Sunday, 28 January 2018

United or Sovereign?

London Sovereign's expansion is kicked into gear with the takeover of routes 142 & 258.

Despite the logo, London Sovereign ADE40413 (YX12 FNU) on route 258
North West London is what many consider very much Metroline dominated, which to an extent is true. Wherever you go in the North West of our great city, chances are that you'll find at least one Metroline route roaming around, usually many more. However there are still some other operators surviving under the Metroline influence of this part of London. Abellio do hold some reigns from their two garages in the area in the form of Hayes (WS) and Southall (AB), especially following the shock win of route 427 last year. However perhaps RATP and Arriva get forgotten about both having a fair amount of routes in this area, or for the latter, did.

You hear of Garston (GR) and perhaps the not so positive thoughts come into your head, building a reputation of not so healthy buses and poor service performance at times. However the biggest association this garage probably has is putting single deckers on double decker routes and vice versa. However is that reason enough for them to cease operations?

Arriva do have a tendency to operate routes from garages miles away from the line of route, take for example route 66. That's operated all the way from Grays (GY) garage when rival garages are right next to the route such as Romford (NS). Yet they still managed to retain the route last year. Garston were in the same boat, somehow operating routes as far as Finchley Road. Last year all looked good for GR, retaining 340 with brand new buses (yes GR actually got new buses for once!) gave the garage the confidence they needed to keep inside the competitive TfL market. 142 & 258 now up, piece of cake right Arriva? These routes actually operate fairly close to Garston so this was in the bag. Well obviously you know that was not the case.

The competition was always there, Metroline and London Sovereign were clearly in the running for the 142, 258 perhaps not so much with doubts on how Sovereign could accommodate the route in Harrow (SO), a betting person would of perhaps of gone for Metroline or Arriva. However the odds can never for sure tell the future and indeed now the RATP group has made sure we remember that.

Back in the Shires days: Arriva Shires & Essex 6029 (YJ55 WOC)
10 of May 2017. Nice date if you were on the French side, bad if you were on the German side and a bit disappointing if you had Singapore in your heart. RATP had managed to swipe Arriva of the 142, 258 and 642!

I for one was rather shocked at this turn of events with a bit of annoyance added for good measure. The 142 had held so many of my childhood memories, such as the excitement I had boarding a 142 in Brent Cross on my way to Colindale with my family to the SEGA owned bowling alley (where the Morrisions is now) where a game was just £1! The buses always stood out from the rest, perhaps not for the right reasons, but something they all had was character. From the DLAs to the DWs to the VLWs to the VLAs they all made sure you remembered them well into the future.

First to change was the 258 following negations between the three parties (Arriva, RATP & TfL) to bring the change over date forward from the 3rd of February 2018 to the 30th of September 2017. Carrying on a tradition from the Arriva Shires & Essex days, the route was to utilise existing buses, in the form of Euro 5 Enviro 400 diesels (ADEs) following their losses of route 120 & 222 to Metroline. Although, 4 new Enviro 400 MMC hybrids were originally planned to work alongside the ADEs on 258, they have now been diverted to route 94 at time of writing.

I decided to try out the 258 under Sovereign on their second day of service to see how the new soon to be 142 would compare to the old nutty 142 I had always known in my life.

Boarding in the middle of Harrow Town, I managed to get the first refurbished ADE in the form of ADE40411 which was a rather pleasant surprise. Nothing special occurred between the Town Centre and Harrow Weald Bus Garage, however soon the roads became narrower and the trees and bushes started to close in on us. The fun began.

London Sovereign ADE40410 (YX12 FNR) on route 258 
© LondonBuses72

The silence and tranquillity of the nature surrounding my very eyes was interrupted by my bus rocketing past, the engine on full blast with the gears struggling to keep up. The cooling fan was put into a code red alert, rushing into work to try and ease the strain on the engine. The steering now into play with the long bends on this section of the route needing tackling. The goal: Getting the needle as far right as possible. We must of been easing 35 mph when our assent was put to a stop. My brain now the one working, trying to figure out where is this? A fuzzy recollection was somewhere in my mind battling to become clearer and clearer. With the victory my brain clicked realising that it had sped past here before on sister route 142.

Taking a sharp left onto the High Street, we started to speed up once more, although not as fast as before, where we caught up with a 142 a couple of stops ahead of us. Helping our soon to be comrade, we quickly overtook at exactly the wrong moment with the next stop having the whole of Bushey trying to squeeze onto our bus. Where was the 142 we just helped? Speeding off into the distance having not stopped to help us. Loyalty eh?

A blast from the pass now in front of us showing off its MAN 12.240 power on Sullivan Buses route 306 by leaving us in the dust as we went through the one way system outside Bushey Station where we soon ducked under the arches and continued our progress to Watford Junction.

Arriving in the town centre, the majority of passengers who haven't turned to online shopping yet departed to visit and shop around for any goods they could find. Sometimes you can't beat the human touch. My bus now empty it gave me the opportunity to have a look at the refurbishment. Carrying the new RATP moquette (the rip off S-stock one), it did give a more drab 1980s look to the bus as opposed to the bright and colourful 'bubble' moquette previously used. However none of this could distract you away from the beholding fresh feel submerging the bus, so overall not a bad refurbishment in the looks and mechanical departments.

Having arrived outside Watford Junction, it was at this moment I realised the London United logo still applied to the bus despite the fact it was specially refurbished for the new London Sovereign gains, which seems to have happened to the majority of the ADEs refurbished at Edgware (BT) currently (hence the title of this post). Overall, it was a nice journey, no doubts the bus was in great health but it was missing the personality Garston gave the route. Would this be the same for the 142?

Arriva London VLA122 (LJ05 BKV) on route 142 
The first operator change of 2018. Something enthusiasts seem to find rather special. With a rather quiet end to 2017 in the London bus scene, 142 kick started the passion of covering a route on its first day under a new operator back into the hearts of enthusiasts, well for most of us anyway.

With Garston ending their long and interesting history on the route in the early hours of the 6th of January, a new chapter was started with RATP now writing the story. Likewise to the 258, the route is utilising existing ADEs which are in the middle of refurbishment program. The first day went pretty much like clockwork, perhaps even better then how Garston ran it. There was variety on offer as well to those who made their way up north with a SP and VH mixed in with the ADEs to put the hype back into the 142, although lets just keep the single deckers off the table yeah Sovereign?

 London Sovereign ADE40403 (YX12 FNJ) on route 142
Being busy on the first day, I told my self that I would try out the route the next week. That came along too quickly and I told my self next week for sure and so on and on. A part of me just didn't want to do the 142. The route had too many memories of mine within it, but not now. This new 142 just didn't look and feel right. I did do the route eventually from Burnt Oak to Edgware and in a way a part of me disappeared. Nothing stood out, where was the fun? Where was the quirky passion? Where was the 142 I knew? All of that is gone. From a normal passenger view, yeah this change (and the 258) is a success. The service is reliable, the buses are nice, in great shape and you are pretty much now guaranteed a double decker bus turning up. However from the enthusiast side of me everything is just wrong. Perhaps I just need more time to adjust to this change before making my final judgement.

Both routes have now settled down under their new operator. Life is looking great for the Edgware family with even more work possibly moving in. However with Garston set to close its doors later this year with their remaining routes going to either Metroline, London Sovereign or Palmers Green (AD) garage, will all these changes be worth the closure of Garston (GR)? Soon the answer will be revealed.