Mitcham Belle: Dennis Dart SLF
Long Darts for the 127Mitcham Belle was another long-established coaching company that decided to try its hand at London bus operation. In April 1999 it commenced operation on route 127 (Purley Stn - Wallington - Carshalton - Hackbridge - Mitcham - Tooting Bdy). The route had had a number of operators since privatisation, Blue Triangle being the previous one. In the way of London operations, taking it on was no small affair - it required twelve buses and an operating base, and about three dozen drivers. The buses were twelve new Dart SLFs with 10.7m dual doorway Plaxton Pointer 2 bodywork, seating a meagre thirty passengers. They were nicely turned out in a white livery with red roof and blue skirt. Operations were from the company's base in Mitcham.
Medium Darts for the 200, 201All seemed to be going well. In June 2000 Mitcham Belle took over the 200 (Raynes Park - Mitcham) and 201 (Tulse Hill Stn - Mitcham), using new Dart SLFs for the main services plus an elderly Metrobus for the school runs. Two dozen new Dart SLFs were needed, slightly shorter at 10.1m, but seating thirty-one. The Mitcham Road depot was too small for this fleet expansion, so a new base was opened, perhaps inevitably at Beddington Lane.
Late in December 2000 Mitcham Belle used one of the buses on a shuttle service 407A between Purley and Old Barn Lane
while a flood required diversion of Arriva's route 407.
Expansion: Hired PointersTowards the end of 2001 Mitcham Belle won more contracts. The 152 (Pollards Hill - New Malden) was won from London General, and their own 201 was extended to Morden Station. More Darts were required. Unfortunately new ones could not arrive in time.
Three 10.7m used Pointer2s were hired from dealers, and used in white with Mitcham Belle fleetnames. They were put to work on the 127, while company-liveried buses were used on the 152.
Ten more used Darts came from London Sovereign at Harrow, where they had been displaced by double-deckers. They were in cream with blue lower parts, black skirts and red flashes, so did not look too out of place. They too were put to work on the 127 initially. This short term loan soon hardened into a long-term lease, and the ex-Sovereign buses were repainted into Mitcham Belle livery. Later on they were hired out to other London bus companies, such as Thorpe's, First Bus and Armchair, even when Mitcham Belle's need for working spare buses was at a peak.
Three more hired buses came in January 2002: two with white bodies by Wright and one red Alexander-bodied example from Connex.
Caetano Nimbuses for 152Whilst the Nimbuses ordered for the 152 were being built, Caetano loaned its demonstator X93FOR during January and February 2002. The ordered Nimbuses began to arrive in February 2002, and exhibited new ideas on livery, as well as a new three-digit numbering scheme on account of the new-style registrations. 053 and 056 had full Mitcham Belle livery of red, white and blue layers. 054 and 055 had the layers across the front, but plain red elsewhere, while the others had the new standard: overall red with red, white and blue on the front following the body contours. 053-061 appeared in February, and the remainder of the order (062-069) in March and April. They ousted the hired buses from the 152, the dealer hires and the Connex bus being returned, but the ten ex-Sovereign Darts retained for spares and other work.
More Caetano Nimbuses for 493November (and December) 2002 brought another fourteen Nimbuses (070-083) for new route 493 (Richmond - Roehampton - Putney Heath - Southfields Stn - Wimbledon Stn - Tooting Broadway - St.George's Hospital).
A further Nimbus was bought in January 2004. Some of the spare Darts (ex-Sovereign) were away on hire, and LDPs had had to be hired from London General on occasions, so presumably this extra bus was to improve reliability.
Centra takes overCentra took over Mitcham Belle, with its buses, routes and premises, and set about rectifying a considerable number of maintenance backlogs. A considerable number of buses had to be hired for the resumption of term-time services in September, to cover for defective vehicles. The story continues, although not for long, on the Centra page.
075, now Centra DC25, on the 493 in Richmond, October 2005