Excel (Stansted) and TGM Essex
ExcelExcel was originally part of the Stephenson's of Rochford group established in 2003 after First Essex pulled out of Bishops Stortford operations. It had a number of Olympians for schools work, some Volvo single-deckers with Alexander PS bodywork, and a few odd small single-deckers.
Dart SLFs came on the scene in 2006, when Excel registered the 333 (Stansted - Epping) commercially.
BU51 REG, the MPD used by Reg of Hertford (co-incidentally on another, different, 333 route) was bought when Reg lost that operation.
It lost its brilliant emerald green livery, unfortunately, donning white with blue skirts and bold blue/red Excel fleetnames.
It became a long-term resident at Stansted.
Excel becomes part of TGM Essex GroupIn April 2008 Excel became part of the TGM Essex Group, part of the Arriva empire.
An older, longer, secondhand SLF was acquired in March 2009. HX51LRJ was a 10.7m Caetano Nimbus, from Burton's of Haverhill (also part of the TGM Essex Group). It was acquired to operate the X3, a limited stop bus between Stansted and Grays.
Stansted Transit ceases operation: Excel expands, using loansStansted Transit closed down at the beginning of June 2009. It had been quite a large operation, with some 25 Dart SLs (plus some step-entrance Darts and EnviroDarts). Excel stepped in to operate almost all of its routes, some only on a short-term basis until Essex County Council could retender those it supported. To provide for nine extra routes into Bishop Stortford, and three extra into Harlow Excel had to hire in buses, including four ex-Metroline SLFs from Ensignbus and nine mixed SLFs from Dawson Rentals.
The four DLDs were quickly returned to Ensignbus, one going north to Tate's and three to London General for the Stratford Shuttle. The Dawson rentals were expected to be returned off-loan quickly, but the process became protracted, and some turned into long-term loans. Most were operated in plain white, with paper destination and route numbers.
TGM grows in Essex: Arriva Harlow falls into the netMeanwhile Tellings-Golden Miller, as TGM Group, were undergoing a resurrection in Essex. The company had taken over the Network Colchester operations in 2004 (from Arriva), and then was bought itself by Arriva in 2008. The acquisition of Excel in April 2008 allowed cooperation and vehicle transfers between Excel, Network Colchester and Burton's of Haverhill.
First fruits of this were the transfer of a pair of 10.7 Pointers from Network Colchester in August 2009, and the acquisition for Excel of five 10.2m dual doorway Pointers from Arriva London (DDL10-14). These were gradually converted to single doorways and repainted.
TGM Essex Group (Network Colchester and Excel Stansted) were combined under one operator licence in August 2010, and Network Harlow was established, whereby the Harlow operations of Arriva East Herts and Essex were gradually transferred to TGM Essex, at first managerially and later formally.
This produced a shift - around of the ex-DDLs between Excel, Network Colchester and Harlow. All five collected at Harlow in July, then 410 and 414 went to Colchester while 411, 412 and 413 stayed at Harlow. for route 10.
Fifteen Dart SLFs of assorted lengths and ages - 10 Pointers, 5 Crusaders - also came under TGM Essex control at Harlow, where they lost their Arriva markings and adopted the local practices of running without fleetnames and/or working blinds. This was a period of frenetic competition in the Harlow area, where the cut-throat application of deregulated market forces produced a rapid race to the bottom in apparent quality. The new Network Harlow did start to inject some order, with three of the Crusaders painted red for route 1, with Network Harlow fleetnames. Oddly, two of these had previously been red at Harlow for TfL route 549.
One of the red Crusaders for route 1 in Harlow Bus Station, April 2011.
On several visits to Harlow Bus Station in 2011-2012 Dart 3483, bereft of Arriva fleetnames, was the only evidence of Arriva presence. This is in April 2011.
More DDLs from Arriva LondonIn September 2010 a further five Darts arrived from Arriva London. DDL1-5 became Network Harlow 0401-0405. They were quickly converted to single-doorway, and repainted: yellow for route 10 (0401, 0404, 0405) or lime-green for route 4 (0402, 0403).
April 2011: ex Arriva London DDL4, now Network Harlow 0404, brightens up the concrete surrounds of Harlow Bus Station in its dedicated route 10 livery.
Colchester resupplies StanstedIn January 2011 six 10.7m SLF Pointers were reallocated from Colchester to Stansted. These brought the Network Colchester white/blue/yellow livery north with them. Meanwhile the buses taken over from Arriva, used on the country routes, were being repainted in Arriva-style interurban blue/blue.
Network Harlow liveryFrom May 2011 Network Harlow instituted a new two-tone blue livery for unbranded buses, with a red oval bearing the NETWORK Harlow legend. The yellow and green liveried DDLs (0401-0405) were repainted into the new livery in August/September 2011. The red-liveried Crusaders were withdrawn in September 2011, although 3439 was then sent to Colchester, allowing the return of MPD 3483, which had been on loan. Other Darts were swapped between the Harlow, Stansted and Colchester operations as the need arose. The two stored red Crusaders were resurrected in December, and returned to Harlow.
February 2013: 3828, in two-tone blue, but without white trim or red ovals, lurks in the gloom of Harlow Bus Station on route 4
February 2013: 402, in the full Network Harlow livery, works on Harlow route 20, February 2013There was still plenty of livery variety: Arriva turquoise and cream, Arriva interurban, Dawson white, Network Colchester white/blue/yellow, Excel white/blue, red, Network Harlow blue/blue, Network Harlow blue/blue with white trim and red fleetname ovals.
Reinforcements from HeathrowIn March 2012 three 9.0m Caetanos arrived from TGM's West London operations, two from Link Line and one from OFJ, the last still with an orange airside beacon on the roof. All three were white, minus blinds. They were nevertheless put to work on Network Harlow routes 10 and 20. HX04 HUH even worked the 724 one day in April - presumably as the only vehicle available with a tachograph. Not exactly the quality image expected for Green Line operations! By July the white livery was adorned with red Network Harlow ovals.
Elderly shoeboxes from Arriva Southern CountiesAdding to the impression that Harlow was a gathering ground for cheap cast-offs, presumably an effect of the cut-price competition in the ongoing Harlow Bus Wars, four twenty-six year old "shoebox" Pointers arrived from Arriva Southern Counties in March 2013, two still in turquoise/cream and two in interurban blue/blue. This also gave rise to two number 3229s at Harlow. This was resolved fairly quickly by removing the last 9 from the original 3229! One of the imports, 3223, went off to Guildford in Ocober.
February 2013: 322 (ex 3229), in the Arriva-style interurban livery, works on Harlow route 10, February 2013
Arriva Southern Counties renumberingAfter several abortive attempts to impose a rational numbering scheme on the fleet, with buses wearing old Arriva The Shires, Network Colchester or TGM Essex numbers - or none, it was renumbered in December 2013 into the Arriva Southern Counties scheme. Except that mistakes were made, with medium-length Darts being allocated numbers in the MPD block. Even the remaining Dawson hires were renumbered, along with the imports from TGM West London. At the same time the fleet was rationalised (?), with some of the standards (such as the old DDLs) being sidelined after a retrenchment at Stansted, and most of the odd ones retained. Several were disposed of during the spring of 2014.
Arriva Southern Counties takes controlArriva reorganised - again. Southern Counties took over management at Harlow and Colchester in December 2014, with operations formally transferred on 8th March 2015. This area was to become part of Arriva Kent Thameside. What will happen in terms of rationalisation, modernisation, organisation, liveries etc remains to be seen.