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Route 60
28 May 2007

The 60 is once again – for the third time! – operated by Arriva London South. They use a mixture of DAF DB250LFs with Wright Pulsar Gemini and older Alexander ALX400 bodies, the former being the more usual. Both types are represented below in Station Road, West Croydon, by DW18 (LJ53 NHT) on 2 September 2006 – the first day – and DLA255 (X507 GGO) on 12 April 2007 respectively. It's ironic that just as TfL decides to make a high proportion of red mandatory in contractors' liveries they should decide to allow the re-introduction of overall advertisements after an absense of many years – albeit with the front of the bus still in red, and in the case of DW18 advertising one of TfL's own products! The 80p fare no longer applies and the adverts have had to be removed or modified.

Photo © Adam Murray.

Photo © Adam Murray.

Route 60 has almost certainly succeeded in making itself London’s most infamous route for years to come, as a result of one of the most spectacular failures of the London Buses tendering system. In general, companies place bids with London Bus Services Limited for the operation of a route for a set period (usually five years), and the lowest bid, or the one providing best value for money, usually wins. However, until recently relatively little thought was given to the suitability of the bids.

The 60 came into existence in September 1982, replacing route 130 between Croydon and Streatham Common via Streatham Vale, and route 118 from Streatham Vale and Streatham to Clapham Common via Poynders Road. It plodded on fairly uneventfully until 1998, when one of many route schemes to affect the Croydon area network recently, all in the name of Tramlink, took place.

Several routes were due to be re-tendered from the summer of 1998, one of these being the 60. The opportunity was taken to reorganise the routings as well; in particular, the 60 was extended south, replacing route 50 beyond South Croydon Garage to Purley, Coulsdon and Old Coulsdon, in order to restore a long-lost link between Coulsdon and the Mayday Hospital off London Road. Ironically the link had been lost in 1988 when the 50, which does not serve the Mayday, replaced old route 190 between Old Coulsdon and Croydon. This particular bit of planning was a bit up the wall, as the change coincided with the closure of Purley Hospital, whose patients were transferred to the Mayday!

In compensation for the extension, the section of the 60 north of Streatham Common to Streatham and Clapham Common was transferred to a new route, the 255. The southwards extension of the 60 via former 190 roads also partially replaced route 109, which was cut back from Purley to Croydon.

The successful bidder for the 60 was quite a surprise, Capital Logistics gaining the route from Arriva London South. Capital Logistics was formed in August 1997 following the merger of Whyte’s Airport Services and Capital Coaches the previous April, and operated a variety of coach and contract services around Heathrow Airport, and was just about to take over its first LT contracts, local Uxbridge – Heathrow route U3 on tender and the prestigious 726 from London Coaches.

Needless to say the 60 was a bit out of Capital Logistics’ normal area, and this was probably a factor in the events that followed. But the first apparent difficulty was that new low floor buses had been specified for the 60, and were on order, but were not ready in time. In fact nobody had any production low floor double deckers then, so this was not very surprising!

Conveniently, Stagecoach Selkent had just lost routes 119 and 320 to Metrobus from the same date in September, and was therefore able to step in to provide most of the service using redundant drivers and vehicles. However, it was not able to provide the full service, and therefore Blue Triangle of Rainham was called in on one of its many rescue jobs to provide the balance of four buses. Thus Blue Triangle was a subcontractor to Selkent, which was in turn a subcontractor to Capital Logistics, which was contracted by London Transport Buses!

But this arrangement could not last beyond 23 January 1999, when Selkent had other commitments to take on in the Bromley and Plumstead areas. This not only meant Selkent could no longer assist on the 60, but that it would have to withdraw from route 127 on which it was also helping out. This meant that Blue Triangle would transfer its route 60 resources to the 127 as well. It was hoped that Capital Logistics would be able to take over the 60 from this date — but, unfortunately, this was not to be.

There was then a rumour that a company called Driver Express — of which nobody had probably heard — would take on the route, together with the outstanding order for 16 DAF DB250LFs, although initially hired buses would be used. Driver Express had a small fleet of coaches and was also into driver training. But on the day the company had just one bus ready, an un-repainted former Reading Transport MCW Metrobus. Instead an emergency 15-minute frequency (instead of 12-minute) timetable was drawn up by Blue Triangle, and the duties were covered by whoever could supply buses and drivers, in the manner of rail replacement work.

