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Route 127
20 May 2006

Following a rather troubled period, operation of route 127 has now been transferred to Metrobus, and hopefully the service will now be able to settle down. The route was transferred early to Metrobus from its previous operator using buses hired from sister company London General, but Metrobus's own vehicles have now arrived. It is hard to believe that the first Omnidekkas have now been running for 3 years but 926 (YN06JYL) looks almost identical to one of the early examples that previously featured on this page, the most noticeable difference being the fitment of a tree deflector on this bus. Closer examination will also reveal a little pod just above the upper deck windows near the front – this is an air inlet for the now mandatory air cooling equipment (which is basically a fan to draw fresh air through the bus in hot weather).

Photo © Lee Whitehead.

The location is Parkgate Road, Wallington, roughly a third of the way into a northbound journey. Metrobus now paints its buses allover red, after several failed attempts to produce a livery acceptable to Transport for London incorporating its traditional blue and yellow colours, but the new silver logo is evident in this view. The front upper deck seats on the Scania/Omnidekka give an excellent view, with the combination of a low windscreen and the extreme forward position of the seats.

The buses run from Metrobus's brand new “Croydon” garage (in reality in Beddington), the base having been opened early especially for the 127, in advance of its main purpose to replace the Godstone garage acquired with the East Surrey business in 1997. Godstone’s focus had gradually switched from Surrey to London contracts, and therefore a more convenient base was sought. A site in Coulsdon on the Ullswater Industrial Estate fell through as a result of local residents’ objections (although the number of residents affected would surely have been less than the number of buses based there!!), but now this Beddington location has got the go-ahead, and is probably even better located anyway.

Route 127 started in April 1981, replacing most of the Tooting - Wallington leg of route 77 (which only ran Mon-Fri) and converting this section of the route to one person operation. However, between Hackbridge and Wallington it ran direct, replacing this section of the 115 (Wallington - Streatham - Purley), rather than via Carshalton. Route 234A (previously Old Lodge Lane to Wallington with a weekend extension to Hackbridge via Carshalton) was extended to Streatham Garage replacing the other sections of the 77 and 115. There was no Sunday service on the 127, the 200 being extended from Mitcham to Wallington on that day to cover.

Introduction of route 151 in February 1984 caused the 127 to be diverted via the old 77 route via Carshalton again, and it was also extended from Wallington to Purley to replace that part of the 234/234A. A Sunday only 127A was introduced at the same time, running from Streatham to Croydon garage and replacing the 200 on Sundays. Route 234 initially continued running during Monday to Friday peak hours only between Mitcham and Selsdon, but this service was quickly absorbed into the 127.

The 127/127A was an early entry into the tendering regime, and was awarded to London Country starting on 23 March 1986 (becoming LCSW from 07/09/86 and L&C from 14/04/89). The 127A was diverted to Sanderstead (some journeys to Selsdon), providing a Sunday service over these roads for the first time. Operation was from Chelsham garage, and some journeys were extended in service there in September 1987. New Volvo Citybuses were introduced in June 1989, but with their three-track number displays were unable to show number 127A, so the Sunday service became 127, but initially still running to Streatham rather than Tooting. The Chelsham garage journeys were withdrawn at the same time, in readiness for the garage's closure after service on 27 October 1989. The 127 was transferred to Godstone temporarily, until the new base at Beddington Farm was ready, which opened on 29 July 1990. The Sunday service was diverted to Tooting later that year.

Operations continued uneventfully for a few years, with a small diversion in the Tooting area via Streatham Road and Southcroft Road, primarily to give a direct link between Streatham Road and Tooting Broadway. However, then started a period of change at management level. LCSW had been privatised to the Drawlane group in 1988 and subsequently re-branded as London & Country. Drawlane itself was then "re-constituted" as British Bus in November 1992. On 1 January 1995, the Croydon and Walworth based operations of L&C were transferred to a separate company, LondonLinks, under the management control of sister company Kentish Bus at Northfleet (Kentish Bus having come into the British Bus group in June 1994 with BB’s acquisition of KB’s parent Proudmutual); Kentish Bus in turn transferred to control of Maidstone & District in October 1995. British Bus sold out to the Cowie Group on 18 June 1996.

All this management upheaval hardly helped operations, and the 127 seemed to suffer particularly badly. In June 1997 a new contract was awarded on the basis of new low floor single deckers on a slightly higher frequency, replacing double deckers every 20 minutes, a popular trend at the time. Strangely, these buses materialised as not very new and not very low floor Volvo B6s, cascaded from the 108! Some were treated with route branding for the 127. To maintain capacity in the Woodcote area at school times, a separate contract for supplementary journeys was awarded to Nostalgiabus using Olympians.

However, London Transport's evident disgust with the way the Croydon operations were being handled came to a head when the 127 was abruptly taken away from LondonLinks in August 1998, with poor performance given as the reason. Initially the contract was re-assigned to London General, whose Sutton and Merton garages operated it using even less new and less low floor Metrobuses (at least the B6s had kneeling suspension, albeit rarely used)! But London General could not provide enough drivers, so part of the service was subcontracted to Stagecoach Selkent, which was able to provide 5 Darts from faraway Plumstead! Selkent has on several occasions helped out other operators in difficulty, other examples being the notorious 60, as well as C1, 225 and 272. In January 1999 Blue Triangle took over Selkent’s share for a few months, when Selkent needed its drivers for new commitments in Woolwich.

All of this was temporary pending full re-tendering of the contract, and the surprising benefactor of this exercise was Mitcham Belle, a 7 year contract being awarded to them. Mitcham Belle was an established coach operator, and the 127 was its first London Transport contract. Operations commenced on 10 April 1999 using a batch of un-numbered long wheelbase, dual door, Dart SLFs. Although originally operated from the coach base in Streatham Road, conveniently right on the 127 route, this was not large enough when a couple more routes, the 200 and 201, were gained, so all buses were moved to new premises in Beddington Lane – in the same general area as the LondonLinks base and, indeed, just along the road from Metrobus's new base!

The school journeys, which had continued to be operated by Nostalgiabus, joined the main service at Mitcham Belle in 2001, a couple of Metrobuses being obtained to operate them.

Regrettably, Mitcham Belle got into difficulties itself, and ended up being purchased on 27 August 2004 by Centra (Central Parking Services), adding to its collection of recently acquired small operators. However, although there was some improvement, Centra was unable to turn around the operation, maintenance having been a particular problem, and performance remained very poor, not helped by a series of industrial disputes, the company having the unusual misfortune of many of its staff belonging to the militant RMT union. Routine tendering resulted in the award to Metrobus, and once the results were known arrangements were made for Metrobus to take over early. The operation was on the old Mitcham Belle contract until the full quality incentive contract started as planned on 15 April 2006, by which time the new Omnidekkas were in place and the Croydon garage fully operational.

The number 127 had been used once before in a similar area. This was a very odd shaped route which at one time visited Morden twice in its length, when from Morden it ran via North Cheam, Worcester Park, New Malden, Raynes Park, Merton Park, and Morden again to St. Helier! Later the 127 number was used for part of the Hertford Road service, before returning within a mile of its old stamping ground to replace parts of the 77/B, 115/A/B and 234/A groups of routes, as described above.

See also routes 466, 188, 77, 200, 151, 108, 60, C1, 225, 472, 201

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