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End of the road for Hemel’s Green Line

Saturday 20th November 2021

It’s been a long lingering death sentence. ‘The writing was on the wall’ way before the pandemic destroyed passenger numbers so it came as no surprise to hear news Arriva are withdrawing its Green Line branded route 758 between Hemel Hempstead and London Victoria.

The route will cease after service on Saturday 4th December.

Until then four coaches from Arriva’s Luton depot continue a somewhat limited timetable compared to what’s been available in past years. Each coach manages just one peak hour journey into London with just a smattering of off peak journeys shared between the vehicle quartet.

Four early morning journeys aimed at weekday commuters pick up in some of Hemel’s residential areas as well as the town centre then use the M1 from junction 8 all the way to the London end of the motorway calling by Brent Cross on the North Circular slip road before continuing down Hendon Way and Finchley Road to Swiss Cottage and Baker Street from where the first three journeys continue via Marble Arch to Victoria.

Departures from Woodall Farm are as early as 05:35, 05:55 and 06:15 taking 85, 95 and 105 minutes respectively to reach Victoria. The next departure at 06:40 uses the route number 748 and after Baker Street runs via Kings Cross, the City and Charing Cross taking a lengthy 2 hours 15 minutes to reach Victoria.

Weekday southbound timetable

That’s it for the peak. There’s then just one southbound off peak journey leaving Hemel Hempstead town centre at 10:00 aimed at shoppers and leisure travellers arriving into Victoria 70 minutes later at 11:10.

Three more southbound journeys leave Hemel at 15:30, 16:15 and 17:15 to bring commuters back from London.

The weekday timetable also includes two return journeys between Victoria and the Warner Brothers studios at Leavesden using the route number 768. These leave Victoria at 07:30 and 09:30 returning from the Studios at 13:00 and 14:40. That first northbound journey seems remarkably early to me for a Harry Potter tour, and I thought most fans use the bus link from Watford Junction station to make their pilgrimage to the Studios.

Weekday northbound timetable

There are two off peak journeys on the 758 back from Victoria at 11:30 and 14:30 as well as four afternoon peak journeys including a reverse of the morning 748 via the City.

There are a few more journeys aimed at shoppers in the Saturday timetable but only four return journeys overall (and the two Harry Potters) utilising three coaches …

… and there’s no Sunday timetable.

As you can see it’s a rather limited service now being offered as well as one with low vehicle utilisation for the four coaches. It’s not surprising the finances just don’t stack up especially now Covid Bus Service Support Grant has been wound down and it’s plain to see the service can’t be justified on the current arrangements.

I took a ride on the one weekday shopping journey at 10:00 from Hemel Hempstead to Victoria last Friday and was intrigued to see how many passengers would be travelling.

There was a coach laying over by Riverside when I arrived soon after 09:00 which was the second coach back from Victoria which had arrived at 09:00 but it didn’t work the 10:00 departure as I expected driving off out of service at about 09:30, I assume back to the garage in Luton.

The third coach back from Victoria arrives into Hemel at 09:42 and it was this coach which formed the 10:00 departure.

Six of us waited patiently for the driver to open the door and let us on board at 09:55 and we left promptly at 10:00 amid much talk of the forthcoming demise of the route.

Our driver was eager to share his thoughts on the uneconomic nature of the route, explaining he’d just taken one fare of £10 from the six of us, the other five having concessionary passes, and how could that possible cover the costs which he put at £10,000 a week for the service – which is probably about right.

The route operates out of Hemel via Adeyfield

We picked up one more passenger as we passed through the residential area of Adeyfield on our way to the M1 and that was it.

We made good progress reaching the Brent Cross slip road up to Hendon Way at 10:30 where one passenger alighted.

Finchley Road was fairly free flowing too with only minor delays through Swiss Cottage and we arrived at Baker Street on time where two passengers alighted.

It was slow going as we threaded our way through the western end of Oxford Street and Marble Arch but the usual severe congestion between Hyde Park Corner and Victoria cost us almost ten minutes delay …

…. giving an arrival into Victoria at 11:20 instead of 11:10 for the four of us still on board.

The demise of route 758 comes not long after Arriva invested in a fleet of new coaches for a planned new route 720 between London and Stansted Airport due to start just as the pandemic brought on last year’s first lockdown. Plans for that route have now been abandoned and the coaches have been used instead on route 758 as well as routes 755/757 between Victoria, Luton Airport and Luton which continues.

