London Country SuperBus

  • Blue Arrow

  • No-Fuss Bus

  • SuperBus

  • Chells

  • St.Nicholas

  • SB1

  • SB2

  • Stevenage Bus
  • The Stevenage SuperBus System

    Stevenage SuperBus Routes The New Towns presented a challenge to the Country Bus and Coach department of London Transport. Their density of population and planned, traffic-free layout created a need for high-intensity services quite different from the traditional once, twice or thrice-hourly bus between established centres. In 1959 Hitchin garage was removed to Stevenage to cope with the demand, and Epping was supplanted by Harlow in 1963. By the late sixties, the idea of running frequent, short journeys with conductors on RT type vehicles was becoming unrealistic. Also, pressure from private motorists was increasing, so new service patterns were attempted.

    In 1969 a report was issued suggesting that "transport needs of Stevenage could be more effectively provided by subsidised bus services as opposed to large scale road building, providing that the service was of sufficient quality to be differentiated from normal buses". In October and November 1970 a free demonstration service themed "Better Buses for Stevenage" was operated by brand-new SM146/7 and Metro-Scania single-deckers from Leicester Corporation and a demonstrator with London Transport, VWD 451H. A dedicated fleet of such vehicles would later build as the idea was developed into "Superbus".

    The most innovative were the Blue Arrow services in Stevenage, an experiment started by London Transport in December 1969 and funded by the Ministry of Transport. The experimental service was to run for one carefully monitored year. Three XF class Daimler Fleetlines were borrowed from East Grinstead and painted in silver and blue livery, and operated pre-booked, home-to-work journeys in the morning and evening peaks. The idea did not really catch on, and the experiment was terminated in late 1971. The concept was immortalised by EFE with their model recently.

    When new one-man buses came onto the Chells route in March 1971 there were terrible problems operating the existing graduated fares (from 3p up to a stunning 9p). Drivers just could not maintain the 12 minute headway while giving tickets and change to 21,800 passengers in a week. Stevenage Development Corporation watched this painful exercise, and saw figures plummet to 17,300 passengers per week.

    From 20th May the service became London Country's first farebox operation (still graduated fares, though) and diverted away from Bedwell completely, much to the residents' annoyance. Lucky Chells bus users saw the frequency of the 'No Fuss Bus' rise to an unprecedented 8 per hour, with a reduced journey time of 10 minutes. The route was funded on a 50/50 basis by the Development Corporation and central government.

    By Summer the concept had gelled, and on 31st July 1971 the SuperBus was born. I remember the new AEC Swift (SM144 - thanks, LOTS) parked on the paved area above the fountain in the Town Square as part of the public consultation on livery. It was painted in a vivid canary yellow with relief of Oxford Blue on one side and lincoln Green on the other. It certainly got attention! Our 303 routes had been converted to SM operation, as had other the high-frequency 809 service to St. Nicholas, a new development in the North of the town. This service had been started in September 1970 using an RT shuttling back and forth. Since the SMs were the buses of the moment, they were also noticed by yours truly on his forays to the metropolis that was Stevenage in those days.

    When the SuperBus service started between the Bus Station and Chells, with extension to the Industrial Area at peak hours, it didn't have a number. Neither did it have tickets! Passengers had to accustom themselves to the farebox concept where the tender was placed in a windowed box for checking by the driver, who then released it into the storage hopper, clicking on the passenger counter automatically. For the privilge, passengers were charged a flat 6p, with a 3p child fare.There was no change-giving facility. Nothing was said about the validity of Rover tickets, and I never plucked up courage to try - besides, the route did not have the cachet of a romp down the Great North Road on a 303! The other innovation for the SuperBus was dedicated lay-by and shelter provision - someone was thinking about passengers AND drivers.

    The first vehicles were 5 SM and 2 MS, augmented in late October by two more SM in order to reduce the headway to an unprecedented 5 minutes. Passenger journeys had risen since the start of the experiment by about 15% to 30,200 per week, and revenue covered operating costs with a small surplus of 13 pounds per week. From 12th February 1972 the vehicle allocation was increased again by 2 SM to provide an increased peak-hour frequency, and the adult fare was dropped to 4p. Two more SM were added in March, and the XF Blue Arrow vehicles withdrawn. Their duties were already covered by SM vehicles. In April, two more MS vehicles were put to work on the SuperBus, and on the 15th the first Leyland National was delivered to Reigate in all-over yellow since Lillyhall would only apply single-colours. It was sent away again, and didn't come back until June! Two more SM vehicles brought the SB fleet up to 17.

    A high profile visit was made to Stevenage by a Parliamentary Select Committee on 15th May 1972. The party travelled all the way from Westminster on MS3, then toured the SB route and New Town on an SM. On 2nd September the Blue Arrow was axed, and the second SuperBus route to ST.NICHOLAS was introduced, bringing Sunday service for the first time. It was numbered SB2, and the original Chells route became SB1. Fares on SB routes rose to 6p. At last LN1 and LN2 were released from training duties and allocated for service from 9th September 1972. LN3 and LN4 arrived, but didn't enter service until December. The two SB SM vehicles released were repainted and sent to Harlow.

    On 14th October a significant move was made in Stevenage and Harlow New Towns as all the TOWN SERVICE routes became OMO 'unifare' operated by new double-deck Atlanteans (AN). The bizarre service 808 from Chells to Hitchin (Old Park Road) did not survive, since the purpose of its journey was visiting time at the old Hitchin Lister Hospital and that had now passed the baton to the 'New' lister Hospital at Corey's Mill in Stevenage. There was a special fares reduction to 3p on Sunday until the New Year.

    Superbus proper began to die out from the mid 1970s, as all the local bus routes were re-branded into a new network with SB route numbers.
    SB3 served Martins Wood, with variant SB13 running to the Industrial Areas at the peaks.
    SB4 served Bedwell, Shephall and Longmeadow and Lister Hospital, with variant SB14 running to the Industrial Area. SB5 and SB15 ran in the opposite direction around the southern loop.
    SB6 served Chells and Symonds Green, but only hourly, and with more frequent SB16 extensions to the Industrial Area at peak times.
    SB7 was another hourly route from the Bus Station to Bragbury End.
    Finally, SB12 was a 15 minute-interval service between the North Eastern Industrial Area and the Bus Station or Gunnels Wood Road South, that followed the route of SB2.
    The vehicles used for most of the services were farebox Atlanteans which never carried the fetching yellow livery. Instead there was just standard NBC Leaf Green with a broad sticker or fixed SB branding in the destination box. See
    AN73 for an example.

    The SuperBus routes lost their catchy title in 1980, in favour of Stevenage Bus. Fortunately the initials were the same. Harlow services became Town Bus at this time. Similar urban networks had been inaugurated in all the major traffic centres by this stage, effectively divorcing them from their inter-urban counterparts.

    Thanks particularly for information from LOTS, London Bus Magazines 100 and 108, for 1971 and 1972.