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All Posts, Key Publishing

Author Guest Post: Matthew Wharmby

London Bus Routes One By One

in five volumes:

Routes 1-100

Routes 101-200

Routes 201-300

Routes 301-969

Routes A10-X140

One of the longest-established bus routes in London, the 9 can trace its lineage all the way back to the first horse buses operated by George Shillibeer in 1829. Like all routes that once crossed central London, it has been pulled back over the years, losing its historical Hammersmith-Mortlake and Aldwych-Liverpool Street roads to settle today as Hammersmith-Aldwych. It lost its Routemasters in 2004, but for the last decade New Routemasters, better known by their nickname of Borismasters, have been in charge, and here at Trafalgar Square on 13 September 2020 is LT 73 (LTZ 1073). Operation of the 9 has remained with Stamford Brook garage, since privatisation a London United company, for four decades now.
Introduced in 1968, route 182 helped accomplish the mammoth task of cutting down the lengthy 18 to a size that was still manageable against London’s relentless traffic. A decade and a half later, it had become a double-deck route and anchored itself on Brent Cross, a north London shopping fixture. Operated by Alperton garage for its first two decades, the 182 passed under tender to Harrow Weald in 1987 and operation has continued from there, latterly under Metroline. Today’s fare comprises Wrightbus Gemini 3-bodied Volvo B5LH hybrids like VWH 2201 (LK16 DHE), seen at Harrow Bus Station on 20 July 2020.

London Bus Routes One By One is a five-book series that takes a snapshot of the extensive London bus scene, one route at a time. Capturing each and every one of the several hundred routes to operate in the capital is every enthusiast’s dream, whether it be riding on them or, as in this case, photographing an example of what kind of bus is on them.

A comparatively new route, the 270 of 1991 introduction fused the southern end of the 220 with the northern end of the 280, taking the pressure off two suburban routes that had become outmatched by traffic conditions. Until 2020 it was a solid Merton garage operation, latterly from London General, but in that year it was tendered and awarded to Abellio, whose Beddington Cross garage uses ADL E40Ds like 2025 (SK20 AZP), seen in Tooting on 31 July 2020.

Then as now, the scene is subject to rapid turnover, with today’s driving force being contract changes. Since tendering began in 1985, each London bus route has been offered out with a detailed specification on routeing and timetables; the company whose bid is deemed most cost-effective is then awarded a contract to run, it, with the choice of actual vehicle types and their interior design left up to them. Until recently, contracts have been for five years with an option to extend to seven for good performance, but, with the impetus being towards zero emissions by 2037, TfL are now phasing in seven-year contracts. In some cases, routes have stayed with their incumbents for multiple consecutive contracts, whilst others have ping-ponged between operators and others still have bounced back and forth between two local concerns.

Many new routes have had their number chosen to provide a sense of continuity to passengers who historically distrust change. When the old 184 of tram-replacement origins had outlasted its usefulness in south-east London, new minibus route 484 was introduced in 1994 to replace it. Camberwell garage had it to begin with, and after a decade of Abellio buses, this garage’s company London Central has regained the route for operation with electric BYD D8URs like SEe 144 (LG21 JBE), though in this 17 April 2021 shot at Lewisham it was allocated to New Cross garage.

This particular series captures the state of play as of late 2021, just before government wranglings and the sheer lack of operating capital threatened to devastate the network altogether. These books could thus have been much smaller, but as of 2023 the immediate threat is over and London’s buses can even tentatively start thinking about expansion again.

Routes with prefix letters are still widespread, having been originated in the 1960s to denote groups of flat-fare routes based on geographical areas. Routes with two-letter prefixes are much rarer, the EL1 of this 13 September 2020 shot in Ilford being one of three branded as East London Transit and planned as trams before budget considerations declared otherwise. The buses themselves are consciously upmarket, however, comprising a large quantity of the first Borismasters to be allocated away from central London. This is LT 931 (LTZ 2131) of Blue Triangle’s River Road garage.

You’ll find the London Bus Routes One By One series and other titles by Matthew Wharmby here.