 leaving Hammersmith follows the previous 391 route heading through Kensington Olympia and then through Fulham Broadway before reaching Sands End Sainsburys via Imperial Wharf station. 

The interior remains largely unchanged
The buses themselves aren't too different as to how they were found on the 212, even going so far as to still having the same moquette design, although new upholstery was put in during the refurbishment process, probably a decision by Metroline as their blue moquette would have probably clashed internally with the green theme of Tower Transit's old interior. So far on this route, service seems to have been provided to an acceptable standard. Although currently roadworks taking place at Fulham are affecting the route, although from my experience today I didn't find any major issues. My bus came at the correct time, and when I took a look on LVF the route was certainly coping a lot better than some other routes in the area were. 

Since its introduction in 2019, the route seems to be a tale of two halves. Its terminal point of Acton Vale has proved to be quite controversial. Route 266 that it replaced along that section would often pick up passengers from Acton High Street, but as the 306 only starts at Acton Vale single decker route 218 has to bear the brunt of the work here. But then the other half, from Hammersmith to Fulham has no doubt thrived under the presence of double deckers, my journey today had healthy loads despite were were just starting to come out of a lockdown, you can tell that the extra deck the 306 carries as opposed to the previously single deck 391 is very much appreciated among the locals. As for the new link beyond Hammersmith to Acton, it is yet to be seen how well that has taken off. When I boarded the bus today at Hammersmith a large number of people alighted before a decent number of people boarded, suggesting that this route is effectively two routes operating as one. Although now that lockdown is over, we will be able to see if people are starting to warm up to the new link beyond Hammersmith.

All that's left to say now is that hopefully Metroline keep up the standard they have shown so far on the 306 for the next 5, or maybe 7 years!

I know lately the blog has been quiet, the lockdown has meant we have been unable to travel outside and cover the latest changes. But now it's been lifted rest assured we will try out best to cover most of the changes we missed and to cover the ones in line next. In the meantime remember to keep up with all the latest changes on the London Bus Scene on the tenders page. Also take a look at our Twitter feed to keep up with the latest news on the bus scene.

All photos on this post are © EastLondoner. Please do not use without Permission

Letting Go

33 years is a long time, isn't it? However things cannot remain the same forever, change is good and change will eventually need to come for many things. Route 173, being one of Arriva's longest standing routes has just made the move from Arriva at Barking (DX) to Stagecoach at Barking (BK)

T73 seen in Barking on route 173
© EastLondoner

Depending on where you live, and what groups online you are a part of and what website you visit, you have either heard of route 173 endless times over the past few months or you've not heard about the route at all. The route runs between Beckton Station and King George Hospital in East London and is known for having a good portion of its route running down the A13 road, one of London's busiest and most troublesome roads. 

Route 173 started operation in 1973, however was quite a different route to what it is today running between Canning Town and Becontree Heath via Dagenham Heathway and Newham Way, with peak hour extensions continuing the few stops ahead to Poplar from Canning Town. In 1979, the route was extended from Canning Town to Stratford, running via West Ham Station. In 1983, the portion where the route used Newham Way after Canning Town was altered so that the 173 would run via Asda in Beckton to provide some better links to shoppers. In June 1993 the route was extended from Becontree Heath to Little Heath via Chadwell Heath. A few months later in September 1993 the route was cut short from Stratford to Beckton, with the lost section being partially replaced by route 473 forming the 173 as we know it today. An extension in the late 90s saw the route extended the extra stop from Little Heath to King George's Hospital. 

Two Enviro400s on the 173 stand at Beckton
© EastLondoner

So the obvious question is what makes the 173 change special? It just seems like a normal route end of the day. However once we look at the heritage of Arriva London, what is now London's second largest operator had quite humble beginnings in the capital. In the late 1980s, the 173 was operated by a small company called Grey-Green, with their base in Barking along Ripple Road which is DX garage today. Grey Green was purchased by the Cowie Group in their first step to becoming a London operator, making the 173 their first route. The Cowie Group is what was later rebranded as Arriva, the same Arriva that we know today. At the time I write this post, Arriva has a PVR of 1410, making it London's second biggest operator, the same operator who purchased route 173 as their first route. Up until the recent tender change route 173 had run out of DX garage since 1987 making it 33 years of operating there which is a really long time, probably longer than the lifespan so far of some of you reading this.

