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Route 196
29 May 2006

The 196 started as a north London route in 1950, replacing the former 239 route from Tufnell Park Hotal to King’s Cross via York Way, with an extension to Waterloo, with no Sunday service. It was very quickly extended southwards firstly to Upper Norwood via route 68 and then to Norwood Juntion, the latter extension finishing off route 68A. The 196 thus duplicated the 68 for much of its length, with only the half mile or so between Norwood Junction and Whitehorse Lane and also Euston to Tufnell Park unique to itself. The Sunday service ran only between Norwood Junction and Waterloo, and was subsequently withdrawn and replaced by an extension of the 40. (York Way did not gain a Sunday service until 1992, when a restricted service was introduced over this section on the 10.)

In 1971 the 196 was split, with the 196 number operating no further north than Euston, and the number 239 being used once again for the section between Waterloo and Tufnell Park. This was despite the number 239 having been re-used in the meantime in the same area for the replacement of trolleybus route 639, which subsequently ceased. (The third 239, via York Way, was withdrawn and partially replaced by an extension of the C11 to King’s Cross in the September 1982 changes. The section then passed to the C12, the 10, and now, the 390. The number 239 has since been re-used for yet another central area service, though further to the south west.) In 1974, the 196 was altered and shortened once more – in the process severing the overlap with the original north London routeing – being diverted at Herne Hill the short distance to Brixton, replacing route 2A, thus providing the 196 with something a bit more unique once again, and leaving the route to Euston to the 68.

Stockwell Routemasters ruled the day until April 1983, when commenced a period of frequent garage moves. The replacement one-person vehicles were Camberwell Titans, but exactly two years later the route was moved to a garage on line of route, Norwood, with Metrobuses. There was then a brief renaissance with peak hour journeys to Kennington and early morning journeys running all the way to Islington via Trafalgar Square and Holborn.

The route has had more than its fair share of hiccups under the tendering system. In 1987 the route was awarded to London Country South East, but problems with their Catford base meant they were unable to take up the contract, and it was instead awarded to Cityrama. New Leyland Olympians, registered in the E-PME batch, were used from 7 February 1987. This brought private operations into Zone 1 for the first time, albeit only in a very small way – the early morning journeys to Islington were still running at this time.

Cityrama struggled with operations and the contract was taken away from them from 28 October 1989. A temporary contract was issued to London & Country (LCSW as was) using ex-Southdown Atlanteans, giving Chelsham garage a temporary reprieve. However a full re-tendering saw the route restored to London Buses operation at Stockwell using new Volvo Citybuses from April 1990.

There was then a period of relative stability, aside from the service north of Brixton being removed once more at the end of 1992, but the wheel continued to turn as staff shortages prompted a move back to Camberwell – with Titans once again! This occurred from April 1997, but in April 1999 Stockwell had to take the helm again as it was Camberwell’s turn to be short. However, Stockwell could not really cope either, so the Commercial Services department of London General stepped in using a variety of vehicles, and assisted by Metrobus of Orpington using loaned Metrobuses.

This operation finally ceased when the contract was awarded to Connex Bus, based at Beddington Farm depot, starting on 5 May 2001. This location was hardly ideal, but at least was at the ‘right end’ for starts and finishes – one of the problems with Stockwell was that even though it was fairly near the route’s terminus at Brixton, the peak flow is towards Brixton, so most buses had to start and finish at the Norwood Junction end. This also lead to the rather irritating situation where the last southbound journey of the day returned to Stockwell out of service via line of route, leaving any passengers who had missed the last northbound journey to trudge up the hill behind it!

Connex’s new contract also ironed out a long-standing anomaly, whereby even though the Monday to Friday service was reasonably frequent at every 12 minutes, the Saturday service ran only every 20 minutes and the Sunday service just twice an hour. The contract passed off fairly uneventfully, and although getting off to a rather shaky start (the remote garage can hardly have helped) had apparently settled down quite well towards the end of the contract. The route was extended again in December 2005, taking over the northern section of route 322 between Brixton and Elephant & Castle – this was the former northern end of route 2 combined with a new service along Kennington Lane, but had become so popular that the small buses on the 322 could not cope, and extending the 196 provided the opportunity to convert this section to double deck.

The Connex Bus operation was sold to National Express on 26 February 2004, who re-branded the operation as Travel London. However the 196 contract was lost upon routine re-tendering, and for the second time London General’s Stockwell garage re-gained control of the service from 6 May 2006 – and at last the route actually passes the garage, thanks to the Elephant & Castle extension! The vehicles ordered for the route are more than usually interesting, being the new Alexander Dennis Enviro400 body, on the first production Trident chassis with Euro IV emissions standard compliant engines.

Photo © Lee Whitehead.

Traditionally bus class codes were one, two or three letters, but in recent years the trend has been to use all three. Typically one letter would denote the chassis type, one the bodywork type with the third most often being used to denote length, or in the case of Go-Ahead companies London Central and London General, an L for low floor. As all buses in London are now low floor that has become somewhat superfluous, and so their choice of class code is refreshingly simple – and also gives one of the shortest possible fleet numbers! E7 (SN06 BNK) is seen in Upper Norwood – for all the fuss about destination display design, TfL have not yet managed to iron out the age old problem of incorrectly set blinds!

The Enviro400 is supposed to herald a new age of bus design – although apart from a slight increase in curves and an unusually high lower deck seating capacity (achieved by squeezing seats into some most unlikely places) it is difficult to see what all the fuss is about, especially in comparison to the Wright Gemini family which has been in production for several years already.

See also routes 68, 40, C11, 10, 390, 239, 322

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