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Route 383
10 September 2008

Route 383 was formed in the summer of 1998 to take over the rural end of the 326 between Barnet and Potters Bar via Kitt’s End. The 326’s main function has always been between Brent Cross and Barnet, but the route was operated by Potters Bar garage so half the service was extended there to enable driver changes. At its formation in 1991, buses on the 326 ran straight up the Great North Road, but very quickly the opportunity was taken to provide a bus service to Kitt’s End, Dugdale Hill and The Walk in Potters Bar by diverting it.

However, London Transport and its successors have become strongly opposed to complicated service structures, such as running alterate buses through, and so the 326 was cut back to Barnet. Initially the 383 ran just between Barnet and Potters Bar, to cover the service lost from the 326, but it was always intended to extend it from New Barnet to serve new territory in the Whetstone area. Thus from May 1999 the route was extended via East Barnet, Oakleigh Park, Whetstone and Torrington Park to provide new links to the underground at Woodside Park station.

There is a width barrier in Netherlands Road on Oakleigh Park, and buses working on the 383 need a special activation device in order to allow them to pass through. This has led to diversions on occasion, when the gates were faulty on the wrong type of buses were allocated. Initially the 383 ran with a batch of standard floor 8.5m Dennis Darts, though these were soon replaced by the larger 9m version. However, during 2002 the standard Darts were replaced with early low floor versions displaced from route 206 by new buses.

Now, rather ironically, the section between Potters Bar and Barnet has been withdrawn without replacement, even though it serves some sizeable residential areas. The reduced contract was awarded to Sullivan Buses, a new operator for London Buses contracts, starting on 26 July 2003. It has been suggested that Sullivan Buses entered the TfL Buses arena to give them access to London Underground replacement contracts, an activity for which they are well known but which had at that time just been restricted to established TfL contractors only; Sullivan Buses have since added a second route (606).

Sullivan Buses certainly proved their worth on the 383, transforming service quality with a dedicated term of highly motivated drivers. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when in the summer of 2007 the announcement was made that the route had been re-awarded to Metroline again. This was even more surprising when it was found, via data published on TfL's site, that Sullivan's bid was some 20% cheaper than Metroline's!

Commentators have noted that small operators do not fit in very well with TfL's current business model, which involves a lot of bureaucracy and administration, which is easier to spread out across a large fleet. This, of course, is hardly Sullivan's problem! However, hearing Sullivan's side of the story it seems something altogether more sinister may have been going on. The reason for not awarding to Sullivan is given on the TfL site as "tender bid not sustainable," which basically means that TfL thought the bid was too low – yet during the tender negotiations Dean Sullivan was told his bid was too high! It seems that Mr. Sullivan has "fallen out" with certain senior managers in London Buses because of his innovative and independent thinking, and has therefore been pushed out for no better reason than to satisfy a personal grievance. Mr Sullivan, however, does not intend to go quietly!

Either way, the deed is done, and since 26 July Metroline have once again been running the 383 from Potters Bar garage. Although initially awarded with new buses, a change was made to accommodate a needed capacity increase on the E6, whereby the E6 gained new buses and the nearly new buses on it were transferred to Potters Bar, where they work the 383 and other "small bus" routes. These are the smallest version of the Enviro200Dart model from ADL, and DES793 (LK07 BDV) passes through Barnet town centre on Friday 15 August 2008. Note the half-erased garage code – they E6 runs from Perivale garage, which is coded PA, whilst Potters Bar is coded PB, so only the second letter needs changing!

Photo © Brian Creasey.

See also routes 326, 606, E6

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