Some Wright Gemini 2 buses at Beckton
© EastLondoner

The past 5 years of the 173s operation has had its ups and downs to say the least, when the contract was renewed last time I wrote about the upgrade of the route to double decker on this blog. The allocation was made up out of Enviro400s which were initially brought for the 38s conversion from bendybus operation in 2009, however these got supplemented with a few Wright Gemini 2 bodied DB300 buses when route 175 was won in 2017 by Arriva alongside the sporadic appearances of Enviro200s the route certainly had an interesting allocation. However towards the end of the contract the allocated Enviro400 buses started to feel extremely tired and worn down while the Wright Gemini 2 buses that would appear were just too slow to be suitable for a route that has a decent portion at 50mph speed limits. Towards the end of the contract the prospect of a brand new allocation looming was becoming more and more attractive. 

The loaned buses being prepared for takeover
© EastLondoner
Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, the intended electric buses due for the route were going to arrive late as the factories were all impacted by the lockdown that was imposed. This left Stagecoach in a scramble to find suitable buses to run the 173 with in the meantime. Many operators in this case would usually just hire buses from the incumbent operator, as has been the case with previous changes such as route 285 and K1, but instead Stagecoach hired buses that RATP had spare. The reason for this is anyone's guess as the reason hasn't been made public, although judging by the state of some of the Arriva Enviro400s it was certainly good news to hear that they wouldn't be sticking around on the route. The buses that were hired ranged from ADE40410-17, ADE40425 and ADE40455-ADE40461. Prior to entering service on the 173 the buses were given their new numbers, in the 80*** range alongside temporary logos and new BK blinds. 

Luckily as I live on the route, it didn't take me much effort to go and cover the service on the first day. My first bus was actually a native Stagecoach bus in the form of 19847, which was drafted in from Leyton (T) to help out. The ride wasn't anything too special, apart from the bus feeling like a completely new vehicle compared to the 173s old allocation with Arriva which left a lot to be desired. 
80413 seen at King George Hospital
© EastLondoner

80425 and another Enviro400 at Beckton
© EastLondoner
When my bus reached King George Hospital the driver wasted no time in switching the blinds and dead running the bus back to the garage. A quick look at the Stagecoach schedule shows that the 173 has quite an interesting changeover arrangement. Due to the 173s slightly C shaped nature, both Beckton Bus Station and King George Hospital aren't particularly far from Barking (BK) garage, so at times of day (and all day during weekends), buses run back to the garage for their changeovers from both ends. As a result the route can look incredibly unbalanced on tracking apps due to the constant turnover of buses running the route. During the week this arrangement is still in place for some journeys, however live changeovers also take place at the Lodge Avenue flyover (which is the same place they happened when Arriva used to operate the route). These changeovers are eventually expected to move to Becontree Heath when the drivers rest facility is modified there. 

Euro5 Voith Enviro400s were never going to be the most enjoyable buses down the A13, so later on in the day I tried out a loaned RATP bus, my bus was going to be ADE40456, or 80456 as it was now numbered. This bus was a lot more enjoyable than the existing Stagecoach stock that it was working alongside and was in a really good condition, so thumbs up to RATP for that! Before I knew it I was home. Since the first day I've used the 173 quite frequently, sampling a variety of the buses on loan from RATP and many are in excellent condition, although 80412 does make a weird whining noise. Regardless it's quite easy to say that the temporary allocation of the 173, despite being 8 years old is a massive upgrade to the buses that were previously used on the route. 

10136 on stand at Beckton Bus Station
© EastLondoner

Stagecoach have had the 173 for over a month now, and have brought a noticeable step forward for the route. While Arriva had quite a lot of history with the route, service was quite poor and the buses it used were dreadful. With Stagecoach a noticeable improvement in service is already visible alongside the obvious improvement in the quality of buses operating the route - even if they are temporary cast offs! 