The new coaches also marked the 90th Anniversary in 2020 of the formation of the Green Line network, which is somewhat ironic considering this withdrawal means there’s pretty much nothing left of that once iconic and extensive network. Reading Buses persevere with the route from London to Slough and Windsor (as well as Bracknell) and Arriva have the no-longer-branded-Green Line route 724 from Harlow to Heathrow as well as the aforementioned 755/757, and that’s it.

The coach was very comfortable to travel in and had the usual leather style seats with a recline option and usb sockets are available …

… but I doubt the rather insipid updated Green Line livery has done anything to actually sell the service. You hardly notice it.

I also doubt whether the presentation of the timetable on Arriva’s website by splitting every journey at Brent Cross helps sell the service either. It makes for a very unwieldy timetable and is pretty much incomprehensible.

Thank goodness for the more sensible presentation used by Hertfordshire County Council’s Intalink website where I took the images shown earlier in this post.

With competition from a frequent train service (4 times an hour) provided by London NorthWestern between Hemel Hempstead and Euston taking just over half an hour and reasonably priced off peak return tickets at around £20 (£15.80 with a railcard), the coach alternative needs to really sell its positive points, not least picking up (and setting down) more conveniently in Hemel Hempstead’s residential area and running direct to Oxford Street for shopping, making the comparative journey time more attractive. And, for senior’s with a pass, it’s free. Sadly there seems to be no selling of the service at all and it’s not surprising so few passengers are using it.

Having just one off-peak southbound journey in the morning is also hardly an attractive proposition, and that’s if you can fathom out the timetable. All in all it’s probably the right and kindest thing to do to finally kill off the ailing 758.

If you fancy one last Green Line journey from Hemel Hempstead, you’ve only got two weeks to make the trip.

Finally, a quick update on TfL’s bus cuts with its relentless weekly downgrading of frequencies continuing – and this before next months financial bail out is agreed with the DfT. I left the tally last weekend with the cuts to routes 13, 168 and 414 from 13th November to which we can add frequency reductions to route 87 from today, 20th November and to routes 21, 91, 92 and 242 from next Saturday, 27th November. Keep reading for more ‘London Style’ bus cuts coming along soon.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

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.

30 thoughts on “End of the road for Hemel’s Green Line Leave a comment

  1. Places like Brent Cross and Oxford Street are no longer the attractions they once were. I;m not certain I would bother with either even though it would be free.

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  2. How long before the other two routes go ?

    Airport traffic is down and not looking to recover anytime soon. The 724 was getting some financial support from Heathrow not sure if it still is. Luton airport i getting a new rail link called DART. It was due to open this year. It claims ity will then only tke 30 minutes from central London to Luton so a further impart on the Luton route

    With the 724 cutting it back to Watford would seem sensible and possinbly extending it from Harlow to Stansted. Getting from Watford ,. WGC and Hatfield and Hertford is not that easy by rail or bus

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    • I think the 724 was extended (at least in summer) to Stansted Airport a couple of years back. It didn’t last long. A couple of holiday trips a year doesn’t sustain an hourly bus.
      As the X10 learns. It might earn its keep as a commuter/shopper route in South Essex, but is often empty between Chelmsford and Stansted. And when it misses out stops to recover from traffic delays…
      Herts cc may have learnt as they now sponsor the 524 for the local journeys from Hatfield to Hertford.
      If the 724 weren’t a legacy route, I doubt anyone would start it up today.

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  3. I searched in vain on Arriva’s website for any mention of 758 being withdrawn. Eventually I found it on their Twitter feed . But no mention on their News or Green Line pages, and using the ‘plan a trip’ page you can still travel on the 758 well into December!
    As you and many of us know their website is terrible. Roger, In your wide ranging industry contacts do you know anybody in Arriva who can sort out this mess?

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    • Sadly I understand Arriva’s senior management believe their new website launched last year was a magnificent effort and they are in denial that anything is wrong. Recent coverage in Buses magazine has confirmed this delusional approach.

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  4. As far as I can gather Arriva seem to make no attempt to ‘market’ any of their bus services in the UK. Consequently load factors keep falling leading to frequency cuts and eventual withdrawal of a service.

    This then leaves other routes having to share the burden of overhead depot costs and eventually some depots are no longer deemed profitable, leading to many depot closures in recent years.
    Vicious circle really, it is a shame that Arriva don’t sell up and let more innovative operators take over their networks.

