Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith,
This page created 28th April 2024.

Go-Coach Solos


Beginnings

Go-Coachhire started quite modestly, gaining contracts for schoolbus journeys. They had operated out of Bowen's Yard at Knockholt Pound (a small haulage contractor), but in April 2011 the company moved to a new light industrial estate in Vestry Road, Otford.

Tunbridge Wells routes

The blue Solo calls at Sevenoaks Bus Station on its way to Chartwell in May 2012.

In 2011 Kent County Council retendered its routes in the Tunbridge Wells area, which were competed for by Autocar, New Enterprise - and Go-Coach. Go-Coach won operations on the 200, 383 and 289, plus a linking journey on the 402. Kent County Council owned a small 25-seater Solo, 7.8m slimline M780SE, which in April 2011 it allocated to Go-Coach to run the services. Livery was overall dark blue, with "go" in large yellow script on the sides. It was unusual in that it had a rear LED destination screen, the only one I've seen.

On Sundays the Solo could be used on the KCC-contracted route 401 between Tonbridge and Westerham/Chartwell, already operated by Go-Coach.

  • 200 M-F peaks Hildenborough local
  • 402 one a.m. jny Hildenborogh - Tunbridge Wells
  • 280 M-S Tunbridge Wells Sainsbury's - Molyneux Park
  • 283 M-S Tunbridge Wells Sainsbury's - Ravenswood Avenue
  • 401 Sun Tonbridge - Sevenoaks - Riverhead - Brasted - Westerham / Chartwell

Sometime in 2013 the Solo was repainted into Go-Coach yellow/purple. Meanwhile Go-Coach was expanding, using double-deckers where possible, school runs still providing the core of its business, enabling it to tender for Kent country routes during the day. Its smart yellow and purple livery, and the clean condition of its vehicles enhanced its growing reputation.

As well as its routes in Tunbridge Wells, from April 2014 the Solo was used on the 235 between Penshurst and Hildenborough.

Then the Solo was transferred by Kent to New Enterprise at Tonbridge in September 2014, with the transfer of its routes 235,280 and 283. There it gained Arriva interurban livery.

Bigger Solos: 5001, 5002

In September 2015 Kent transferred two 9.8m Solo SRs from Stagecoach East Kent, where they had operated on Ramsgate - Birchington for the county.

5001 was allocated to Otford, in silver livery, for use on the 431, which from November it interworked with Sevenoaks local route 8. On Sundays it operated on the 401 between Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Westerham. Its silver livery had a remarkable rear artwork promoting route 8.

5002 went to the base at Swanley (in the yard next to the shed). It had yellow/purple livery, and was for the 478, although it was soon found on the 429 and 433. The 50** class code was a reminder to the driver that the maximum person loading was 50: they were thirty seaters, but could take 20 standing (or sharing).

5001 heads for Westerham from Sevenoaks on the Sunday 401 in July 2017, showing off its rear artwork. Unfortunately, I have seen no pictures of the back of 5002 - or indeed most Solos.

  • 431 SDO Orpington - Green St.Grn - Pratts /Bottom - Halstead - Knockholt Pond - Dunton Green - Riverhead - Sevenoaks - Knole Academy
  • 8 M-S Sevenoaks, figure of 8 loops
  • 478 M-S West Kingsdown - Swanley - (Dartford (M-F pks)
  • 429 West Kingsdown - Farningham - Swanley - Wilmington - Dartford Station
  • 433 New Ash Green - Longfield - Bluewater

5002 heads north for Sevenoaks Bus Station on the weekday 8 in September 2018 (photo by Cynthia Smith).

Secondhand Solos from Warrington: 3901 - 3903

December 2015 saw the arrival of three four-year old 7.8m standard 25-seater Solos from Warrington. They arrived in Warrington livery, red with pale cream. They were to replace buses that did not meet the DDA requirements - a couple of Darts were sold immediately, so it was probably them. So the ex-Warrington Solos went into service still in Warrington livery. In the new year they went through the paint shop, reappearing in silver, but with yellow and mauve diagonal stripes at the rear. They were put to work wherever they were needed: on the 404 to Plaxtol; on the various Tunbridge Wells duties...

Later they received different paint schemes: silver with yellow/purple patches, or yellow/purple -or green (see later)

Three standard Solos from Epsom Buses: 5006-5008

It was April when three standard 8.5m Solos arrived from Epsom. These had been given a silver livery by Epsom Buses, so were fairly promptly treated to some broad sweeps of yellow and purple on their silver skins. Later these buses received livery upgrades, to the silver with purple skirt and yellow patches, and then the full yellow and purple. These buses had an air conditioning unit, located above the driver.

Four more long Solos, from Nottingham City Transport: 5009-5012

These four, arriving in June 2016, were third-hand 9.5m Solos, seating 32. They had started with Courtney in Bracknell, then had moved to Nottingham City Transport before coming to Go-Coach. Go-Coach repainted them in silver, with yellow and purple. Later they received full yellow/purple. These had a ditfferent air conditioning unit, above the passenger compartment.