Thus buses were operated by Blue Triangle of Rainham, Capital Citybus of Dagenham, Nostalgiabus of Mitcham, Classic Coaches of High Wycombe, Stagecoach East London and Selkent, and Sidney Road Travel of Potters Bar, as well as Driver Express helping out to a limited extent until giving up early in February. Metrobuses, Titans, Fleetlines, Dennis Dominators, Leyland and Volvo Olympians and Leyland Nationals were all to be seen regularly, and more unlikely types included AEC Routemasters, Mercedes minibuses and a Leyland Tiger coach. The 60 was thus quite aptly named as a “working museum” by cynics!

The full timetables that had been displayed at stops since September with Capital Logistics as the operator were then replaced by notices regretting that “Due to circumstances beyond London Transport’s control ...” there was now a temporary timetable. It gave no bus timings, but hopefully first and last timings were the same as previously and people could remember them. Later this was replaced by a more informative one giving first and last times and warning that “Route 60 may be operated by a variety of types of buses in different liveries to usual ... All will, however, be clearly marked with route 60 identification” ... but in many cases, unsurprisingly, no destinations. Some of the operators managed more than others, some managing full proper blinds. Nostalgiabus helpfully put up notices in their buses explaining that drivers and buses had been assembled at very short notice by a consortium of small operators and that any shortcomings were not the fault of the driver.

This continued until around mid-March when at last Capital Logistics, which had by then taken back responsibility for the operation, was able to take the route over in full. Although the buses — 16 DAFs with a mixture of Plaxton and Optare bodywork — had been finished a couple of months earlier they had for some reason been stored until this time. Buses were operated from a new base in Commerce Way, next door to the Arriva Croydon & North Surrey Beddington depot. But almost immediately Capital Logistics was bought up by Tellings-Golden Miller! There was however no change to begin with.

The final twist to the tale was when Capital Logistics/TGM gave up after all, and the route was taken over by Arriva London South on 4 March 2000! Arriva must have been laughing their heads off, as it was them that had lost the route in the first place! The buses were transferred from the Capital Logistics depot to the adjacent former London & Country depot, responsibility for which Arriva London had also assumed by this time.

Agreement was made with London Transport to re-tender this loss-making route as early as possible — and again the award created some controversy. Connex, having gained an unfortunate (and somewhat unfair, in my view) reputation for its performance on South East England train services, had branched out into bus work, starting with route 3 at the beginning of 2000. The rate at which Connex Bus subsequently grew alarmed many, although the company seemed to be coping with the expansion. By now the reader will have guessed that the new contract for the 60 was awarded to Connex. Coincidentally, Connex’s Beddington Cross depot is only a few minutes’ walk away from the other two depots! Connex duly took up operation on 1 September 2001, just under three years after the previous contract started, with a fleet of new Dennis Tridents.

However, all was not quite as well as would appear at first sight! One would have hoped that route 60 would not be subject to any more operational hiccups, and Connex has indeed managed the takeover with the minimum of disruption to passengers. However there was a problem, but at least this time it wasn’t the fault of the operator. Connex ordered 17 Dennis Tridents with Alexander ALX400 bodywork from Transbus, parent company of Dennis and Alexander, but — again — not all the buses were ready in time! But the contract Connex had with Transbus gave a guaranteed delivery date — with Transbus bound to supply alternative vehicles if the buses ordered were not ready in time. This costs extra but is worthwhile in a case such as this where Connex itself would not have been in a position to make up the shortfall.

And indeed, as only the first 9 Tridents could be delivered just the day before, some alternative vehicles were supplied. Happily the alternatives were very similar buses, being 9.9m Trident/ALX400 combinations in build for Stagecoach. Even more happily, the similarity of liveries between the two companies — both red with a blue skirt — meant most passengers probably did not notice anything was amiss! Even the Stagecoach logos were temporarily covered by Connex ones, although the swirly bits at the back in the Stagecoach livery still showed up.

Although the early months of 1999 may have been very exciting for bus enthusiasts, who came from far and wide to record and photograph happenings on the 60, no bus route should be run this way. London Buses has been keen to recruit smaller operators, who are often less worried about profit margins and have lower costs and overheads, and are therefore able to put in lower bids. However it is thought that Capital Logistics’ problems stemmed from having put in a bid that was much too low, and was therefore making a substantial loss on the route. The Connex bid was probably more realistic, although they too found themselves making a loss, and eventually sold the business to Travel West Midlands – who promptly lost the 60 back to Arriva!

See also routes 130, 118, 50, 109, 255, U3, X26, 119, 320, 127, 114, 3

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