The Vario was the last main design of the bread-van era. That statement does it an injustice, in that it was designed from the outset as a bus, not a van conversion, but its genus was apparent. It came more or less at the end of a long line of Mercedes Benz mini and midibuses, of which there were still plenty about in the second half of the 1990s. But the tide of bus operation was turning. Small bus operation was turning to the Dennis Dart SLF, the 8.8m MPD version of which could get into most places that a bread-van could, and which offered greater manoevrability as well as the low-floor attraction of DDA compliance (as well as the much greater commercial draw of buggy compliance). So the Vario had stiff competion, made worse by the Optare Solo, which came in a narrow version that could get to the narrow places that an MPD couldn't. So there were not huge numbers of Varios around the London area. Most of the few were on the Greenbelt fringes, and with operators that only marginally impinged on the London Transport area. There were exceptions, where operators used the Vario for estate penetration.
Bodywork was mainly by Plaxton, with the Beaver2 body in two lengths (8.5 and 7.8m), although there were also Alexander, UVG Citistar and Marshall Master bodies.
Stagecoach Selkent was a significant user, with the eighteen shared between Plumstead and Catford (MB 1-18) for routes winding through urban back-roads.
Arriva The Shires and Arriva East Herts & Essex had even more, The Shires taking twenty-eight new ones as a follow-on to its huge fleet of earlier Beavers, replacing older minibuses, and East Herts and Essex taking fifteen, shared between the Hertfordshire operations and those at Colchester and Southend. A further ten were transferred in from Arriva Yorkshire, and there were odd hires and transfers at times. Many eventually gravitated to Milton Keynes, after the takeover of MK Metro.
Tellings-Golden Miller bought some of its own Varios for back-roads work in the Kingston area on Surrey tendered routes, then gradually increased the number using hires and purchases as needs dictated. Surrey bus work was very precarious, and the buses proved useful when routes were taken on at short notice. T-GM sent some south-eastwards to Dartford when they took over the Crystals operations for a while, and acquired two of Crystals' own buses. Others went to fellow-company Burton's at Haverhill, although one did venture back home for a short spell with Wiltax at New Haw. The ten remaining with T-GM at their takeover by Travel London did not long outlive the change of ownership, most going to work with Connex in Jersey.
Epsom Buses had two batches: the first were three with small UVG Citistar bodywork, followed by four Beaver2s for Kingston back-roads work.
Crystals of Dartford had quite a fleet of Mercedes midibuses, some with Crystals' own bodywork, others with Plaxton. Some were used on contract to TfL for the widespread Mobility Bus network in south-east London, whilst others worked Roundabout routes in Orpington, especially the R2. Fleet livery for the R2 Mercedes was turquoise. In 1999 the company renewed the R2 fleet with four new 7.8m Varios, two with Beaver2 bodies and two with Crystals.
In August 2003 Crystals sold all its remaining bus operations to Tellings-Golden Miller, along with the Dartford base, the Optare Solos, and the two Plaxton-bodied Varios. What it did with the two Crystals-bodied Varios I know not: perhaps they were retained for private hire work.
Imperial Buses of Rainham leased three short ALX100-bodied Varios for their year-long tenure of Essex routes 46, 200, 201, and 500 from April 2001. After that they were repainted white, and went elsewhere.
Imperial then (c2004) acquired a couple more Varios, this time Beaver2s, that had been with Coulson of Thurrock for Grays services.
These lasted in service until November 2007, being disposed of about three years later!
Town & Country of Thurrock also had one of the ALX100 buses (105) from the same batch,
which it kept for several years, neatly turned out in two blues livery.
It also had a couple of the slightly larger Beaver2s (106 and 107). The latter had earlier been with Owen's of Sidcup
Owen's Coaches used a new long wheelbase Beaver2 on the K14-K15 shuttles linking the new Bluewater Shopping pit
with the nearby villages of Bean, Southfleet, New Barn and Longfield, between March 1999 and 2002.
It was white with prominent route branding as the Bluewater Shuttle. It moved on from Owen's, across the Thames to Town & Country in Thurrock.
