Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith,
This page created 26th December 2007.

MA 1-134

Gold Arrow MA The MA class were Mercedes Benz 811D lightweight van chassis fitted with Alexander 28-seater bodywork. The big plan in west London towards the end of 1988 was to replace 56-seater Routemasters with almost twice as many 28-seaters, thereby doubling the route frequency. The more frequent buses would increase bus ridership, research having shown that waiting for buses was the main deterrent. And it wouldn't need more staff, as the Routemasters had a crew of two, whereas the midibuses would be one-person operated.

The first few began to arrive for familiarisation and crew training from October 1988. Several were promptly put to work on routes other than the intended 28 and 31: MA13 and 14 went to Victoria Basement for use on the C1, to evaluate longer midibuses than those currently in use, while MA1, 5 and 7 went to Ealing for the E5, which was expecting chairlift-fitted MT midibuses which were late arriving.

Gold Arrow: MA1-46, MA56-65, MA90-94 and MA96-MA105

Gold Arrow MA In March 1989 the first stage of the big changeover occurred, when 36 MAs took over from 20 RMs on route 28 (Wandsworth - Golders Green Stn). The following month saw 11 RMs give way to 25MAs on route 31 (Chelsea - Camden Town). This required an actual allocation to Westbourne Park garage of 71 MAs, MA1-46, MA56-65, MA90-94 and MA96-MA105, which included those reclaimed from early service elsewhere. Some were renumbered from before entry into service, MA46-MA55 swapping fleet numbers with MA90-99 to bring fleet numbers into step with registration numbers.

The MA buses were not as neat a bread-van conversion as the MT class (bodied by Reeve Burgess), especially on the offside, where the drivers window looked like a design afterthought. Those for Westbourne Park wore Gold Arrow branding and frames for route-boards along the sides.

They proved the experts right: loadings went up by 10% on both routes. At the same time they were deeply unpopular with a very conservative travelling public, who did not like the ride nor the cramped seating. With 10% more passengers, they didn't like the crush-standing either, with fifteen allowed. Coupled with sharper acceleration and braking, it all made for a perceived unpleasant experience. Yet 10% more people travelled! Some double-deckers (long RMLs) were drafted in to cope with some peak journeys.

Route 31 started to convert to DW class Darts from February 1991, followed by route 28. This left the Gold Arrow MAs, now two years old, but with about 150,000 miles on the clock, to be re-allocated elsewhere. The surplus allowed the fleet to be fitted with air suspension to alleviate the worst effects of coil-spring suspension.

U-Line: MA47-55, MA66-89, MA95, MA106-107

U-Line MA A new midibus network was introduced in the Uxbridge area under the U-Line branding. The first manifestation was the conversion of route 204 to the U4 in February 1989, using MA66-80. The remainder of the first big batch of MAs followed into service in May, after some of them spent a month or so in training new drivers. New Routes U1, U2, U3 and U5 were introduced, while some old routes were curtailed, diverted or withdrawn.

The buses were based at Uxbridge, with U-line branding.

The U-Line scheme seems to have worked. The MAs settled in and worked hard for a good few years. Centrewest took over the Uxbridge operation at privatisation in 1994, and First took control in 1997. Eventually the Uxbridge MAs were transferred away to other parts of the First empire, including Strathclyde Buses, Midland Bluebird (Edinburgh) and Western National.

Streetline: MA108-134

Streetline MA London Buses liked the Mercedes/Alexander combination. They bought another twenty-seven for the May 1990 start of midibus operation on the 39 and 239. Replacing route 39 Metrobuses from Putney and Victoria, the Streetline MAs worked from Putney on a shortened 39, and from Victoria Basement on the new 239, which replaced the Clapham Junction - Victoria section. Although the two garages worked for separate sectors (Putney was London General, Victoria Basement was Central London Midibuses), they both wore the same Streetline branding.

1991: new duties, new locations, new branding.

The conversion of the 28 and 31 to DW Darts in 1991 left a considerable fleet of MAs up for re-allocation.

In April some moved to Hanwell for route 195, newly won from London Buslines, and were rebranded "hoppa".

Hertfordshire funded a new R1 route linking Chorleywood, Rickmansworth and Harefield, using MA80 and MA81 from Uxbridge, starting in August. These received new Uxbridge Buses branding from March 1993.

Streetline MA From September Alperton converted route 224 to MA operation, using eight MAs that had been displaced from Westbourne Park. These received Midilink branding.

At Westbourne Park itself MAs took over route 70. Two were loaned to Chalk Farm for use on route 46.

A more significant move, with long-term implications, was of a number of MAs to the Selkent area. Four went to Bromley to join their midibus pool, and two to Catford. Others moved to Plumstead to prepare for the introduction of route 202 (Blackheath - Catford) in November. This, when introduced, had the side-effect of putting them on the 54 on Sundays too.

1992 saw the process continue, as the rest of Westbourne Park's MAs were displaced by DW Darts. Three more went to Catford, and others to Potters Bar (MA10), Alperton and Orpington (MA9).

1993: Mobility Bus MA3-7

MA3-7 were sent off to South Yorkshire Transport to be fitted with chair-lifts in the normal front doorway. They returned for use on the Southall Shuttle, replacing MT1-4 at Greenford, which only had wheel-chair lifts in the rear. No more back-door treatment for wheelchair passengers!

1994: Privatisation

Centrewest retained most of the MAs when the company was bought in September 1994, including the operations at Uxbridge, Greenford and Alperton.

Stagecoach Selkent acquired those at Plumstead (MA9, 14-17, 19-21, 24-25, 29-31, 41), the spares from Bromley and Catford having returned to Centrewest at Greenford at the start of the year.

London General retained MA108-134, either at Putney or at the Battersea Base midibus centre, which had taken over from Victoria Basement when that closed in 1993.

Dispersal

Stagecoach was the first company to replace its MAs. New Darts with Alexander bodies (DALs) replaced them on the 202 in early 1996. The MAs went to Devon General, some via Stagecoach operations in Scotland.

London General became part of the Go-Ahead Group in May 1996, and later in the year passed on eleven MAs (MA109-112, 115-120, 127) to another company in the group - The Wycombe Bus Company, a subsidiary of the Oxford Bus Company. They all went, not surprisingly, to High Wycombe. From there some were sold on, notably to Chiltern Queens and Brodyr Richards, leaving five to be taken over by Arriva The Shires in December 2000. They received ATS numbers, but were sold fairly quickly, without donning Arriva livery.

Others from London General were sold to Milton Keynes Metro, but the remainder were transferred by the end of 1997 to London Central at Camberwell, where they were put to use on the 484 until the arrival of the DEL-class Darts. Some of these MAs then went to Milton Keynes too, and the others found service elsewhere.

Centrewest became part of First Group in March 1997, and the MAs were dispersed to work out their old age in various parts of the First empire, notably Midland Bluebird in Edinburgh, Eastern National, Western National, Strathclyde and Manchester.

MA1 has been retained in store by First Centrewest, presumably as a preservation candidate.

Ian's Bus Stop Midibus index. MA . MA histories. MA photos. MT.