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  5. A shame to see Greenline almost bite the dust as I understand it the origin of it lies in fast London Transport services outside of Greater London but it became part of the NBC and sort of a sub company within London and Country.National Express also had a crack at a similar market with London Express although I think that this was more as feeders for their normal National Express services rather than for London commuters anyhow it didn’t last and joins their more remote offshoots, Caledonian Express and seemingly Eurolines (as best I can tell is Flixbus now?),as history.

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  6. Not seen much coverage but National Express are Cancelling a lot of their Coach routes from January a lot of them running into South Wales inlcuding one from Brighton to Swansea

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  7. Regarding the “thoroughly to be agreed with” comment from Kirk Jones, “it is a shame Arriva don’t just sell up etc….’, it is beginning to appear they are just walking away without even bothering to sell in some places. Covid and it’s aftermath have unfortunately been the last straw for services such as the 758, but Arriva did precious little to market it during the golden years, expending what appetite they had for promoting their services (not much!) on the 757, and they nearly lost that after the odd affair between Luton Airport and National Express.

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  8. Hmmm. What is there to stop these “innovative” operators from launching competing services where Arriva, or other operators for that matter, are considered to be sleepy? As indeed they are doing.

    The trouble is that some services are just difficult to stimulate interest. I live on one (or several). Do we just abandon their passengers (unless Councils can step in, and they hardly have the money or a reputation for creativity). I can think of quite a few local cases where Arriva have stepped in to “rescue” services abandoned by other operators, and kept them going. Thankfully. So it’s not the same picture in every case.

    Overall, I think services are as good as they have ever been, but it’s not a consistent picture. It never was.

    We might like the gloss, and absolutely nothing wrong with that; but it’s no magic. As we are not all identikits. Even if we would often rather we were.

    I’ve befallen the I’m in misery, so everyone else must be too, temptation. It’s not true

    I’ve not seen the perfect website, but most people still don’t live on the Web either..

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  9. Bus operators aren’t charities. Social responsibility can be good business. It isn’t a substitute for business.

    Sadly, everyone has to say No sometimes, to survive. No one makes a habit of it, for the sake of it.

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  10. Traffic congestion in Central London. Less air travel and fewer commuters . It now leaves a few concessionary pass holders using them. The new rail link to Luton when it opems must have an impact by rail it will take about 30 minues compaied to about 1 1/2 hours by Greenline with a far less frequent service as well. The 724 looks to be a bit safer as it does not go into Central London and it is not competing with rail. The Watord to Heathrow section could be at risk though

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  11. Whole situation was summed up in one comment…. “six of us, the other five having concessionary passes”..!!
    There lies the problem… Hardly anybody using it, and those that are, are travelling for free..

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    • Except they aren’t travelling for free. It is the local authority picking up the reimbursement tab, albeit at considerably less than 100% of the adult fare (just what is the current English rate?). This feeds the vicious circle of lack of bums on seats causing operators to give up services with local authorities reluctant or not prepared to contract the service via tender as they are in effect double subsidising such routes. There are, I’m sure, parts of England where having a “free bus pass” is worthless as there aren’t any local bus routes left to use it on.

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  12. With rail commuting into London reportedly only at 41% of pre-Covid 19 levels and with coaches always being something of a niche player in this market, we should expect more withdrawals going forward.

    Ironically, this change in commuting habits may end up helping local bus networks as people spend more time in their local communities and spending money there rather in the city they commute to. They may take advantage of more off-peak bus travel (I know I have) and at the very least it puts something of a brake on peak-hour traffic flows.

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    • Yes Dan, as long as the local bus is running, and you can find out, other than by painful experience. It’s all rather reminescent of the 60s/70s. Less congested roads make it easier to travel by car too.
      I suspect once services are withdrawn, temporarily as it may be, it’s much harder to get them back.
      The shot in the arm, like coach deregulation, is wonderful whilst it lasts. Not for long. The wonder of coach commuter services is that so many of them have lasted so long. Those days are now well and truly over, with commuter rail often struggling too.

