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Route 13
30 October 2013

The 13 was one of the last routes to lose Routemaster operation from 22 October 2005. Plans had been in prepration for nearly 2 years but kept getting deferred, and ultimately only got the go-ahead once a 2 year extension to the route contract had been agreed. The route would otherwise have been due for re-tender from September 2006, and buying new vehicles for a contract that may only have had a few months left would not have made economic sense! However with the contract extension agreed it was possible to get the new buses in in time for the then Mayor’s end-of-2005 deadline for a fully wheelchair accessible bus fleet. Initial conversion to low floor was with Scania/East Lancs Omnidekkas.

A new contract in 2013 called for hybrid buses to be introduced – there was some speculation that these might be the New Bus for London as the route would be a sensible size to make up one of the first route conversions, and with a new contract due an ideal opportunity. However, it seems that as the 13 penetrates relatively far out into the suburbs with a high average speed the benefits of an open platform (and three doors) would be reduced. So instead the route has normal hybrids in the shape of Volvo B5Ls with Wright bodywork.

Photo © Au Moran.

VH20 (BT13 YWS) represents the class in Trafalgar Square on the first day of the new contract, 31 August 2013. The buses also inaugurated the new Transdev logo – since the merger of Transdev and Veolia, buses had been logo-less for quite a protracted period. Another intriguing feature for some members of this batch of buses is the registration block which must rank as one of the most appropriate ever, combining the garage code and route number, although I am assured this is coincidental!

In the 1930s (my oldest record) the 13 ran from Hendon (Bell) to London Bridge, which is not too much different from the present route, though a bit longer. The allocation was split between Cricklewood and Hendon garages, showing that running routes from garages off line of route is nothing new – indeed the 13 did not pass an LT garage anywhere on the route, although the Hendon terminus was not far short of Hendon (AE) garage. Hendon-Golders Green was reduced to Mon-Fri peak hours and Sat afternoons during the war, then withdrawn completely by the 1950s.

In January 1970 the route was cut back from London Bridge to Aldwych, and then got extended from Golders Green to North Finchley in 1978, reaplacing the 2B. This meant the route passed Finchley garage, and indeed it was based there for some years.

A surprise occurred in 1993 when the route was awarded to BTS (Borehamwood Travel Services) as of 4 December that year, one of just two Routemaster routes to pass to a private operator in advance of privatisation of London Buses Ltd. (the other being the 19, which passed to Kentish Bus earlier the same year). This resulted in the closure of Finchley garage, as the 13 was by then its main route. The 13 was also cut back to Golders Green again at this time, with the largely parallel 82 (the former northern end of the 2) being bolstered up to cover. This also re-introduced Sunday crew operation to the capital, as BTS did not have sufficient OPO vehicles to cover the Sunday service.

But running a route from Golders Green to central London from a garage in Borehamwood hardly seemed like an economical operation. BTS later moved their base to the old LT garage at Edgware, which in particular made crew changes a lot easier as they can just catch the Northern Line straight to Golders Green – drivers now get 25 minutes for this.

A fleet of RMLs was leased from LT by BTS and painted into their poppy orange livery. Subsequently BTS sold out to Sovereign, a Herts operator and formerly part of London Country, a different part of LT of old. Although other BTS buses gained Sovereign's attractive blue and cream livery the RMLs remained in orange.

As far as I know, the route was not re-tendered until 2000. Apparently, this time no bids were received for the route! Sovereign was rumoured to be keen to get rid of it, yet no other operator had the resources to run the route; now that both Hendon and Finchley garages are gone, Edgware is actually as good a base as any. Sovereign was eventually persuaded to put in a bid and when the new contract began on 01/09/01 the route continued largely unchanged.

However, the new mayor Ken Livingstone had been elected on a manifesto that included increasing the number of Routemasters in service in the capital. With none sitting around spare they had to be sourced from all sorts of places, many coming back from private owners who had been intending to preserve them, many being in a derelict condition. This motley collection was in need of refurbishment and overhaul, including fitment of new more environmentally friendly engines, and Marshall of Cambridge was selected to do the work – not, sadly, to a terribly high standard.

Rather than scatter the "new" RMs around all existing routes, the majority were placed on the 13, and the orange RMLs were repainted back to red and scattered around, ultimately providing the extra vehicles needed to enhance frequencies in advance of the central London congestion charging scheme. In the event this surprising turn of events proved short-lived as the desire for full low-floor operation led to the phasing out of Routemasters, as noted at the outset.

See also routes 267, 27, 9, 19, 82, 2

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