Electric buses have started arriving for route 174, and the buses for route 173 are expected to follow suite. Barking (BK) garage have their chargers installed now so keep an eye on the blog for a post covering the new electrics in East London soon!

First, but also the last?

Arriva have been having quite a beating as of late in Tenders, losing quite a few routes. However a silver lining for them has seen the gain of route 202 out of Norwood garage (N) from Go Ahead London at Croydon (C). 

WHV73 on stand at Blackheath
© EastLondoner
The 202 initially started operation in 1991 as a single decker route, running between Crystal Palace and Blackheath via Sydenham, Catford, Lee and Blackheath Village. Those of you familiar with the route will have already realised that this is the same route which is followed today, making it one of the few routes which haven't changed much through their existence. When the route was initially introduced, it was operated by Stagecoach out of Catford (TL), however a tender change in 2008 saw Metrobus take over the route running it out of their Croydon base (C). The contract renewal in 2015 gave the route a much needed double decker conversion with some brand new Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses. 

Two buses stand at Blackheath
© EastLondoner
The tender award towards the end of 2019 resulted in Arriva winning the contract to the route running out of Norwood with brand new Hybrid buses being introduced, an award many people didn't see coming. This did throw up some interesting questions though, as Arriva's preferred manufacturer for hybrid double decker buses, Wright, had just fallen into administration and any delivery and fulfilment of orders would have been in doubt. However, near the start of 2020, it was announced that Alexander Dennis were the company who would be getting the order with them delivering brand new Enviro400 MMC bodied E40H buses, the first of the type for Arriva London. Although, they do have E40H buses already, in the form of E40H Citys based at Brixton (BN) on the 133 and 333 alongside Ash Grove (AE) who operate them on the 78. Sadly, while Arriva may have dodged a bullet by not ordering with Wright, they couldn't avoid the one caused by the Coronavirus pandemic where all buses were delayed. However, luckily for Arriva, fellow route 405 also had a batch of E40Hs due, so the buses were conveniently swapped around to allow the 202 to have a full E40H allocation from the first day. 

Since the changeover in September, I've used the route a few times alongside the buses. Starting off with the positive aspect the buses are amazing, a part of me hopes that Arriva had been forced away from Wright a lot sooner. The interior suits the buses well and so far they have been well kept, albeit it's only been a month. While Arriva do have E40H Citys in the fleet, these buses come with the standard TfL interior with red seats and gold poles. Arriva's own interior with blue seats and ivory poles gives the already nice and spacious MMC interior an even more spacious feel, making it a really nice ride from a passenger's perspective. Oh, and of course there's USB ports at most seats as is standard on London's buses these days. So far the allocation of the route has been solidly E40H MMC, but a few strays of Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses have happened from batches kept at Norwood for other routes. I imagine these will eventually start to become common as more of the fleet is reblinded. 

HV398 seen at Blackheath
© EastLondoner

I did say earlier that talking about the buses would be the positive aspect, there sadly has been a negative aspect as well to these changes. Route 202 while initially may come across as a small suburban route does have a substantial portion running along the A205 between Lee and Catford. This section is often filled with traffic in the peaks and can cause a headache for controllers and as a result the service quality has seen a drop since the route left Go Ahead. Initial days saw almost all of the northbound service turned to Blackheath Village during the evening peak, however it's calmed down a lot now although far from perfect, showing that with a few more months Arriva are likely to get the hang of this challenging route and provide a good quality service to match the amazing standard of the buses. 

A side view of HT17 at Blackheath Station
© EastLondoner

With the increasing drive to get London's bus fleet closer towards zero emission, it's unknown whether Hybrids will soon be confined to the history books. Since the delivery of these buses, London for the first time in years has no diesel powered buses on order from any manufacturer. While routes 202 and 405 make up the first batch of Arriva's Enviro400 MMCs for London, they could also very well form the last batch of them. 

