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Route 188
4 February 2013

The London tendering process has had its ups and downs, but the 188 must have one of the most interesting histories of any route in the tendering process. At least the route has not been changed too much, having survived a proposal to cut it back to Elephant & Castle. Having been extended from Greenwich to North Greenwich in 1999, it seemed that the Jubilee Line would cut off the only direct bus link between central London and the Dome, but fortunately common sense prevailed. Only a small section was lost, with the central terminal revised from Euston to Russell Square; this was due to lack of stand space when the 59, the intended replacement for the final section of the 188, was introduced.

For many years, the route had been operated by Camberwell garage, latterly using then-new Leyland Titans. Around 1982, a New Cross allocation was introduced, initially using a mixture of Titans and DMS-class Fleetlines. In the mid-1980s the 188 was designated as a 'tourist' route, no doubt because it connected central London with Tower Bridge and Greenwich, and buses were fitted with yellow-on-blue blinds, and a few Titans got yellow waistbands. By the time of the first tendering of the 188, New Cross had the route to itself, using just Titans.

The first tender for the 188 was in 1988, and the contract was awarded to Boro'line Maidstone, the Maidstone borough operator which was starting up a London operation, 19 from November that year. Along with the 24 awarded to Grey Green two weeks earlier, this was one of the first central London routes to pass to the private sector. Initially hired Ipswich Atlanteans and Nottingham Fleetlines were used, until the Alexander-bodied Volvo Citybuses (F101-114 TML) that had been ordered were delivered. Boro'line operated from Crayford, the base used for its other LT routes, although there were plans for a new base in the North Greenwich area for the 108 and 188.

In November 1990, Boro'line surrendered the route, which consequently passed to Selkent, part of London Buses at that time. L-class Leyland Olympians from Plumstead were used, while the F-TML Citybuses moved to the 272, another Boro'line route.

In November 1993, the route was tendered again, and awarded this time to London & Country, which used second hand Titans from Walworth garage. Ironically, soon after, London & Country was purchased by British Bus, which also owned Kentish Bus, which in turn had in 1992 purchased the remaining London operations of Boro'line!

In 1995 British Bus re-organised its operations in London and the surrounding area, and the London operations of L&C were transferred to a new unit called Londonlinks which was controlled by Kentish Bus. The elderly Titans on the 188 were disposed of to Clydeside 2000 in Glasgow (now Arriva Scotland West) and were replaced by ... the F-TML Citybuses, transferred in from Kentish Bus!

British Bus was itself purchased by the Cowie Group, which in 1997 rationalised the London operations, leading to the run-down of the Londonlinks operation. The 188 transferred to Cowie South London at Norwood garage that August, together with the 176 and 36 East Lancs bodied Volvo Citybuses. The F-TMLs instead went back to Kentish Bus, 11 of them being put on the 78, initially at Ash Grove (but still painted in Londonlinks livery!). When that operation was wound up, these 11 moved with the 78 to fellow Cowie subsidiary Grey-Green at Stamford Hill, joining that firm's large fleet of similar vehicles. The other three (102/111/114) were moved back to Kent.

Subsequent reshuffling in June 1998 took the Monday-Saturday 188 allocation to Arriva London North East, the former Grey-Green, Cowie having by now re-styled itself as Arriva. Here, it was re-united with the F-TML Volvo Citybuses again! The Sunday allocation soon followed suit, and the route was converted to DLA operation to meet LT's requirement for low-floor vehicles to be used on services to the Dome, to which the 188 had been extended. Later, Stamford Hill garage was closed, with its routes, including the 188, and vehicles passing to Arriva London North at the expanded Tottenham garage from March 2000. Most of the F-TMLs were kept for a while after DLA conversion on other routes, but in 2000 were sent to help fleet replacement at Arriva Merseyside after Arriva purchased MTL.

The route was re-tendered again in 2000, in the more normal run of things, and the award went to London Central that December. However, lack of space at its garages has resulted in sister company London General taking responsibility for the route from the outset, from Stockwell garage, where it conveniently took the place of route 295 which had just been lost. The allocation was moved around a few times in order to suit staffing requirements, which is quite common with this operator, and London Central did indeed get a look in with a Camberwell allocation appearing later in the contract, although it reverted to all Stockwell operation from October 2004.

Re-tendering in 2005 resulted, as before, in the route being lost by the incumbent, and this time the successful bidder was National Expresss Travel London operation. So, what was the connection this time? Well, Travel London had taken over the ex-London Transport Walworth garage that is the same place LondonLinks ran out of! The situation regarding Walworth seemed a bit odd: TfL spent a considerable sum bringing it up to standard and handed it over to Travel London just in time (having laid dormant for nearly 10 years, the land use approval would apparently have lapsed). However, Travel London had no routes to operate from it! The company went on to win a number of routes, mainly at the expense of London Central/General, the 188 being one.

Initially new Volvo B7TLs with Wright Eclipse Gemini bodywork were ordered, but some of these have been replaced again following a successful retention by Abellio (who had by then purchased Travel London). Now Enviro400H hybrids form part of the normal allocation and 2402 (SN61 DFO) was seen in Holborn on 31 March 2012.

Photo © David McKay.

Walworth garage has a sizeable allocation of conventionally engined Enviro400s and 9428 (LJ09 CAA) is at Surrey Quays on on Thursday 6 May 2010

Photo © Brian Creasey.

Part of the allocation is still made of the Volvos, and the class is represented by 9043 (BX55 XMT) in London Road, Elephant & Castle on Tuesday 5 January 2010.

Photo © Brian Creasey.

See also routes 59, 108, 295, 78, 37, 87, 88

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