London United's Volvo B7TL ALX 400s
an introductionLondon United was very much a single-decker company, because its operating territory was bedevilled by low railway bridges where the LSWR had swept out into the London suburbs keeping sufficient height to avoid Thames flooding, but not at all bothered about road traffic (there was none). But in 2000 London United still had Routemasters for its trunk routes into London, and sixty or so Metrobuses, plus about sixty Olympians (both Leyland and Volvo).
VA: Volvo B7TL: VA60-104London United dipped a toe into the low-floor double-decker market in March 2000, with forty-five Volvo B7TLs (VA60-104), with Alexander ALX400 9.9m bodywork. These were followed by twenty-six Volvo B7TLs with Plaxton President bodies (VP105-130).
The VAs arrived in February/March 2000, and went into service from Hounslow and Shepherds Bush. Hounslow used them to convert the 120 (from LLW low-floor single-deckers), 111 (from Ms) and H32 (from Ms mainly). Shepherds Bush put them on the 220 (instead of Ms), N94, N11 (replacing Darts) and on Sundays the 94 (instead of RMLs).
Early in their careers many carried easy access logos. Others were branded for the 111, as "flying to Heathrow: one-eleven".
In 2002 VAs appeared on the 406.
VA293 - 311: the Volvos for Shepherds BushMore Volvos with ALX400 bodywork arrived at Shepherds Bush in December 2002 and January 2003, and promptly took over operations on the 148, where they were supposed to be. (The 148 operation had started with loaned Trident TAs.)
The Volvos were very similar in appearance to the earlier batch, but were 20cm longer and had the stairway set forward, giving a different arrangement of windows on the offside and generally more opening windows.
VA303 rounds a corner next to Kingston Station, on a 111, March 2009.
TRANSDEVRepaints and refurbishments occurred in 2005/6, either all-red or red/grey, some with the white band above the skirt, some without. Transdev squiggles were added to the London United fleetname. Then in April 2006 the owning group applied the first rule of ownership, and mandated that the Transdev fleetname should supercede the London United fleetname. Until then the transdev squiggle in almost invible green and blue had been subsidiary to the visible London United crest and fleetname: now Transdev appeared large in white, and the crest and old fleetname vanished.
DisplacementThings stayed fairly stable until 2008-9. New double-deckers took routes won by London United/Transdev, and the ALX400 VAs took over from the remainder of the old Olympian VAs. There was a rash of loans and temporary transfers of VAs while the fleet was fitted with the i-BUS information system.
Then a flood of Polish-built Scania OmniCity double-deckers arrived during 2009 and for the first time in several years there was a surplus of double-deckers. The earlier VAs were gathered at Hounslow to convert routes 81 and 222 to double-deck. Surplus VAs were sold from November 2009 onwards.
Further Scanias in March 2010 were used to displace VAs from the H32 and 210. VAs were withdrawn to store at Hounslow Heath.
The remaining VAs gradually went into store, or for sale - although buyers were few: too old, too noisy. By the end of November 2013 none were in use by London United's passenger services, but 28 were in store and some were trainers or in the commercial services fleet at Twickenham or Hounslow Heath. Some of the Volvos, repainted all-red without fleetnames, roared around for several years more as trainers.
UNITED TRANSITOnly one of the Volvos went into the United Transit special purposes fleet. Based at Hounslow Heath, VA81 was given the United Motor Coaches livery of silver and red, with United Transit logos. It unfortunately came to premature end when it was deroofed by a hotel canopy.