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Route 370
14 January 2013

The 370 is one of the oldest established Country area routes in existence, especially if one narrows down the search to those routes still operated by London Country’s successors. I have little information as to its history, but it was certainly up and running by 1939 when it ran from Purfleet to Romford, presumably via Grays, Ockendon and Upminster. The only other Country Area routes from Mike Harris’s Greater London Map for that year still recognisable with the same numbers are the 310, 313, 402, 403, 406, 408, 461, 477, 492, and of those all but the 310 and 477 have passed to other operators. The 418 and 470 have been re-introduced in recent times, and have been heavily modified, as indeed have most of the others mentioned.

By 1959 the 370 had been diverted to Tilbury instead of Purfleet, running from Tilbury Ferry via Chadwell St. Mary, Grays, North Stifford, South Ockendon, North Ockendon, Corbets Tey, Upminster, Hornchurch to Romford, and later gained a 371 variant albeit identical at the London end. In 1986 the route was diverted between Hornchurch and Romford to its present routing via Slewins Lane and Victoria Road, to maintain a link between Emerson Park and Romford after LT route 294 was altered. The following year it sprouted a 373 variant running via Aveley. However, the section between Grays and Tilbury was withdrawn, only to be reinstated very briefly during 2001. When Lakeside shopping centre opened, buses were diverted to serve it.

London Country Bus Services was split into four quarters, and services in the north east corner eventually settled down under the name of County. County introduced local names, and the Grays based operation that included the 370 became ThameSide. After a brief period of ownership by West Midlands Travel the company passed into the hands of Cowie, then still quite a small group in bus terms with mainly London based interests. Following the purchase of British Bus and a change of direction for the Cowie group, it renamed itself Arriva. By coincidence (or perhaps not) Arriva now has responsibility for much of the former LCBS area, although there have been cutbacks, especially to the south.

Operations to the north of London are now generally branded Arriva The Shires & Essex. However, in a strange quirk of administration, the Grays depot was transferred to the control of the non-LCBS Southend operation, and both subsequently passed under the wing of Arriva Kent Thameside – the former London Country South East!

When County was still independent, it was decided to modernise the interworked 370 and 373 routes from ex-LCBS Leyland Atlanteans to new low floor Dennis Darts, which were delivered in 1996. In 2007 these were superseded temporarily by slightly newer vehicles drafted across from Dartford, where they had been displaced from route 286 – although visually similar, they had particulate traps that were fitted whilst on TfL work, and therefore complied with the forthcoming London Low Emission Zone, unlike the outgoing vehicles. They had been repainted whilst still on the 286.

The route has recently undergone major changes. For many years the 370 and 373 both ran half hourly during the day on Mondays to Saturdays, latterly with an hourly evening and Sunday service part funded by TfL. The two routes combined to provide double the frequency over the common section through London between Corbets Tey and Romford. As such, they unusually provided a number of unique links within the London area, although a diversion of route 165 a few years ago meant they no longer had any unique road between Upminster and Romford. However, accepting TfL fares and passes meant it was difficult to cover costs. Accordingly, the routes have been re-structured so that the London end could be served as a TfL contract in the usual way while the Essex end could still be commercial.

Thus the 370 was withdrawn between Grays and Lakeside, and the 373 was withdrawn between Upminster and Romford, shortening both routes. The resources thus saved were used to improve the 370 to every 20 minutes during Monday to Saturday daytimes. This did however constitute a reduction in frequency over the London section. The 370 was duly tendered and awarded as a contract to Arriva, and the new contract began on 3 November 2007. The frequency was increased again, restoring the frequency between Upminster and Romford to what it was in the first place. The new contract also specified new vehicles in the shape of extra long Alexander Dennis Enviro200Dart vehicles.

The re-structured 373 did not prove to be a success, perhaps because of the loss of the direct connection to Romford, and was withdrawn completely after 29/03/08. A replacement service, numbered 22, was provided on a commercial basis by Ensignbus, who have in a short time gained control of most local routes in Thurrock. However, the service between Aveley and Upminster was reduced to a handful of peak hour journeys operated with subsidy from Thurrock Council, illustrating the difficulties of operating buses in the TfL area without TFL support, and has since been withdrawn completely.

Meanwhile, the route has proved increasingly popular under TfL control, and even the long Darts proved inadequate. Towards the end of the contract it became possible to convert the route to double deck using 'DLA' type buses drafted in from route 160 in the south of AKT's area, which were originally Arriva London cast-offs. Last summer the 370 got some newer London cast-offs in the form of ALX400 bodied Volvo B7TLs. 6118 (LJ05BKL) is the former Arriva London VLA 118, and was also a south London machine, based at Norwood. It was photographed on 11 July 2012 at 7:28pm. The only obvious feature distinguishing it from an Arriva London Bus is the style and format of the fleet number; the two companies' operations do meet in Romford.

Photo © David McKay.

See also routes 310, 313, 402, 403, 406, 408, 418, 461, 470, 477, 492, 294, 286, 165, 160

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