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Route C1
4 September 2010

Route C1 recently transferred operation to an operator and garage at the opposite end from its previous base, Abellio London's Walworth. It is now operated by Transdev from Park Royal garage, having been won by NSL Services before that operator sold its London bus operation to Transdev. The mixture of buses used by Abellio and its predecessors has therefore been swept away, and replaced by a batch of Enviro200Dart buses, which are the first new buses for the former NSL garages to be numbered in the Transdev London numbering system. A gap has been left in the DE class for potential re-numbering of the NSL ADL class which is the same basic type, although so far this is only a paper exercise with the buses still carrying their old fleet numbers.

Photo © RNAM200.

Consequently the buses on the C1 have quite high numbers, and DE101 (SN10 CCA) picks up at the first stop at Victoria bound for White City on 7 July 2010, in the first week of operation. Ongoing works to enlarge Victoria Underground station are causing considerable disruption to services in this area, and later this year buses will temporarily be curtailed to start and finish in Buckingham Palace Road for a couple of months, therefore missing out this stop.

The C1 has changed considerably since its introduction 24 years ago. The route started on 25 October 1986, running from Embankment to Kensington via Buckingham Gate, Victoria, Elizabeth Street, Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, South Kensington and Queen’s Gate. 19 new OV class Optare City Pacers provided an intensive service during the day on Mondays to Fridays. During the evenings the buses were used on circular services C20/C21 between Victoria and London's theatreland, although these only lasted until the following July. From 1 August 1987 the C1 was extended to Waterloo and named Central Hoppa C1, gaining a Saturday service and early evening journeys between Waterloo and Victoria.

The City Pacer, based on a Volkswagen LT55 chassis, broke new ground for the time by having a purpose built style of bus bodywork, rather than the usual cheap parcel van conversion. Regrettably the Volkswagen chassis were not up to the task and the vehicles only lasted a few years. The vehicles for the C1 were specified with high backed seats and piped music, and were operated from the basement of Victoria garage.

The diversion via Buckingham Gate was withdrawn in 1989, and the Waterloo to Victoria section was transferred to new Red Arrow route 511 in 1991; this section is now covered by the 211. Before long proposals were drawn up to withdraw the route, but London General, the operator, was determined to keep it. They persuaded LRT to let them continue to run it on a cash basis, with a Travelcard-holders’ special fare of 50p. Complaints from passengers about the arrangement, and the fast-approaching privatisation, forced LRT to bring it inside the ordinary network – a rare example of the operator getting its own way! More modern Metroriders subsequently replaced the OVs.

In February 1993, the route was diverted between South Kensington and Kensington High Street via Earl’s Court, covering the Old Brompton Road section of withdrawn route 349 – the main part of the 349 was covered by route 319, while route 70 was diverted from Kensington High Street to South Kensington to serve Queen’s Gate. The route was, along with route 211, awarded as a 7 year contract to National Express to start in July 1998 using new low-floor Optare Solos. NEx set up a division called Travel London, initially based at the Stewart's Lane rail depot where its Gatwick Express rail franchise operated from.

After a couple of years it was discovered that using railway premises for an operational bus operation breached the relevant planned use regulations, and Wandsworth council declined to grant planning permission. Not having won any further routes National Express decided to dispose of the operation, selling it to Limebourne which had a (legitimate!) base right next door. Subsequently, Limebourne sold its bus operation to Connex. Connex in turn, having lost its two rail franchises, decided to pull out of the UK altogether, and sold the operation on to ... National Express! Thus Travel London was re-born, and indeed re-acquired the C1 and the Solos that were still running it, which were still in the original Travel London livery! National Express subsequently sold the operation yet again, to NedRailways which re-branded it as Abellio London. A new contract in 2005 saw the Solos replaced by low-floor Darts, and operation transferred to Walworth garage in November 2006.

The C1 has had two further extensions, firstly from Kensington to Shepherd's Bush, starting from 6 January 2007. This was technically a diversion, as some stops in Kensington High Street are no longer served. The purpose of the extension was to serve the Blythe Road area, but difficulties with the narrow roads mean the route is currently running direct via Holland Road, and it seems unlikely to be diverted to the originally planned route. The route was further extended (again, technically a diversion) to White City on 29 November 2008, where a new bus station opened to serve the new shopping complex; the previous terminal arrangements were less than ideal, with buses having to circumnavigate Shepherd's Bush Green twice to get to and from the bus stand, although at certain times of day buses were permitted to stand in Transdev's Shepherd's Bush garage.

The new contract with Transdev started on 3 July 2010 and involved only minor changes, although larger buses are now used now that Blythe Road is off the agenda for the forseeable future. The route has been more than fairly afflicted with road works. As well as the Victoria station works, a road "improvement" scheme around Elizabeth Street has caused diversion of the route via Pimlico Road in both directions since January, though this is almost complete. Also, the new contract was almost immediately plunged into chaos by the partial closure of Cromwell Road, the main through road through Kensington, with the official traffic diversion following the C1 route through South Kensington. This was timed during the school summer holidays, and a temporary timetable was introduced for the duration incorporating a reduced frequency. There have also been major works in Kensington at Earl's Court Road and in Warwick Road plus several more minor sets – quite a challenge all round!

See also routes 100, 211, 319, 70

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