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Thursday, 5 February 2015

Arriva Special

Last week I was down South predominantly for a hospital appointment, but used the opportunity to meet my friend and Commercial manager of Arriva Southern Counties (see here) and to go over my old stamping, and indeed working ground to see what was going on.

My main wish was to sample Arriva's Sapphire service on the 101 from Maidstone to Chatham and Gillingham- a route embedded in my heart and memory . not only was it the route that opened up the county when I was a boy, but I drove the last ever bus to use the old Maidstone Bus Station in Palace Avenue in 1988, and yes - it was a 101. Since then there have been many vehicles on the route, from SLF Darts to Olympian coaches and now some E400's. Unfortunately it wasn't the best day for photography.

Arriva 6475 AD E400 YY14 WFX at the appallingly badly designed new Chatham Bus Station
The Sapphire buses are smart and comfortable. The leather seating is eye catching and easy on the backside, and they are the first service buses to have something that in years to come will be an essential requiirement on buses.

Yes, Sapphire buses come with plug sockets. It was a wet day so don't judge floor!
Now this got me thinking. If you travel terminus to terminus you are on the bus for no longer than 45 mins - the same time it takes to get from Lowestoft to Yarmouth, or Bungay to Norwich. Half the time it takes to get from Ipswich to Leiston, and far less than Norwich to Kings Lynn. So the question is when are we going to start seeing power sockets on buses in this region. I openly invite management from First/Anglian/Konect/Notfolk Green to answer this!

However nothing could detract from the fact it was an E400 and so the inevitible rattling took the sheen off what would otherwise have been a great journey.

At Chatham, which is just not the same since the old Pentagon Bus Station closed, I took as many pics as I could in a few mins as the new Bus Station is without doubt THE coldest bus station in the country. I can say with all certainty that had it been around 35 years ago I would have found a totally different hobby! However, Medway and Maidstone has traditionally been a place for a real mix and variety of vehicles and this continuees today - Streetlites, Versas, long and short SLF Darts, Solos, Mercedes Citaros, Volvo B5 Hybrids, ALX 400 B7tl's and Tridents, Geminis, Wright bodied DAFs, B7rle's, E200's and 400's and that's just what I can remember on Arriva. Add on other companies such as Nu-Venture with their Agoralines, Olympians, Volvo B10M's etc and  it is still a bus enthusuast's haven.

One of Arriva's Lampposts, 4279 on the 136 to Gravesend
Arriva have gradually moved away from route branding, but there was one that did catch the eye. The 113/114 is a circular route which basically gives a tour of Chatham, Gillingham, the posh part of Rainham and Hempstead, which boasts one of the first out of town shopping centres ever built. It also passes Capstone Country Park, which has a dry ski sloppe and other attractions. So with that in mind someone thought it would be good to brand the buses as shown below. I must admit I read it wrong on first glance and it must get mispronounced on a regular basis.

The side of an Arriva Optare Solo with Capstone Flyer branding
And so back to Maidstone, and more routes that have a place in my heart. I have driven the most incredible vehicles around Maidstone, everything from manual 33 seater Bristols to Volvo Ailsas. Today it's not quite as mad but still some great examples. Another exception to the branding rule are the 82 branded Mercedes Citaros. I am told they are the most reliable vehicles, that are only seen over the pits for routine servicing. Below is fleet number 3909, which formally belonged to a Dual Purpose Leyland National (SKN 909R).

Arriva 3909 Mercedes Citaro on the 82 in King Street
It may be worth pointing out that not everythintg is bright and modern in Maidstone. The less said about the next pic the better probably!

A little Dart from Tunbridge Wells, fleet no 3334
I remember driving what was the genesis of Park and Ride in Maidstone, basically it was a Saturday only service that used the Council offices car park as no one worked there on a Saturday. Now there are three P&R sites but no new buses for 11 years now. Instead refurbished Wright bodied DAFs are being used.

Arriva 3967 Wright bodied DAF on London Rd Park & Ride
Finally no post from Maidstone would be complete without a pic of one of the Volvo B5 Gemini 2 Hybrids. I know I posted one last week but what the heck - they look good!

Arriva 7011 Volvo B5 hybrid KX13 DHA on the 71 to Lunsford Park

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