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Route 103
16 November 2010

Operation of the 103 has been shuffled about rather over the years ever since County Bus won the route back from 1 September 1990. The company operated it from its Grays base, with standard ThameSide branding, using a batch of fourteen single door Northern Counties bodied Leyland Olympians, LR 101-110/112-115 (H101 GEV etc.).

However, following a management shakeup at County, the contract for the 103 was very quickly surrendered, and Grey Green stepped in to take it over from the following January. The nearly-new Olympians were transferred, re-numbered into Grey Green sequence as 401-410/412-415 and gradually repainted into the company’s grey and green colours with orange relief.

At the time, Grey Green was the only bus operation within the Cowie group, but subsequently Cowie decided to expand its bus work. The first major expansion came with the acquisition of the Leaside and South London divisions of London Buses, and soon after the company also purchased County Bus, thus bringing the 103 back under the same ownership as its former operator!

Soon after that came the massive acquisition of British Bus, following which the firm decided to re-brand itself as Arriva, with a new turquoise livery with a cream swoop at the front. For the London companies, a red version had to be devised, and this also encompassed the Grey Green operations, regrettably ending this established and respected identity.

The route was one of two (the other being the 4) surprisingly re-awarded one the basis of existing step entrance double deckers in September 2000, at a time when nearly everything was being awarded with low floor vehicles. However dual door vehicles were specified, so the H*** GEV Olympians were replaced by visually identical dual door Olympians that had come to Arriva with Kentish Bus, part of British Bus, and subsequently used by Arriva London North, the former Leaside, at Tottenham garage.

Further type changes occurred towards the end of the contract, and the 103 had its fourth type change in barely a year! First the ex-Kentish Bus Olympians were replaced by Volvo Citybuses displaced from central London routes, allowing the Olympians to be converted into driver trainers, then Arriva sold all the Citybuses and the 103 was converted back to Olympians, this time Alexander bodied vehicles displaced from the 253 by new vehicles.

Another round of new contracts commencing from 15 October 2005 saw Arriva lose the 103 but win route 128. The new buses for the 128 started arriving early and were pressed into service, but mainly on route 20 to preserve them from the inevitable vandalism on parts of the 103. Consequently slightly older Eclipse Geminis were used on the 103 for its last couple of months with Arriva.

The 103 was lost to Stagecoach and converted to Trident, initially mainly short wheelbase ones. However, both photographs here show long wheelbase buses. The first view is of relatively old 17362 (Y362 NHK) on Tuesday 17 August 2010 in Mercury Gardens, Romford, looking smart as is invariably the case with this operator.

Photo © Lawrence Living.

I should apologise in advance to readers that this update includes a disproportionate number of ELBG vehicles. The group has recently transferred back to Stagecoach ownership. Already some buses have lost their traditional East London and Selkent logos and fleetnames, and it is only to be expected that the Stagecoach logo will re-appear in due course to replace them. As I still have a number of photographs online that predate the sale of the group by Stagecoach 4 years ago (indeed a few still in the original allover red!) and a surfeit of updated pictures for those routes, which I have been tardy in making use of, I would like to update some of the pages before the photos become obsolete. A second 103 view is of 17793 (LK03 BWG) not far away in Western Road, Romford, on 22 May 2010.

Photo © Mark Adoko.

The 103 route has been almost entirely unchanged since my first record of it in 1934. The only lasting alterations have been a short extension from Rise Park to Chase Cross as this area was developed, and minor differences in the East Dagenham and South Hornchurch areas as these were changed beyond recognition in the 1950s. A loop working arrangement was subsequently adopted in Chase Cross. The route did also run to Stapleford Abbots for a while after the 175 was withdrawn north of Chase Cross.

See also routes 66, 253, 176, 275, 128

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