Nightingale of Slough had a small fleet of Mercedes midibuses for local routes, and added a CitiStar-bodied Vario in 1998, which it kept until about 2004. The bus then re-emerged with Acorn Travel in Pembrokeshire.
Lutonian bought a pair of Beaver2s in April 2001 (129, 131). These burbled around the Luton area for some years, eventally exchanging their white, blue and orange for the orange, blue and white of Centrebus.
Centrebus moved 129 to St.Albans and 131 to Dunstable.
In March 2008 Universitybus took over the St.Albans operations of Centrebus, including 129, which became 459 in the uno fleet. It stayed at work on the Welwyn Garden City route 215 where it had been, still in orange, blue and white, but without fleetnames, until April 2010, when it moved on to Thomas of Rhondda.
Meanwhile 131 had moved north to Centrebus associate Bowers of Chapel-en-le Frith, then moved again to Centrebus at Corby.
Universitybus took over one of the Centrebus (ex-Lutonian) Varios in March 2008 to use on its Welwyn Garden City network of routes (201, 203, 205, 206, 215, 312). It kept on at this until April 2010, when it was sold to Thomas, Rhondda, for further service.
Tillingbourne bought five long Beaver2 Varios during 1998 - 1999, and two shorter ones in 2000, for use on its services in Surrey and West Sussex. But Tillingbourne ceased operation in March 2001, and these seven were dispersed, just the last of them coming back to the same area to work for Countryliner.
Two of the hired Varios then went off to the opposite corner of London, to Kingston's in Thurrock. The ex-Limebourne Vario lasted another year, before going west - to Western Greyhound in Cornwall.
Another Vario came in December 2007, ex Devon General.
Repton Coaches was another firm to offer Woking area services following the demise of Tillingbourne. They hired a succession of Beaver2s during 2001 and 2002.
Legg's Travel of Brooklands hired a couple of Varios in late 2001, early 2002, but did not keep them long.
However, local buses did not seem to be its thing. The Stansted local bus operations were quickly sold off, and in August 2005 the Surrey local operations were taken over by Flights Hallmark. They kept the Centra fleetname at first, and the red/blue/silver livery, but then changed the name to Surreyconnect. But Surreyconnect also closed down in May 2007.
Red Rose of Aylesbury bought their own Beaver2 back in September 1997, and kept it in service until May 2010, just over thirteen years later. They had a variety of mini- and midibuses - StarRiders, Beavers, MetroRiders... This one wore the dark red livery with broad cream diagonal band and deep black skirt, and roamed widely over Red Rose's territory in Buckinghamshire.
A depot fire in November 2007 destroyed other midibuses, so Red Rose bought a secondhand Beaver2 - also 7.8m - from East Yorkshire. This one received the newer livery with a shallower skirt, red front bumpers and a narrower yellow diagonal band.
Grant Palmer of Dunstable was a relative late-comer to Vario operation, working mainly northwards from Dunstable and so outwith the old LT Country Area. Since 2006 the operator has used at least eight Varios with Beaver2 bodywork, some short-term hires, others long-term leases or purchases. Livery is red and white, in various fashionable styles.
Metrobus bought three in late 1998 for use on Godstone-based routes, but disposed of them after four years,
In March 2006 they acquired another, for use on Ware local services.
Golden Boy's second Vario, at Ware Station in June 2010.
Northdown Motor Services (Nostalgiabus) also hired a Vario for a short period in 2001.
Regal Busways likewise hired two for couple of months from August 2002.
First Essex operated a Village network near Stansted on behalf of Essex County Council. Stansted Transit took over the contract for the network in January 2005, and hired the six narrow Marshall Masters that had operated it, for about six months. The Masters then returned to First Essex at Basildon.
Lea Valley Buses split off from Travel with Hunny at the start of 2011, and took an ex-Arriva the Shires Beaver2 that had just been acquired for services 255 and 555. But these routes were pruned in May 2011, and the Vario moved on - but not far.
It was acquired by S.M.Travel of Harlow, who also acquired two more Varios with Beaver2 bodies (one from Red Line). They were mainly used on Harlow services 20 and 21.