Route 139 returns to Metroline

Swings and roundabouts, we hear this term a lot these days. Many routes change operator on tenders, no matter how long standing they are. However sometimes a route with a history at a particular operator can "return" following a new tender, and route 139 has been the latest recipient of this when it returned to Metroline operation in August

VH45115 at Waterloo
© EastLondoner
Route 139 traditionally has a really long history at Metroline, however wasn't always based out of Cricklewood under their tenure. The route started operation in 1992 running out of a now closed garage in Chalk Farm, running between Trafalgar Square and West Hampstead, major change didn't come again until 2003 when the route was extended to Waterloo. The route was also moved into its long term home of Cricklewood (W) in 2002. 2017 was when the biggest change arguably happened to the route, with an extension to Golders Green to give the area a link south of Oxford Circus following the rerouting of the 13 to Victoria. At this time what ended up happening was as the 139 contract was due for renewal, the contract wasn't tendered and was just passed onto RATP to see out the remaining 13 contract, while route 13 was taken over by Tower Transit. This did place Metroline at a loss of two routes, but the 2020 tender as I mentioned earlier saw the route returning to Metroline operation. 

Soon after the tender was announced, it was made public that the buses to be used on the route would be the buses which were previously found on route 34 at Potters Bar (PB), as that route had been lost to Arriva in November 2019. This would also mark the introduction of Wrightbus vehicles to Cricklewood for the first time (ignoring the New Routemaster buses). The buses started arriving at Cricklewood prior to the national lockdown of March 2020 and managed to start spreading themselves over the garage's double decker routes, with them mostly being found on route 210. 

VWH2032 seen at Golders Green
© EastLondoner
Metroline took over operation of the route in the early hours of the 29th of August 2020, with VWH2023 being the first bus to welcome route 139 back to Metroline operation. I went out the following week to see how Metroline were getting on with the route and how they had settled in to their returned route. I had decided to bus it into Central London, and that was a big mistake so I ended up needing to use the ring road to get to Baker Street which meant that I would be unable to complete an end to end journey on the route, however that would be no loss as I'm already accustom to that section really well, and social distancing measures throughout Central London meant that it was all full of traffic anyway. Upon boarding the bus it was nice to see the familiar interior of a Metroline bus on the 139 that I was used to for all those years prior to the Finchley Road changes. 

TEH1113 on stand at Golders Green
© EastLondoner
The ride itself, well was nothing to get too hyped up over. As with many contract changes these days, the new schedule seemed to have had extra running time incorporated into it, which meant that when the roads were empty and not many people were boarding the bus the journey would be filled with extremely slow and agonising driving, or regulating at stops to a point you wish you could just get off and walk. Sadly this 139 ride was exactly like that, I was starting to feel impatient the closer and closer we got to Golders Green. Once we finally reached, I was the first person off that bus because I needed to stretch my legs. What made this worse is that when I reached Golders Green there were already 3 139s on stand, when only two are meant to be on the stand at any one time, suggesting that we had in fact arrived early as well. One of those buses was a standard Alexander Dennis Enviro400H, which are also found in Cricklewood's fleet and made up the 139s allocation prior to its move to RATP. 

VWH2028 seen at Oxford Circus
© EastLondoner
Sadly the 139 seems to have become a victim of the extra running time group of tenders, where operators incorporate extra running time into the schedule in order to allow buses to stick to timetables and schedules better, reducing the risk of any excess waiting times and lost mileage. This is quite good for the operator, not particularly good for the passenger though. The 139 has also been a source of controversy within the company itself, being one of the first routes where Metroline has employed remote sign on, a practice where drivers clock onto work along the route itself as opposed to the garage. This hasn't particularly fallen well within Metroline's staff base, with staff being balloted for strike action as many of them are against the practice, however it does show the lengths operators are now going to save money and cut costs in order to win further work due to increased competition. The tendering system was initially introduced to cut costs, but have we reached a point where costs have now been cut too much? Leave your answer to that in the comments!

VWH2029 seen at Golders Green
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It's always nice to see an old operator take on a route again, but whether Metroline returning to the 139 is a step forward for the route remains to be seen. It's been a fair few weeks since the takeover and the few times I've used it since, both for enthusiast and non-enthusiast related reasons have shown excess regulation and slow journey times. However it seems that it's something we might need to get used to on the majority of routes going forward from now on. 