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  13. Route 758, and its friends, was very much a product of coach deregulation in 1980 . . . the then train service from Hemel Hempstead to Euston was poor and expensive. With rail disputes affecting services, coach commuting took off in a big way . . . double deckers and much duplication.
    Off-peak travel was never that great, except for Oxford Street shopping, but effectively only cost fuel . . . in 1988, with 10 coaches in each peak, LCNW would’ve paid for 12+ hour spreadover duties with no work in the daytime, so a few extra London’s carrying a dozen passengers each was good business.
    Like all commuter coaches . . . as the railway improved, and road congestion increased, it became more difficult to make a decent profit on them. Route 290 (High Wycombe) died not long after Chiltern was route-modernised; Route 701 (Slough) lingered for longer, but was never that large in scale.
    {London Express was an attempt by National Express to attract passengers to their network by marketing selected Green Line trips as connecting with mass-departures from Victoria Coach Station. Liveried coaches and journeys terminating in the Coach Station were provided to connect with 1100 departures and 1900 arrivals. It didn’t last more than a couple of years}.

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  14. The misguided attempt to run Safeguard off the road in Guildford rather than building up the Guildford market, and not know when to stop when the strategy didn’t work, is symptomatic of Arriva’s problems at least in the South, leading now to the closure of their Surrey business.

    According to annual reports lodged at Companies House Arriva Kent and Surrey has gone from an £8m profit in 2014 to an £8m loss in 2019, and this has been a continual annual slide. Something is very wrong somewhere!

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    • I agree that some Arriva areas, like some FirstBus areas, seem to be a plodding one-track pony. If they have a strategy, they stick to it, though thick and thin, no matter what. Occasionally, patience pays off, more often it seems they lurch from disaster to disaster, and it seems everything they touch turns to manure. I can only think that local management feel obliged to give the bosses the message (at least they think) they want to hear. Result:stuck in the mire. At least, until they finally give up and abandon the horse and cart.

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  15. I don’t know, but in the South-East at least, buses seem to live in a little world of their own. If the shops, or anything else, and the buses are both trying to attract custom, why don’t they co-operate? It seems to be a dirty word.
    Mind you it was tried with Whipsnade Zoo, and seemed to make no difference, though the Council had to get involved. They do it for ShowBus, but that’s their own, I suppose.

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  16. Crossrail Latest

    Still no firm date but they have said it will not open in January so when it will happen who knows. The orinal opening date was supposed to be Dec 2018 nd several weeks before that they claimed they were ready to open on that date. The implication is a lot of the senior managment were not telling the truth. Half the station were not even complete so they could not use a last minute software issue

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  17. I’ve felt for some time, I could rationalise the “suicidal” behaviour of Arriva (and First) in the South-East, as a sort of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” bluff game. So they maintain some “stupid” routes, and frequencies, just to establish the principle that this is “our town, and don’t you forget it” in the hope to introduce uncertainty into the mind of the competition. Far-fetched. Maybe. But be brave enough to call their bluff, and there’s a fair chance they’ll run away. It’s not unknown behaviour, in the business game. Or, of course, stalemate and just treading water.

    I’m just thinking of Metroline and Uno in London Colney. Different markets and peaceful co-existence, as I thought, or a not-so-subtle waiting game? Or perhaps the ebb and flow between First and Arriva in Colchester.

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  18. Essex Smurf: as a recently retired Metroline-r . . . peaceful co-existence, actually, with a slice of different markets as well.
    All helped by the Colney7 ticket . . . a Herts CC-sponsored joint ticket valid on all routes between London Colney and St Albans; revenue sat where it fell . . .easy to administer.
    Colney7 has been around since the mid-2000s . . . HCC sponsored because Competition Law says that operators may not talk to each other, but may use an intermediary . . . it’s one of the reasons why co-ordination takes so long to happen.

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    • Thanks. Lawyers, of whom I used to be one, gone mad (again). There’s a bus market (or not) not route markets, at least that’s what we should be trying to promote. Helping us to help ourselves.
      Instead we try to make the bus uneconomic, and then fork out on subsidies to try and keep afloat what we’ve just sunk! It’s British bureaucracy at its finest, all over. As for being competitive, forget it.
      Colchester, too, has both route and network inter-operator tickets promoted by the Council. When the exception has to become the rule, perhaps the rule needs changing. The passenger loses as usual, in all this complexity. Talk about barriers to entry!

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      • So, in summary we tie co-operation up in bureaucratic knots, and encourage cowboy behaviour. That’s the British version of good business practice!

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  19. Hmm. The Government (and some MPs, at least) think they know what they’re legislating. The lawyers interpret it; maybe as something rather different! Done it myself!

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