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Route R4
4 September 2010

The R4 was one of the original Roundabout routes introduced on 16 August 1986, and the only one to break new ground, as opposed to replacing existing routes with minibuses. The original route, from Pauls Cray Hill to Locksbottom via St. Mary Cray Village, Orpington High Street, Tubbenden Lane and Starts Hill, is largely intact, though a couple of deviations have been introduced over the years and the route now runs all day, every day, rather than just Monday to Saturday daytimes. The first change appeared in 1991, with a diversion off Tubbenden Lane via Northlands Avenue and Southlands Avenue before re-joining about 100 metres south of where it had left!

The first addition to the Roundabout network came in 1988, with route R7 linking Coppice Estate in Petts Wood with Cockmannings near St. Mary Cray via lots of back streets. This was won by Kentish Bus five years later, and KB decided to re-work it with its commercial 477 route linking Dartford with Orpington via Hextable and Swanley. In consequence, the R7 was diverted at St. Mary Cray to Dartford, and new route R8 (operated by Roundabout) picked up the Cockmannings leg of the R7 and the Chelsfield Village section of the 477. The resultant route ran hourly and needed only one bus. Although the R7 extension was short-lived, with the 477 returning within a year, the R8 survived.

The Orpington network was re-tendered at the end of 1995, and Roundabout lost the entire roster. Most routes went to Centrewest, a newcomer to the area, but the R8 went to Kentish Busís associate LondonLinks, and later to KB itself. These contracts expired in November 2001, and from 1 December the opportunity was taken to re-cast the whole network, which was by this time a bit of a hotchpotch and in need of improvement and rationalisation. Providing more frequent services without increasing resource was the theme, this being achieved by eliminating unnecessary duplication. Thus the R8 (and R7) disappeared, with the R8ís section to Cockmannings provided by a diversion of the R4, which brings us back to subject!

When Centrewest took over the R4 in 1995, Mercedes 811D minibuses with Marshall bodywork were used, and these were quite similar to the Carlyle bodied versions (MC class) used by Roundbout on the route since 1990. However, they were replaced mid-contract by new Dart SLFs to the new 8.8m length, again with Marshall bodywork, this time to the Capital design. These were, surprisingly, replaced by further new buses of the same type when contracts were renewed in December 2001. Following a number of route losses, First sold the isolated Orpington operation to Metrobus in December 2007, and most of the vehicles transferred. Thus we have Metrobus 147 (LT02 ZDX), formerly Centrewest DMS467 and then First 41467, in Orpington High Street on 18 June 2010.

Photo © RNAM200.

Metrobus often substitutes its own Plaxton Pointer bodied mini Darts, and here 313 (T313 SMV) sets off from Orpington Bus Station, where buses now call in on their way through in another minor deviation, on 11 December 2007, just 3 days after the takeover from First. This particular bus has left the fleet, but there are still plenty of these MPDs around!

Photo © James Fullick.

One final route alteration to record is the short extension of the route, along with the R3, in Locksbottom from the traditional terminus in Pallant Way to the Princess Royal Hospital, which commenced in 2004.

See also routes 477, R3

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