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Three dedicated routes were introduced to feed into Croydon Tramlink upon its opening in May 2000, but the T33 was very much the odd one out. The other two routes were awarded to First, which also ran the trams, and ran at the same frequency as the trams. The T33 was just a renumbering of existing route 354, running at broadly the same frequencies, and was awarded to Metrobus, which had operated the 354.
The T33 is also a bit odd in that it runs into central Croydon, giving the residents of Selsdon Vale, its primary catchment area, the choice between catching the bus directly into Croydon or travelling in the opposite direction to the Addington Village Tramlink interchange for the tram. There is little difference in journey time, and unsurprisingly therefore the overwhelming majority use the former option, making the renumbering exercise slightly academic!
As mentioned above, the route was a renumbering of the Croydon end of route 354. This route was started by Tillingbourne (Metropolitan) in May 1982 as a shopper’s service from Sanderstead, Forestdale and New Addington into Bromley. The route provided a single return journey on Mondays to Fridays, and was primarily a device to find a use for buses used in peaks on the busier 353/355/357 routes that were already in operation by the company. From December of that year, the route was diverted to serve Bourne Vale in Hayes, the first bus route to this area, which lies some distance from other routes.
On 24 September 1983, Metrobus Ltd was formed by a management buyout of the London operations from the parent Tillingbourne. The 353/4/5/7 routes continued in their existing form for a further month, but from 24 October the 354 was withdrawn between Sanderstead and Forestdale, and back projected into Croydon instead, via the 357 routeing via Coombe Lane. The deviation via New Addington was also removed.
On 16 August 1986 the 354 received a considerable boost, when the service was upgraded to a basic hourly off-peak service, still on Mondays to Fridays only. The route was withdrawn from Croydon again and re-routed to Selsdon instead. This was with a view to eventual diversion via Selsdon Vale, a large and hilly housing area to the south of Selsdon Park Road, but strong opposition by residents meant this section was not introduced for another year. From 31 October 1987 the desired routeing via Selsdon Vale was achieved, on agreement that only single deck buses would be used and that there would be no fixed bus stops. The route was also back-projected from Selsdon into Croydon once again, although by a different route.
The bus does follow the main route through the Selsdon Vale estate, but this is very convoluted. All roads are pleasantly named after birds, i.e. from south to north Sandpiper, Teal, Dove, Curlew, Redwing, Nightingale, Martin, Bullfinch, Mallard, Linnet, Kingfisher, Owl, Albatross, Turnstone, Goldfinch, Kittiwake, Quail, Peacock, Wagtail, Lapwing and Osprey.
A Monday to Friday peak hours and Saturday service was added from 13 May 1989, and proved an instant success. Although the original concept of the 354 was to carry shoppers into Bromley, the links into Croydon were quickly proving to be more popular. An evening service was added to the 354 from 27 April 1991, albeit between Croydon and Forestdale only, but providing a regular half-hourly service from Croydon to Forestdale when combined with route 357. From 21 November 1992 the peak hours service was improved to approximately half hourly, although the timetable was somewhat irregular.
Usefulness of local links into Bromley had been stunted by the introduction in 1990 by London Transport of more frequent route 314, largely duplicating the 354 between Addington and Bromley, and was further reduced on 23 April 1994 when Metrobus introduced new commercial route 352 (Crystal Palace to Bromley), duplicating the 354 over the short section between Hayesford Park and Bromley. Therefore, this date saw the beginning of a general cutback to the Bromley end of the 354; there were yet more peak journeys between Croydon and Forestdale, but Bromley service was reduced to roughly hourly once again.
Timetable changes in the autumn had become almost an annual event on the Croydon routes, and the 1995 change saw a radical re-think of buses serving Forestdale. The 357 had previously been the main service, and essentially ran hourly. But during peak hours the timetable was completely irregular – more in the manner of a typical railway timetable – with most 357s running just between Croydon and Forestdale and the through service to Orpington covered as route 353, omitting Forestdale.
