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Since 15 February 2003 – the weekend the first phase of the central London congestion zone started – this trunk route has reached no further into the West End than Whitehall. Nonetheless it continues to operate as a fairly lengthy trunk route across south east London. A new contract from 23 July (advanced at short notice from 30 July to coincide with administrative changes within Stagecoach London) has seen the route re-stocked with new Trident/Enviro400 buses, this type now being back in favour since the company came back into Stagecoach ownership. 19811 (LX11 BKA) picks up passengers at Woolwich Arsenal station on 15 July 2011. The nominal destination is Trafalgar Square, but in practice the last stop is quite a way back along Whitehall, hence this more obscure display.
|Photo © RNAM200 (Robert Mighton).|
While under the ownership of Macquarie bank double deck orders were placed for the Scania OmniCity, and a large contingent is based at Plumstead. They regularly stray onto the 53, as typified by 15059 (LX09 AED) in Woolwich on Wednesday 6 May 2009. This was prior to the re-acquisition by Stagecoach, so the bus still proudly carries the Selkent hops logo.
|Photo © Brian Creasey.|
Prior to the 2003 changes the route ran to Oxford Circus. Cutting a route back short of where most people want to go has always struck me as a rather odd way of catering for people transferring from their cars, but the link into the West End was retained by the new “bendy” 453. Meanwhile the ends of the 53 are served much less frequently than previously – although admittedly the demand at the Woolwich end has never been particularly heavy, the previous frequency being more for the operational convenience of getting buses to and from Plumstead garage for driver changes. However, the folly of such schemes was shown by the fact that the 453 was still operated from Plumstead garage, as was the 53, meaning buses and drivers have to cover that ground anyway, just not in service!
The number of buses on the overlap, Deptford to Whitehall, was roughly maintained at first, but a further frequency reduction took place in February 2005 (as part of a scheme to prop up another bendy bus conversion that had gone wrong, route 25). At least the route survived a more draconian proposal in the 1990s to split it in half in the New Cross area with hardly any overlap at all.
The route has seen a number of changes over the years. At one time it ran via New Charlton and Greenwich instead of Charlton and Blackheath, and beyond Oxford Circus ran via Wigmore Street, Baker Street and Abbey Road to West Hampstead, with a Monday to Saturday 153 variant serving Marylebone High Street. In 1939 the 153 was withdrawn and a 53A variant was introduced following the alignment via Blackheath. This soon became the main route, the 53 being reduced to Plumstead Common to Greenwich and then withdrawn altogether. Soon after the 53A swapped routeings with the 59 group of routes north Oxford Circus, running to Camden Town via Albany Street, and the A suffix was dropped in the 1950s. The old routeing to West Hamptead got a brief airing again in the 1960s as route 153, and the main route reached Parliament Hill in the 1980s, before being cut back to Oxford Circus when the C2 was created in 1987.
The route was converted to one person operation in January 1988, and New Cross had a small allocation along side the main Plumstead allocation until 1991. Volvo Olympians were introduced in May 1996, displacing the last Leyland Titans at Plumstead, with a very protracted conversion to Trident operation commencing in 1999 and not being completed until the 453 started over three years later!
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