One morning in May 2019 I caught 5012 at Chislehurst Station, on a railway replacement train to Sevenoaks. Major track work at Bickley-Petts Wood had curtailed both main lines. Note the destination display: "Choo choo I'm a train". It was left to South-Eastern to provide a final destination on a windscreen card. It dropped me off at Orpington Station West side.

Return of the native

In April 2017 Kent County Council awarded routes 235,280 and 283 once again to Go-Coach, in place of Arriva Southern Counties. With them came a 7.8m Solo - yes, the same one that had gone the other way in September 2014. This time it was given a fleet number: 2801. It was repainted in Go-Coach livery of yellow and purple. 2801 was no longer confined to the Tunbridge Wells routes, but turned up on some of the Swanley routes too.

Three slim Solo SRs from Arriva Southern Counties: 4501-4503

In November 2017 Go-Coach loaned a 7.1m slim Solo for a month.

Meanwhile Arriva Southern Counties had returned three 8.9m slimline Solo SRs to Kent County Council afrer withdrawal at Northfleet. Go-Coach bid for them, and the three duly arrived. They received yellow and purple, and numbers 4501-4503. They were used all over the system, and beyond on railway replacements.

4503 climbs towards Sevenoaks on a Sunday 401 to Westerham. Later, on its return to Tonbridge, it calls at Sevenoaks Bus Station, May 2018.
4501 on a weekday 435 towards Sevenoaks Station, September 2018.(photo by Cynthia Smith)

Three more longer two-door Solo SRs from Epsom Buses: 5013-5015

Epsom Buses had lost its TfL contracted route 470 back in February 2018. These were the unusual dual-doored 9.7m buses. Epsom Buses returned them off-lease to Optare, who sold them on through Chartwell Bus & Coach Sales, whence Go-Coach bought three in September 2018. They donned yellow and purple, and numbers 5013-5015.


An electric Solo: OP02ARE

The metallic green Optare demonstrator came for a while, from September 2018. Optare supplied ancillary kit to enable a longish trial on Sevenoaks circular route 8. By the new year it was not used very much.

A green Solo: 3901

Route 8 was diverted from February, double-running from Bat & Ball to Sainsbury's. Bat and Ball Station had also just been refurbished. Go-Coach, with its Otford base just up the road from Bat & Ball, celebrated these events by repainting 3901 in a very smart two-tone green livery with Bat & Ball Station in a railway style sign as a secondary fleetname. 3901 kept the livery through to June 2022.

Two slim Solo: 3801, 3802

Go-Coach acquired two slim-line 8.1m Solos that had been with West Midlands Special Needs Transport in Birmingham, in July 2019. They were put to work still in dull blue, before repainting into yellow/purple. They were found useful on routes with narrow, twisty lanes: Kent has some of the worst in England.

Covid and DRT

Covid hit rural transport badly. Social distancing hit small-bus operations badly, and then lockdown made many services unsustainable. Go-Coach instituted Demand Responsive Transport in the Sevenoaks area, using four (of six) Solos booked via the phone to ensure loadings met the social distancing rules. (Go-Coach were still running schools transports, when allowed, with extras to allow distancing).

The Tunbridge Wells routes (208, 280,283,289) were suspended from April until June. Then the Swanley and Dartford routes were reinstated too.

The larger Solos (5013-5015) were delicensed in April 2020, reappearing when needed as train-replacements. Some Solos were sold or scrapped.

Once the restrictions were eased in June 2020 Go-Coach resumed hourly services on 1 (Westerham), 3 (Kemsing) and 8 (town loop), plus journeys on the 2 (Swanley) and 5 (Weald and Tonbridge), adjusted to meet the current demand, but instituted a pre-bookable Go2 service, covering the area within about five miles of Sevenoaks. Some of the smaller buses were used, plus a small number of minibuses. They covered commuter runs to the station, Special Needs school transport, and a day-time add-on bookable service.

The Government imposed partial lockdown of schools in January 2021 caused further chaos. The Sevenoaks Tourneo minibuses went into store, as being too small. But the Sevenoaks Go2 service continued. But route 8 was surrendered to the local Taxi company. Routes 1,2,5 and 6 were suspended and the Go2 service adjusted to take account of this, using Solos. The Tunbridge Wells and Dartford routes went over to a Saturday timetable throughout the week (ie not schools but shoppers). After Easter school-kids were allowed to infect each other again, so schools services were reinstated, as were the local Sevenoaks routes 1,3, 5,6 & 8 (but reduced). Go2 expanded to include Swanley and West Kingsdown. Understandably there were few photos during this period.

Post-Covid

As with the public, bus operations suffered from long-Covid. But services were revised to take account of the new reality - less travel, less school attendance, more internet shopping, more working at home. By the end of 2022 the ex-Nottingham slim Solos (5009-5012) had been withdrawn for sale. G-Coach gravitated towards Dartford, with Swanley becoming the main base of operations, with Otford as an outstation.


Ian's Bus Stop Solo Index. Go-CoachSolos. Go-Coach Solo histories. Solophotos.