Saturday 6th November 2021
I’m conscious there’ve been a few blogs recently about bus routes in Essex; well, sorry folks, here’s another one. The issue is, each time I visit I spot something that attracts my attention justifying a return visit to investigate further.
As I mentioned in those posts, this western triangle of Essex along with neighbouring Harlow have had their fair share of bus turmoil over the last decade or so as poor quality companies have fought over a market that can barely sustain one company let alone competition. But thankfully, this situation has now stabilised and there are encouraging signs of much improved quality operations emerging.
What attracted me for this latest visit a couple of weeks ago was spotting a very smart looking Mercedes Sprinter belonging to Stephensons in Debden on my recent early morning jaunt on First Essex’s shopping journey to Chelmsford. A return visit enabled me to check this out and also see how that relatively new incumbent to this part of Essex, Vectare, is doing.
The Stephensons minibus was operating route 418 running between Epping St Margaret’s Hospital and Loughton Station via Epping Church and station and the lovely named Ivy Chimneys then continuing via Theydon Bois and Abridge to Debden and then through the residential area that stretches between Debden and Loughton.
The journey takes about 45 minutes and one bus provides a two-hourly frequency.
Last September when I rode the same route it was operated by TrustyBus and was rather down at heel. Since Stephensons won the tender in July they’ve allocated a very smart looking Mellor Coachcraft Strata Ultra which I know for sure is the bus type because the interior electronic sign was telling me so on a continuous scrolling loop.
The seats are very comfortable and there’s usb charging points too.
It made for a very welcoming environment on a back street, low use, tendered bus route and well done Stephensons and Essex County Council for upping the quality on this route. A nice friendly driver too.
If only it could attract a few more passengers though. Three passengers boarded in Epping on the journey I took at 09:15 on a recent Saturday morning travelling through to Loughton with four more joining us in Abridge three of whom alighted in Debden and the fourth in Loughton.
From Loughton I took Arriva’s route 66 over to Waltham Cross. This is currently operating to a half hourly frequency on weekdays but a rather inconvenient 45 minute frequency on Saturdays. But it would be no good consulting the at stop information in the TfL timetable case as they seemed to have abrogated any responsibility for posting correct timetables and instead display an ancient timetable dating from 2017 for both the 66 (showing a 20 minute frequency) and 418 (showing incorrect times including the TrustyBus operated evening and Sunday 418B with incorrect times too).
While in Loughton I popped into the Underground station foyer to see how the heritage timetable case display was doing which I’d commented back in June was displaying out of date misleading timetables and found TfL have now solved that problem …
… by removing everything – whether up to date or not. So much for helpful information provision.
Arriva make a bit of an effort with route 66 allocating former Max branded double deckers to the route which takes an anti-clockwise circular trajectory around Loughton and Debden to and from Waltham Cross …
… so I was a bit surprised when the bus arrived at Loughton station the driver parked up and shut the doors for five to six minutes. Luckily there were no passengers travelling through.
We left on time at 10:42 having picked up five passengers four of whom alighted along the route being replaced with seven more who boarded two of whom making short rides meaning we reacted Waltham Cross with six.
My next three journeys were with Vectare who are continuing their expansion in Essex from their East Midlands base. They gained further tenders in the summer and now run a variety of routes in the area some of which interwork.
I caught the 11:45 departure route 22 from Waltham Cross which shuttles three times a day (four on weekdays) to an eastern part of nearby Waltham Abbey at Shernbroke Road. Only one passenger joined me and none travelled on the return.
The bus then does the 12:15 route 13A to Epping which did slightly better with three passengers, one from Waltham Cross and two from Waltham Abbey.
Vectare have invested in a smart fleet of Mercedes Sprinters but have also purchased former London buses and this one was a former Abellio Enviro200 still in its red London livery which displayed a rather large fixed ‘13’ at the rear, even when it was on route 22 although one of the young enthusiastic team at Vectare spotted my tweeted photo and confirmed to a tweeter this will be attended to – good to see such responsiveness.
Saturday lunch time traffic was slow going and we got late as we crawled towards Epping Church and High Road, not helped by having to double run to the station – which the weekday 13 doesn’t do – only to find no passengers to board or alight. The bus retraced its route back to High Road where I alighted as it continued on to St Margaret’s Hospital.
My next journey was on Vectare’s recently won tender in July for route 381 from previous operator Ugobus which links Harlow with Epping via Roydon and then does a wander around the south of the town before serving the Coopersale area.
Unfortunately the road into Coopersale was closed necessitating a longish diversion via St Margaret’s Hospital adding about nine minutes to the journey time.
Vectare have allocated one of their smart looking Mercedes Sprinters which along with Stephensons’ allocation on the 418 means tendered bus routes in this part of Essex have never looked better.
I caught the 13:20 out to Coopersale which carried three passengers from Epping High Road where we arrived at the terminus with a car containing a relief driver pulling in right behind us.
After the driver change we picked up one passenger at the terminus who alighted as we passed by the approach road to Epping Underground station then one more in Epping High Road who travelled just a couple of stops, and otherwise it was just me until we reached Roydon at 14:25 where we picked up a passenger travelling into Harlow as well as one more as we headed through Harlow to the bus station.
As the earlier map shows Vectare also operate a local route 14 between Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey. This runs three/four return journeys on Saturday with an extra rounder in the week. When I visited it was running a smart looking Enviro200 which had been used by West Berkshire based Weavaway in a very similar livery to that used by Vectare.
A notice inside the bus on route 13 announced a proposed change to route 381 which would include renumbering to route 31 with a new commercially operated local route between Epping and Coopersale numbered 30 but details of this weren’t included so it’s difficult to comment but it looks as though it will be an improvement.
Vectare are making a good impression in this part of Essex and I commend their website with details of timetables and their own network map as well as individual route maps clearly available. I understand they’ve won the substantial contract for Chelmsford’s Park and Ride operation from First Essex commencing next Spring which will be one to watch, as the company is.
While I was making these trips I spotted TrustyBus route 505 in Waltham Abbey heading towards Harlow. This operates six return journeys on Saturdays only between Waltham Abbey and Harlow via Nazeing, Bumbles Green and Staple Tye with departures at uneven intervals – 07:55, 09:50, 11:50, 14:20, 17:00 and 19:00 from Waltham Abbey with returns from Harlow at 06:41, 08:35, 10:35, 13:05, 15:45 and 17:50.
This route used to continue to Chingford Station via the original London Transport 242 routing through Sewardstone but I understand was cut back to Waltham Abbey in April due to TrustyBus not having a suitable vehicle to comply with the LEZ in London. For a time Arriva ran the route on Mondays to Saturdays, having numbered it 505 before ceding it to TrustyBus. This Saturday only operation is the remnants of that route.
Another TrustyBus route I spotted on these travels was circular routes 542 and 542A linking Loughton with Debden. This provides an hourly service in both directions around the residential area between Loughton and Debden stations…
… which has quite a selection of routes and operators.
It’s interesting to compare the routes serving the Loughton and Debden area today as shown on Open Street Map ….
…. or Mike Harris’s Greater London bus map ….
…. with the situation as applied 55 years ago when the area was very much under London Transport’s jurisdiction …
Nowadays notwithstanding TfL’s Central Line providing a significant level of public transport provision, the area falls under Essex County Council’s control but it’s good to see both Stephensons and Vectare upping the quality of bus service provision.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.