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Route 263
24 April 2009

The 263 has had more than its fair share of operators and vehicle types and liveries over the years. It is now, once again, operated by the natural company for the area, Metroline. The route more or less connects the two ‘traditional’ garages that came to Metroline with the acquisition of MTL London in 1998; at one time it actually ran to Potters Bar, though now starts from Barnet, a couple of miles along the road, and runs along to Holloway, very close to the other garage, Holloway, located near Archway. Indeed both garages have worked the route since transferring to Metroline, although Potters Bar has had it most of the time owing to lack of space at Holloway.

The route has been worked only by short wheelbase Tridents – a tight turn on the dead run to PB from Barnet apparently being the restriction preventing use of long wheelbase buses. Initially ALX400 bodied examples were drafted across from route 140 at Harrow Weald, where they were replaced by longer buses, but they were soon replaced by newer Plaxton-bodied variants. Now, however, the route has gained brand new buses in the shape of TE class Enviro400s, and TE935 (LK09 EKP) was at the Holloway stand when less than a fortnight old. The buses arrived coincident with a new operating contract from 7 February 2009, which saw the route extended from its long-established terminus at Archway to Holloway Nag's Head.

Photo © Alan Herbert.

The 263 was one of the earlier routes to go out to tender, being won by London Northern (still part of London Buses at the time) from 1989, and unusually for that era new buses were specified. But rather than continuing the Olympian or Metrobus orders of previous years, a new type (for LB) was specified, the Scania N112DRB. This initial batch received 80-seat single door Alexander RH bodies and was numbered S 1-9 (F421-9 GWG).

A frequency increase on the 263 led to two more being needed. Originally Northern Counties bodied examples S 30/31 (J230/1 XKY) were purchased, but very soon nine RH-bodied examples were acquired from East London for route X43, and the opportunity was taken to add two more to replace the NC examples, which were sent to East London in exchange. These were later joined by a further example. Thus S 1-21 ended up at London Northern, with S 1-10/12/21 in standard livery and habitually on the 263 from Potters Bar garage (the X43 running from Holloway at that time).

At privatisation, London Northern was sold to MTL and re-branded MTL London. When re-tendered in autumn 1995, the 263 was lost to Cowie Leaside, and unfortunately eleven of the Scanias (S 1-10/21) were moved out of London to the company’s home territory in Liverpool.

Anyhow, the 263 passed to Leaside, and led to the only purchase by either that company or fellow Cowie company South London of new standard floor double deckers. Again single door buses were purchased, and again they were of a relatively uncommon design. Cowie’s ownership of the Hughes-DAF importers and dealers resulted in 13 Northern Counties Palatine II bodied DAF DB250s being purchased, DBS 1-13 (N601-613 DWY). This original allocation included no spares, and towards the end of the contract two additional buses were purchased, DBS 14 (R213 CKO) from what was London & Country and new DBS 15 (V715 LWT). These latter two were both dual door.

The route was based at Wood Green (WN) garage, not an ideal location being some distance off the 263 route. Increasing pressure on space at WN resulted in the decision by Arriva London, as Leaside had by now become, to subcontract the route to First Capital, in turn allowing it to fulfil its commitment to Wood Green area routes. However, First Capital operated it from Northumberland Park (near Tottenham), which is even further away! First was able to step in having just lost route 67 to Stagecoach, and the 67’s dual door Olympians were moved across, in a mixture of yellow and red liveries.

Before long the route was re-tendered, and presumably when bids were invited for the route Arriva and First Capital either did not bid, or their remoteness pushed costs up, and the route was won by Metroline. Strictly speaking, this is not its fourth operator, as London Northern had been subsumed into Metroline.

The colours have also varied, though most of the buses have been mostly red. Old London Transport red had grey and white relief added by London Buses in the late 1980s. One or two got repainted into MTL's allover red before they left London, when Cowie’s yellow stripes took over in 1995. Then Cowie became Arriva with cream ‘cow horns,’ and First Capital’s two colour schemes followed as noted above. Thus Metroline’s red with deep blue skirt is the eighth colour scheme to appear on this route.

See also routes 140, 67

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