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Full size (i.e. 12m long) single deckers are relatively uncommon in London, as double deckers are generally preferred on routes where loadings warrant it. However, a few do exist, and three of the routes which used them are operated by Metrobus, all using the integral Scania OmniCity. Route 293 has only recently been taken over by that firm and brand new 563 (YN08 OAV) is seen in Ewell village on the first day of operation, 30 August 2008 – the only really sunny day in the whole of August! The first day was beset by problems caused by single alternate line working in East Street causing major delays. This journey terminated at Ewell at 1319, running 47 minutes late, and is slightly off route in Reigate Road (buses continuing to Epsom would have continued straight along the road in the background).
|Photo © John Kaye.|
The 293 started as a one-manning of the southernmost section of the 93 in April 1970, running between Epsom and Morden, rush hours journeys continuing to Wimbledon. MB class Merlin single-deckers were replaced a few years later by DMS class Daimler Fleetlines, initially from Sutton garage, then later from Merton. In 1982 the route was diverted at Mordon to Hackbridge, replacing flat fare route M1, the section of 293 to Wimbledon being taken off simultaneously. The "country" section between Epsom and North Cheam also lost its evening service at this time.
In 1987 the route passed upon tendering to London Country (South West). The Hackbridge end was localised again in 1989, as 393 (this is now covered by the 80). As the London end of the route merely duplicated the 93, LT handed it over to L&C to operate commercially when the contract expired in 1990; some journeys were contracted to Surrey County Council as route 593. L&C extended the route to Colliers Wood, and later to Epsom's so-called "Cluster Hospitals," a group of former fever isolation hospitals to the west of Epsom. (Most of these have since closed and been replaced by housing estates!) Various changes took place to the times of operation, latterly to Sunday afternoons only, with the tendered evening and Sunday service passing to London General.
A further extension took place from 1995 on Mondays to Saturdays to Ashtead and Leatherhead, part of the regular service over this corridor, initally via the main Leatherhead Road. There was also a short-lived 493 variation from Morden to Epsom then on to Tadworth and Walton-on-the-Hill, the 293 being withdrawn north of Morden at the time this was introduced, but further extended at the other end to Fetcham and Bookham and diverted via Barnett Wood Lane. The latter section was withdrawn in 1998, apart from a school journey to St. Andrew's School in Ashtead, with the main 293 service being diverted to Walton to replace the 493. 1999 saw an experimental summer Sunday service to Chessington World of Adventures.
1999 was thus the height of complexity with projections beyond Epsom to Walton (Mon-Sat except evenings), Merstham (garage journeys – the route worked from there for a time after closure of Leatherhead garage), St. Andrew's School (school journeys), West Park Hospital (Sunday visiting hours) and Chessington (summer Sundays)! The Mon-Sat daytime service was still provided commercially by Arriva, evenings and Sundays by London General under contract to Surrey council. However, from 22 January 2000 Arriva pulled out of commercial operations in the area. The routes were put out to tender by Surrey Council, and a much simplified 293 was awarded to London General's private hire unit at Sutton. Buses ran between Morden and Epsom only on a 30-40 minute frequency, continuing to Epsom General Hospital between the peaks in Mondays to Fridays, and Saturdays except evenings. All the other variations were withdrawn, most being replaced by other routes.
However, just as Arriva had struggled to make a profit out of bus operation in this highly affluent area, Surrey CC found its budget severely strained especially after all the extra routes they had had to put out to tender. The 293 was of fairly marginal importance to Surrey, which therefore threatened to withdraw it, and Transport for London duly stepped into the breach. Although previously having been disinterested itself, the route gained a bit more usefulness within London by way of a diversion via Hillcross Avenue, providing some new local links southward from this area, as well as providing Garth Road with a service for the first time. A full daily service was provided throughout the route to Epsom General Hospital, and the frequency was improved.
The contract was awarded to Epsom Buses, initially using Darts until new Mercedes Citaros could be delivered – one of only two TfL routes to use this type, though the articulated Citaro G model is well known. The contract ran for five years from 19 July 2003, and was then extended to the end of August 2008 as the route was awarded to Metrobus who had lost other routes from the same date, 30 August. Operation is from Beddington garage, some way off route, and the award was therefore something of a surprise, especially as the base of Quality Line (as Epsom Buses now calls itself) is quite close by. The contract was initially awarded as double deck, owing to issues with loadings on certain journeys at school times, but this has now been changed to single deck but with an additional journey at the affected time, which is more efficient.
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