In the 1995 revision, the 357 was withdrawn, the 353 taking on the main through service on a very regular half hourly timetable. In place of the 357, the 354 was enhanced to provide the main service to Forestdale. This did mean an increase in journey times for passengers to Croydon, but resulted in a quicker journey for through passengers on the 353 and a much more frequent and regular service for all, which more than made up for this. The 354 thus ran every 20 minutes between Forestdale and Croydon, although with a substantial enhancement into Croydon in the morning peak and out of Croydon in the evening.
However, the Bromley service was further cut back, to operate from 0830 to 1830 only (previously it had been 0715-2000). Leyland Lynx had by now become the standard type on the route, but an increasing number of peak hour journeys was converted to double deck, quietly forgetting the agreement of 1987. The buses mostly came from the 353 allocation, with some journeys on the 353 converted to Lynx instead. This better matched capacity to demand. The other agreement with residents was also violated when LT decided to install fixed bus stops after all, with little apparent benefit to anybody.
On 30 November 1996 there was a minor timetable change, which saw two morning peak journeys from Forestdale into Croydon revert to the direct routeing via Coombe Lane, and the 357 number re-instated for them. However, they were not as well used as expected and were converted back into 354s from the 30 August 1997 timetable, which also saw the introduction of new school bus route 654 to relieve heavy loadings on some journeys on the 354 and 353. On 19 September 1998 there were very minor changes to the Monday to Friday timetable, the main benefit being an additional journey into Croydon at around 0900, when pensioners start to travel.
That was the last change before the introduction of Tramlink. Originally planned for November 1999 opening, this would have been a neat end to the annual changes, although in the event Tramlink, and the associated bus changes, were delayed until the following May. As far as the 354 was concerned however, the alterations were very much a mixed blessing.
The most fundamental change was the renumbering of the route with a T prefix, as T33. This signifies integrated ticketing with Tramlink, and passengers can interchange between Tram and T33 without additional cost. Interestingly, as mentioned previously, the T33 connects with Trams in central Croydon, as well as at the intended Addington Village, and apparently tickets are valid for transfer here too! In addition, the route was converted from commercial operation by Metrobus, dating back to Tillingbourne days, to a standard London Transport contract.
The T33 was withdrawn between Addington Village and its original destination of Bromley, and also removed from the useful double-run of Courtwood Lane in Forestdale. The latter was instead covered by the new T31. While the off-peak service was enhanced to every 12 minutes daytime, with a 20 minute evening and Sunday service in place of the previous half-hourly timetable, the already overcrowded peak service was downgraded still further with a reduction in the number of morning journeys into Croydon.
In addition, the route was converted to operation with considerably smaller Dennis Dart SLFs. The Darts seated just 31, compared to 49-51 on a Lynx or 78 on an Olympian! The logic was no doubt that many passengers would travel the other way to catch the tram into Croydon, but LTB obviously failed to take into account the convenience factor, which meant that virtually nobody actually did. Even the residents of Courtwood Lane, deprived of their direct bus, prefer to walk up the road to catch the T33 rather travel via T31 and Tram as intended.
There was soon some recognition of the inadequate service levels, with a tweak to the morning peak timetable to give a more bunched timetable at the times loadings were heaviest. The next new contract however specified a 10 minute service throughout, which while an improvement at most times, was a reduction again for that crucial half hour in the morning!
The changes have now also proved a mixed blessing for Metrobus, which lost the contract to Abellio London, thereby ending nearly 25 years of Metrobus operation through Selsdon Vale. Latterly Metrobus had run the route from its new Croydon garage, rather than Orpington as originally, and Abellio's garage is right next door. E20D/Enviro200 vehicles are used, and 8784 (YX12 DLU) was seen at East Croydon on the first day of Abellio operation, 19 May 2012
|Photo © RNAM200 (Robert Mighton).|
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