Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Revenge

RATP fight back at Metroline after their loses of route 120 & 222 in style by winning their largest route, the 18.

London United VH45230 (BF67 GKU) on route 18
Its quite hard to not know what the 18 is. Its one of London largest routes with a PVR of 44 currently. Running between Sudbury to the edge of Central London, Euston, the route provides a quick and valuable link to its regulars, and sometimes to those who just happen to need it at one point in their lives.

I do somewhat hold a special relationship with the route. Even though its never one I have used on a regular basis, its one that through various reasons my whole family knows and can remember, something stood out about it.

Perhaps the Bendy buses made the 18 stand out all these years. They were definitely something different up in the North of London, which is mainly made up of double deckers and overcrowded single decker routes. However those left a fairly long time ago, so why is it still so remembered by people who are not really interested to the ins and outs of the bus scene?

Metroline VW1887 (BF60 UVG) on route 18
With Boris calling an end to our loved (or hated) Bendy's, double deckers came as replacements. Surely this should of just made the 18 blend in? Seems not. For the last 7 years the same buses have been ferrying passengers between the North and Centre of our city, the Wright produced Gemini 2 bodied Volvo B9TLs. OK so what? London has had many different batches of these so why are these lot so unique? Could it be they were London's best B9TLs? That argument could go on for days however agree or disagree, they were some top quality buses. OK so they may of been pretty worn out coming up to the tender of 18, however they've been working day in and day out on one of our most demanding routes and they were still reliable and in decent shape. Just goes to show the amount of love Willesden Junction (WJ) engineers put into those buses throughout the years, both under First & Metroline. However all that love wasn't enough.

I was walking up a rather steep hill to reach the closest bus stop to get a bus back home. On the 28th of March 2017, as had become the norm, I got my phone out to try and entertain my self as there wasn't really anything to look at apart from a couple trees and a couple billion cracks in the pavement. However my eyes soon became attracted to news that tenders were out. So of course I opened up the page and entered into a world of shock.

Top of the page was the news of Stagecoach losing routes 5, 15 & 115 all to Go Ahead London. Taking a seat after that shock, I continued to scroll down and my eyes popped out when I saw 18 and London United next to each other. It was something I in no way expected, which perhaps just escalated my shock at the fact prior to the weeks of these tender results, I was actually joking around with RATP taking over the 18. Such is the world of the London bus tendering scene, you can never know what to expect.

The 18 my family knew was about to completely change once again. From the bendy buses to the double deckers to Metroline (although they didn't really notice the lost presence of First) and now RATP. Would this change be a step in the right direction or a change for the worst?

The last day was approaching faster then I was preparing. Metroline were starting to remove their logos from the BF60 VWs, RATP were opening up their 'brand new' garage, Park Royal (RP), previously Tower Transit's Atlas Road (AS), to replace the Park Royal (PK) site, whilst I was preparing to say farewell to the Willesden Junction 18 I always knew throughout my life. My last ride on the route was something quite hard to accept, knowing that everything as I knew it was about to change.

Metroline VW1871 (BF60 VHX) on route 18
Soon the time had arrived. The darkness started to settle in, the sun gone to reappear to a RATP front the next day. Then it started, VH45219 (BF67 GKJ) being the first Park Royal (RP) bus out onto the N18 under the guidance of the moon and the street lights providing light for the path of the new RATP journey. However as the moon disappeared and daylight broke out again, everything started to go wrong.

The blinds kept on scrolling and passengers were made to wait all day, turns and gaps where not endangered along the route. However, not all the new buses were in service to witness this catastrophe due to Wright not being able to deliver them all in time. As a result, this saw Park Royal having to use some ADEs from various locations along with some existing VHs that will also become part of the route permanent allocation that were originally ordered for route 72. They're are pretty much identical to the new batch bar the missing welcoming new bus smell of course! I decided to make my self known to the change on the 2nd day of the new face.

My bus, VH45229 (BF67 GKP) pulled into a rather deserted and sleepy Sudbury on a early Sunday morning having spent a nice time relaxing on stand. I took my seat upstairs engulfed by the smell of new rubber.

We quickly found ourselves in Wembley trying to navigate the light traffic that had built up in the area until we found our selves on diversion due to some Sewer works on the high street where we copied a 79 ahead, taking us onto Park Lane where we soon ditched the VW in favour of the 483 routing, which really tested our patience as the gearbox tried to comprehend how to deal with Wembley Hill. Our ascent wasn't very fast to say the least.

However soon enough Stonebridge Park welcomed the new box on wheels, however my driver was in no mood to hang around so we quickly fled over the North Circular and found our selves in Harlesden.

London United VH45229 (BF67 GKP) on route 18
After passing the one way system Harlesden holds, everything started to get more fun. The needle showing our speed was leaning more towards the right, the bus stops were generally empty and the ding of the bell fell silent.

I was in a world of my own until the roaring of a VNW brought me back to earth with the realisation I was already in Westbourne Park. Things started to become more stop start now giving the electric side of the engine some work to do.

Nearing Royal Oak is when the fun made a comeback. The roads became wider and the traffic more lighter, something that I found very odd knowing we were approaching Central London, however I didn't mind and just took advantage of the thrill and exhilaration going through my body as the bus effortlessly zoomed all the way to Warren Street which unfortunately called an end to my journey with the route being turned there due to an remembrance event in Euston.

Since the first day, the service hasn't really improved. In two occasions 10 buses had bunched all at once! Mass gaps in the service on a frequent basis making passengers lives that bit more harder. However 18 is not like any normal route, its much bigger for a start then your average route so of course its going to take time to eventually master the route, plus the diversion in Wembley continues to affect routes in the area. However will this be another example of a big poplar route going down into the dumps? Routes 5 & 13 have gone down a dark road under their new operators and I just hope that London United don't make the 18 follow the same path.