Being Reunited

It's been a couple of months now since route 25 returned to Stagecoach operation, more recently sister route 425 has also moved to operation with the company to be reunited with the 25. 

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Before we move onto the change the 425 has undergone, let's pay a quick re-visit to what has happened at Stagecoach and Tower Transit since the 25 changed operator. I did mention in the post that route 25 spent its last year at Tower Transit allocated with Wright StreetDeck HEV96 buses which were to move to the 262 and 473 upon the loss. 

WH31103 seen at Gallions Reach
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The StreetDecks have never been the most popular buses in London among enthusiasts, known for being completely gutless and sounding like a washing machine on its last spin cycle. So I wasn't the happiest bunny out there that they were being put onto my local route, the 262. Especially as the Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 buses that the 262 had prior were amazing vehicles, full of character and always a nice pleasure to ride on, despite being 9 years old by that point. Type-training for the 262 and 473 drivers started in Spring 2020, with the StreetDecks being seen along the routes through the day with drivers on board. The buses then started appearing in service in May 2020, a few weeks before the loss of route 25. 

WH31105 seen at Stratford
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The day the 25 was lost the 262 and 473 took up their full allocation of StreetDecks as expected. I didn't ride them for a couple of weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however once restrictions were eased I did use one on the 262 on my way to Stratford, which got turned and then I also happened to get one on the 473. They manage alright along the much more suburban sections on the route, however a decent portion of the 262 is also down many more quieter roads and there's a short bit on the North Circular Road which the buses really seem to struggle with. It's not hard to see why only three batches of StreetDecks were ordered for London operation, with the other batches being the Go Ahead ones on the 44 and the Arriva ones on the 340 (which don't seem to actually do the 340 much). The Streetdecks released from the 25 also found themselves a third home on the 308, however I don't have a picture of one of those to hand sadly. 

DN33796 seen at Stratford
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Going back to the 425, I'm not going to go too much into the history of the route as I covered that in a post two years ago and not much has changed since then. The route's recent tenure at Tower Transit saw the route allocated with a mix of Alexander Dennis Enviro400 vehicles, originally ordered for the route in 2013, which were then later topped up with some B9TL-Gemini 2 buses made free from the 25, following the 425's extension to Ilford. Due to the pandemic sweeping the world, the buses that were to be allocated to route 425 were running around a month later than expected. As a result, they weren't going to be available for the first day of the route and Stagecoach had to scrape spare buses from throughout their fleet to operate it, so what would actually end up operating on the route became a lottery until the morning Stagecoach started its first day of running the service.

VN36133 seen at Ilford Broadway
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12300 seen at Ilford
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The allocation was scraped together using various buses that were stood down due to service reductions on routes due to the pandemic, with the allocation being made up out of a few spare standard Enviro400 E40H buses. Some of WH's Smart Hybrids which were fitted with LEDs, some of the 261s spare Smart Hybrids which were made spare due to the service reductions, alongside some buses which were not needed on route 25, again due to the pandemic. However due to all the short notice of gathering buses from across the fleet, not all buses ended up having their blinds programmed correctly - most notably, the existing standard E40H buses on the route were drafted in, which led to the buses displaying blank when heading towards Ilford.

Loaned from TB, 11070 is seen at Ilford Broadway
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11383 seen at Stratford Bus Station
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Like the 25 change, the 425 was also due to receive some brand new Smart Hybrid Enviro400 MMCs to be its allocation under Stagecoach. These were to be identical to the batch that was already introduced on route 25, with the only differences being some changes to the cab to prevent Coronavirus spread and red advert frames as opposed to gold advert frames. The buses started entering service during the month of August to very little fanfare, alongside the delayed examples over at Abellio for routes 285 and 270. In practice, the buses are mixed in with the batch that was delivered for route 25 due to being exactly the same specification alongside being ULEZ compliant. 

11348 seen at Ilford
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There's not much else to say about this change, other than some form of normality is slowly starting to resume again. There's a fair few interesting service changes coming up over the next few weeks so it will certainly be interesting to see them take place. Remember to keep an eye on our Tenders page for the latest information!