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The 296 is an example of a “shifting route.” When introduced in the September 1982 scheme as a split of route 66, it ran between Harold Wood and Romford. As with the 66, there was no Sunday service, and there was no evening service either. At the same time, new Saturday only route 66A was introduced, following the 66 between Gidea Park and Gants Hill, except that it deviated via Rose Lane and Billet Road, and then ran into Ilford. This replaced the 139 (Dagenham Dock to Ilford via Rose Lane) on this day, which was reduced to Mondays to Fridays (except evenings) only.
In November 1987, the three routes were effectively merged under the 296 number, which thus ran from Harold Wood to Ilford via Romford. The unique section of the 139 along Whalebone Lane was covered by an extension of the 287 from Becontree Heath. Still no evening and Sunday service was provided.
Leyland Titans ruled the day until the route was lost to Capital Citybus in October 1992. At this time an evening and Sunday service was introduced, and a batch of Olympians was introduced. Capital Citybus was in Hong Kong ownership at the time, and this batch (along with a few other vehicles) were registered with number plates containing 888, 8 being the Chinese lucky number. These select marks were furnished with the initials of the directors.
While nos. 159-165 were conventional Northern Counties “Countybus” bodied Leyland Olympians, they were joined the following year by 166-168, the first buses to sport the new, more stylish, Palatine II style from NC. 166 (K888 TKS) was especially notable, in being not only the first Palatine II, but the last Leyland Olympian, subsequent production of the type passing to Volvo, which had purchased Leyland, and was thus unique.
The decision to merge the 296 and 66A was undone when the contract was renewed in October 2000, the emphasis now having switched from efficiency to robustness. This time the number 296 was used for the Romford to Ilford section, with the Harold Wood to Romford part being numbered 496. It has to be said that the 496 is rather a short route, with running times as low as 20 minutes early and late, although then again there probably is little demand for the cross-Romford facility previously provided.
The 296 remained with First Capital, as CC had by then become, although the new 496 went to Stagecoach. Oddly neither section received any improvement to the daytime service, which continued to run every 20 minutes, and furthermore the 296 was demoted to single deck – at around the same time as the 66 was converted to double deck as Arriva re-shuffled its buses! (The 496 has however been increased subsequently, so there is now a considerable mis-match in capacity between the two sections, perhaps better justification for the split.)
Re-tendering again in 2005 resulted in award to Stagecoach East London with existing fleet single deckers, and the new contract commenced on 15 October 2005. The initial allocation of Plaxton Pointer bodied Darts has been updated, and the route is now in the hands of 10.2m long ALX200 bodied Dart SLFs such as 34308 (LX51 FGM) in Cranbrook Road (just north of Ilford town centre) on 2 November 2009, one of a batch transferred in from Catford following loss of route 284 to Metrobus.
|Photo © Sunil Prasannan.|
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