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Route 549
27 August 2007

Roding Valley was first served by London Transport during the 1950s, by an extension of route 254. This was around the same time that the local railway was transferred from Great Eastern to the London Underground Central Line. The 254 previously ran Loughton to Buckhurst Hill Station via Debden and Loughton, a d shaped route, with buses serving Roding Road (the bridge under the railway at Loughton) twice in the same direction on each trip, which must have been confusing for passengers! On Mondays to Saturdays only buses were diverted via Albert Road, Buckhurst Way, Hillside Avenue, St. Barnabas Road and Mulberry Way to South Woodford, following the railway on its eastern side.

Construction of the dual carriageway North Circular Road (Woodford Avenue) in the 1970s bisected Mulberry Way and caused a short diversion via Charlie Brown's roundabout. In 1979 the 254 was re-structured and re-numbered 255, now running from Loughton garage via Debden, Loughton Station (double run via Roding Road), Buckhurst Hill, Roding Valley and Woodford station to South Woodford. This should have been simpler for passengers to understand! In 1981 route 250 (Waltham Cross to Grange Hill via Loughton) was diverted via the 255 to South Woodford, boosting the service in the South Woodford area, while the 255 reverted to the former 254 routeing!

However, in the September 1982 service cuts, services were rationalised, with the 255 withdrawn. The 167 took over the section between Buckhurst Hill and Loughton/Debden, while the 250 was diverted via the former 167 route via Palmerston Road, and became the sole service via Roding Valley.

Tendering saw the loss of routes 20 and 167 to Eastern National in May 1986, and consequential closure of Loughton garage. The local routes were transferred to Essex County Council control, who tendered them and awarded the 250 (amongst others) to Sampson's Coaches. The following year the route was split in half at Loughton station, with the southern section becoming the 249, and soon gaining a short extension to Loughton Library. The contract passed to Wests Coaches of Woodford Green, who used a Leyland National and, later Metroriders. Wests later took on the main daytime service commercially.

In 1997 Wests was purchased by County Bus. The 249 was extended to Denden via Trap's Hill, although this proved short-lived as further re-structuring came in 1998. The 249 was re-numbered 549 and gained a loop working in the Loughton area, while the service was supplemented by a 301 running to Tylers Green via Epping! However, this arrangement also proved short-lived, the 549 reverting to South Woodford to Loughton Library. The 301 continued to provide the evening service, however, until 2001, when the 549 re-gained its evening service.

Responsibility for the route transferred back to TfL in 2003. Initially operation remained with Arriva (successor to County Bus and West's). In 2004 the frequency was doubled to half hourly, but cut back to Loughton Station as increased traffic congestion meant it was no longer possible to do the complete round trip to the Library reliably within an hour. From February 2005, coincident with the closure of the former West garage in Debden, the route was tendered and awarded to Docklands Buses. The service was cut back to hourly again, and also lost its evening service for the first time. This is most unusual for TfL, but they seem not to be interested in routes of this type and prefer to spend money on routes that already provide good levels of service. The contract was renewed by Docklands in March 2007, along with route 167, and new buses from the batch ordered for the 167 are normal. Here LX07 BYO is loading up on the 16.30 departure from South Woodford on Monday 23rd June.

Photo © Julian Walker.

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