Reading Buses have featured in my blog a few times of late, but just as a result of them reviving the historic ‘Thames Valley’ name for former First Berkshire routes in Slough. Outside our area, but still covered due to some readers no doubt having been familiar with the name in the past. Reading Buses are about to feature a bit more often on the blog, though…
The operator has expanded a lot recently. Not just with new operations such as Kennections in Newbury and the aforementioned Thames Valley and Green Line in Slough, but also injecting new leases of life into routes under the Reading Buses name over the last few years such as the 3 (former Thames Travel 144, Reading to Arborfield/Wokingham) and 4/X4 (former First Berkshire 90, Reading to Bracknell). These two routes were given branding beyond the usual colour-coded Reading style with the names of big cats – the Reading to Arborfield/Wokingham (recently extended to Bracknell) route 3 became ‘The Leopard’, and the Reading to Bracknell route 4/X4 became ‘The Lion’. These big cat names also happen to be the names of bus types built by Leyland. If Reading Buses were to ever expand their interurban network, would they continue the Leyland big cat theme? Perhaps a Tiger, Panther or Lynx?
We might not have to wonder for long…
A route that has had some concern about it from the Buses in Fleet passenger group, following Hampshire County Council (HCC)’s announcement of its intention to withdraw bus subsidies, is the 7 which runs between Reading and Aldershot via Swallowfield, Riseley, Hartley Wintney, Elvetham Heath, Fleet, Pondtail and Church Crookham. This is a long-standing route that, bar minor deviations as areas have been built up and two number changes, has gone largely unchanged for decades. When my Dad was young in the late ’50s/early ’60s, this was his regular bus service and operated jointly by the green Aldershot & District and red Thames Valley (I think every third bus was a red one?) – as route 12. In my childhood in the late ’90s/early ’00s, it was still numbered 12 but by then operated by Tillingbourne. Today, it is my auntie’s local route. Change came in the early 2000s though, when Tillingbourne went bust in March 2001. After several operators took on routes under emergency contracts in the immediate aftermath, Countywide Travel established a strong presence in the Fleet area on former Tillingbourne routes (later renaming themselves Fleet Buzz in 2007 after selling the coaching side to Weavaway, who took the Countywide identity). They also re-numbered routes into a 70-series, which saw the 12 become 72.
Just over four years later in December 2011, Fleet Buzz was sold to Stagecoach. Although the fleet consisted of at least ten low-floor buses (4x Optare Solo, 4x Optare Versa and 2x Caetano Nimbus-bodied Darts), there were still a number of Plaxton Beaver 2-bodied Mercedes-Benz Varios making up a chunk of the fleet and which would need replacing for the impending Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) deadline. Stagecoach disposed of the Versas, and replaced the Caetanos and Varios with short ALX200 and Pointer-bodied Darts from London. Fleet Buzz retained its identity for a few years under Stagecoach ownership, but the inevitable happened. After increasing numbers of corporate liveried vehicles began operating Fleet Buzz services, the name was officially dropped from Monday 5th January 2015 and a new network launched under the Stagecoach brand. I say ‘network’ – the hourly 72 was the only regular bus left running in Fleet. South of Fleet it was diverted to do a loop of Church Crookham and then ran direct to Farnborough to replace the withdrawn route 30. Some areas of Fleet were served by a new ‘taxishare’, and the Farnborough estates served by the 30/42 replaced by a limited weekday daytime route 9. This left Fleet isolated from Aldershot and Frimley Park Hospital. As time – and campaigning – went on a new half-hourly route 10 linked Fleet and Church Crookham with Farnborough, allowing the 72 to return to Aldershot (albeit via back roads to serve Aldershot Health Centre, rather than Hale and Weybourne as before). This also saw the second renumbering of the route, but retaining the 7 that Countywide added and dropping the 2 from the original 12 number. Renumbering the part-parallel 82 between Reading and Farnborough as 8 saw the pair slot nicely between existing Reading Buses route numbers. Reading Buses aren’t a stranger to the route though, as they currently run Mon-Sat evening and Sunday daytime services over the 7 under contract to Wokingham Borough Council, but only over the northern section between Reading and Riseley.
Reading Buses’ reach is to now expand over the route from Monday 16th April, in a form reminiscent of the days described in my Dad’s youth above where Aldershot & District (now Stagecoach) jointly operated the route with Thames Valley (a name recently revived by Reading Buses). Timetables are not yet available but what we do know is Reading Buses will operate between Reading and Fleet, with Stagecoach continuing to operate between Hartley Wintney and Aldershot. Whilst this will see some overlap between Hartley Wintney and Fleet, buses will be timed to connect in Hartley Wintney for through passengers travelling between points north of Hartley Wintney and south of Fleet. Through ticketing will be available and Stagecoach season tickets will be accepted by Reading Buses until their expiry date. The section between Reading and Three Mile Cross will become part of Reading Buses’ ‘Simply Network’ ticket zone. The deal will not see staff transferring but two vehicles will move from Stagecoach to Reading Buses. We don’t know what these are, however the rumour mill reckons on a couple of ALX400-bodied Dennis Tridents (not sure what their source is though).
This was all confirmed in the latest Notices & Proceedings (N&P) for the West of England (2635), published this morning (Thursday 22nd February).
READING TRANSPORT LTD, GREAT KNOLLYS STREET, READING, RG1 7HH
From: Reading Station
Via: Three Mile Cross, Spencers Wood, Swallowfield, Hartley Wintney
Name or No.: 7 / 7
Service type: Normal Stopping
Effective date: 16 April 2018
Other details: New Service
– West of England N&P 2635
Further on is the ‘Cancellations of Existing Services’ section. Listed as cancelled from the day before, Sunday 15th April 2018, are Stagecoach’s 7 (Reading to Aldershot), 8 (Reading to Farnborough) and 408 (Odiham to Farnborough Colleges). The route 7 cancellation is in readiness for the replacement Aldershot to Hartley Wintney registration, but it is unclear at the moment if there will be replacements for route 8 and 408. Watch this space! In the meantime, the ‘Buses in Fleet’ campaign group are currently running a survey specifically for route 7 and the proposed HCC subsidy withdrawal, so if you are affected or otherwise want to express your views then do fill that in. You can find the survey at: http://www.busesinfleet.org.uk/community/buses-in-fleet-13309/news/we-need-your-help-again-17550
As soon as timetables and more information is made available, I will of course let you know.