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Route 105
29 July 2011

Two versions of this page ago I featured First London’s TN1000 (Y934 NLP), and noted that it was the first London bus to break into four digit fleetnumbers for nearly 20 years. Traditionally, in London, each type, or ‘class,’ of bus is given a code of up to three letters. On individual vehicles this is followed by a unique numerical part, usually starting at 1 and then ascending through the digits as far as necessary. Easily the largest class in history was the RT type of the 1940s and 1950s, and the last very large classes were the Metrobuses and Titans of the 1980s, totalling 1485 and 1131 respectively. Since LT was split up such large classes are simply not possible, and the much wider range of bus types being purchased means classes are smaller anyway.

Most of the privatised companies continued numbering in the traditional style, but there were some unorthodoxies. Selkent abandoned class letters altogether, but has since returned to them. Even before privatisation, London Northern took a batch of Darts as DNL 101-110/112-120 instead of starting from 1, and similarly Centrewest decided to start numbering its new low floor Darts at 117. Several other operators have left gaps in the numerical sequence, born of an excessive desire to match the digits of the registration to the fleetnumber and the fact that some numbers were reserved by the DVLA for the select marks scheme.

Centrewest, originally a management buyout, was later purchased by FirstGroup, one of the big British bus groups with operations across the country. Not long after, First also purchased Capital Citybus. To begin with, the companies remained largely separate, but they have gradually come closer together operationally. One issue to reconcile was that of fleet numbering. Centrewest continued to use the traditional class code system, while Capital had a purely numerical system that is more usual outside London. Capital’s fleetnumbering system was somewhat chaotic, but it was basically 100-205 for single door double deckers, 206-300 for dual door double deckers, 301-400 for Metrobuses, 401-500 for Arrows, and 601-800 for single deckers. First Capital took over responsibility for First Thamesway’s Ponders End-based operations, and the acquired Mercedes minibuses were numbered into the 501-600 block.

Then came the first examples of a completely new, and potentially large, class, low floor double deckers. The only sensible option was to start these from 801. To aid compatibility between the fleets, these buses also gained class codes for the first time. Centrewest’s low floor double deckers were also been numbered into this sequence, so it didn’t take long for the First companies in London to run out of three-digit numbers – indeed, the combined fleet size is very close to 1000, so giving every vehicle a unique number below 1000 while maintaining a degree of order would not have been practical. 1000 has duly reached with a batch of 17 TNs (984-1000) for route 105. As will therefore be observed, TN1000 was not actually the 1000th TN – it was not even the 200th, as other types (TNLs, TALs and VE953) were numbered in the same sequence.

All that being the case, it is now history, as a few years ago First Group decided to introduced a national fleet numbering system. Given the number of buses in the fleet, 5 digits are required, although the system is still pretty chaotic, with no attempt at first to number buses in neat sequences. The system extended to London, but class codes were retained as they are a convenient way of differentiating types. The result is a first – 8 character fleet numbers!

With re-tendering First lost the route to Metroline from 2 July 2011, but they have been able to maintain the position of fleetnumbers over 1000 following a decision to number all buses (sequentially) into a single series. This has now reached well beyond 1000. The 105 has gained Wright bodied Volvo B9TLs, which have been numbered VW – a code previously shunned by some other operators because of the potential confusion with Volkswagen, not that the latter has ever built proper buses.

Photo © John Bennett.

Anyhow, VW1184 (LK11 CXU) passes along Carlyle Avenue, Southall on the first day of Metroline, Saturday 2nd July 2011. This is part of a huge estate of homogeneous housing between Southall and Greenford, and the 105 along with the 95 zig-zags its way through the area.

First's Tridents brought a most welcome return to double deck operation on this busy route serving Heathrow Airport when the contract was renewed from 30 June 2001. But the previous contract has a bit of a story to it too! Before being tendered, the route was operated by Centrewest, and had been converted to minibus operation from March 1995. London & Country won the route from April 1996 and was due to introduce some of the first low floor Darts for London. The route took the first of a large batch for L&C, DSL 25-36 (N225-236 TPK) – amongst the first low floor Darts anywhere. A frequency increase a few months later resulted in some shorter East Lancs bodied Darts being used on a temporary basis.

The route was based at an outstation in Greenford (code GE), and was the sole operation of that base. Perhaps partly because of this, the vehicles soon became very tatty and word on the road was that the whole operation was a bit of a disgrace. It was not long before L&C surrendered the route, and it was taken back by Centrewest at Alperton from that November. London Transport Buses was ‘quite happy because the quality of service will be maintained and guaranteed’ – and indeed one wonders if LTB actually encouraged the transfer. Apparently L&C also had difficulty finding staff – not an uncommon problem. Looking back, the loss of the 105 was probably just the first step in a rapid process of decline of an operator that has gone from over 300 buses in the mid-90s to under 100 today, running under the “Arriva Surrey & West Sussex” brand.

Initially the 105 was run from Centrewest’s Alperton garage with the original 12 DSLs which were loaned from L&C, renumbered L 225-236 to match their registrations. Some of the East Lancs versions were also noted on hire, but by the end of the year they had been replaced by three new Plaxton Pointer bodied Darts, L 237-9 (P237-9 NLW), to match the L&C ones.

In March 1996 Centrewest had bought the bus operating interests of the now-defunct Q-Drive group, and included in the deal was the London Buslines operation based at Southall. Soon a re-shuffle of routes took place to make better use of resources and to convert London Buslines into a 100% single deck operation. As part of this process the 105 went into Southall garage. As 1997 turned into 1998, the original 12 Darts were returned to L&C, being replaced by standard Centrewest-issue Marshall Capital bodied Dart SLFs. However, after takeover by FirstGroup, Centrewest undertook a process to wind down Southall, and although it retained the 105 from June 2001, the route was moved to its own Greenford garage with the new contract.

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