Between March and June 1994, Midland Red West Limited acquired 37 new Dennis Lance single-deck service buses, all fitted with Plaxton Verde bodywork and B49F seating. All of these vehicles entered service at Birmingham (Digbeth) depot and most remained there until the depot closed in April 1997†, when they moved to Kidderminster depot. However, four examples (fleet numbers 234–237) had already moved to Kidderminster depot in April 1995.
At the end of 1997, after the closure of Digbeth depot and the withdrawal of a number of Birmingham services, Midland Red West had a surplus of vehicles so thirteen examples (fleet numbers 218–230) passed to other companies within the group. Some of these vehicles later returned to First Midland Red in exchange for smaller Dennis Darts, with fleet number 218 returning in December 2001, and fleet numbers 219 and 220 in early 2002.
The remaining examples continued in service with Midland Red West (renamed to First Midland Red in March 1999) for between 14 and 17 years, with withdrawals starting in 2008 and the vast majority being withdrawn by 2011, although two examples survived into 2012. Several of these vehicles passed to First Northampton from 2006, but some of them later returned to First Midland Red.
One of the vehicles that passed to First Northampton (registration number L237AAB) passed to Carl Wigmore of Hereford at the end of July 2013, and he intends to preserve it in red and cream livery as operated by Digbeth depot.
† In certain publications, fleet numbers 201–233 are shown as being re-allocated to Worcester (Padmore Street) depot in October 1995, but in reality none of the vehicle moved. Birmingham (Digbeth) depot was winding down in preparation for closure and had become an “Outstation” of Worcester depot at this time, so the re-allocation was only on paper.
Between June and August 1995, Midland Red West Limited acquired an additional 19 Dennis Lance buses for use at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot. These vehicles were fitted with a slightly different version of the Plaxton Verde body to the ‘L’ prefix vehicles, most noticeable at the rear as they do not have high level rear brake lights and the registration plate is located in the top corner.
In October 2001, First Midland Red started repainting these vehicles into the new FirstGroup “Barbie2” livery and by February of the next year, three vehicles from this batch had received the new livery, fleet numbers 246, 247 and 251. Further repaints were very slow and over the next 12 months only two more vehicles, fleet numbers 240 and 256 received the new livery.
Further repaints came in April 2003, when First Midland Red replaced some of the ageing Leyland Lynx buses used at Redditch depot on the Service 146 between Birmingham and Redditch with six Lances, fleet numbers 216, 240, 243 and 249–251, from Worcester (Padmore Street) depot and Kidderminster depot. Vehicles that were still in their original red and cream livery were repainted into the new livery before being re-allocated to Redditch depot, and shortly after entering service at Redditch all six vehicles were fitted with pink route branding.
Withdrawal of these vehicles started on Sunday 12th June 2005, when Worcester (Padmore Street) depot received seven new Alexander Dennis Enviro300 single-deck buses to operate their Service 144. The first four examples to be withdrawn were fleet numbers 67252–67255 (registration numbers M252MRW–255MRW), all of which still carried red and cream Midland Red West livery, however these were soon repainted FirstGroup corporate “Barbie” livery inline with group policy on vehicle disposal. These four vehicles were later re-seated to B51F and fitted with seatbelts, and re-entered service as school buses for use on school contracts in the Evesham area.
P453BPH was a Plaxton demonstrator that was operated by Midland Red West while their own vehicles had warranty repairs carried out. It entered service on Wednesday 9th October 1996, and was allocated to Worcester (Padmore Street) depot but also saw service at Birmingham (Digbeth) depot and Evesham depot. Between Thursday 13th January 2000 and late March 2000, it spent time with Yorkshire Rider before returning to First Midland Red until April 2000, when it went back to Plaxton. It later spent some time with the arrive group before being sold to the Birmingham Coach Company, which later became part of the Go Ahead Group.
Later this vehicle could be regularly seen operating for Go Ahead West Midlands, under their trading name of Diamond Bus, on Service 192 between Kidderminster and Birmingham or directly competing against First Midland Red Service 144 on their Service 64 between Bromsgrove and Birmingham. It left the Diamond fleet in late 2007.
In November 2002, First Midland Red acquired M221EAF, a Dennis Lance SLF with B40F Wright Pathfinder 320 body. This vehicle was originally new to Western National for use on their Service 82, however, she was found to be unsuitable and soon passed to Yorkshire Rider, Leeds for use on route 2B. She was later passed to First in London (First Centrewest London Buses Limited) for tendered work on Route 335 from Uxbridge depot, remaining there until passing to First Midland Red in November 2002, being sent direct to Southampton to be repainted into “Barbie2” livery before being delivered to First Midland Red at their Padmore Street depot, Worcester on Monday Monday 9th December 2002.
After arriving at Worcester depot M221EAF was kept in storage until February 2003, when she was finally allocated a fleet number, 261, and then loaned to TfL (Transport for London) for Central line rail replacement work between Epping and Central London. She was returned to Worcester depot on the afternoon of Tuesday 11th February 2003 with mechanical problems and went back into storage while the mechanical problems were sorted out. She finally entered service with First Midland Red at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot a month later, on Monday 10th March 2003.
261 was moved to Kidderminster depot in the autumn of 2003, and while there she was renumbered to fleet number 67301. In March 2005 she returned to Worcester depot and received a new coat of paint in June 2007, this time it was the new corporate “Barbie3” livery. She continued in service at Worcester until March 2013, when she withdrawn and passed to First Avon and Somerset to be broken for spares.
On Wednesday 13th August 2003, First Midland Red Buses Limited acquired a Dennis Lance SLF with B34D Wright Pathfinder 320 bodywork, this vehicle was ex-First Bristol fleet number 8918 (registration number ODZ8918). The following week, on Thursday 21st August 2003, another vehicle from the same batch was delivered to First Midland Red at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot with more similar vehicles arriving from First Avon & Somerset (and their subsidiary, First Bristol Limited) over the following weeks and months.
These vehicles were part of a batch of twenty-four Dennis Lance SLF buses new to London Buses Limited from December 1993, and were among the last vehicles new to London Buses before privatisation. From new, all had dual-door B34D Pathfinder 320 bodywork by Wrights of Ballymena, Northern Ireland, and were registered by Wrights before entering service, hence the distinctive Irish registration numbers. Many of the vehicles from this batch were operating from CentreWest’s Uxbridge depot when the company was privatised in a £25.6m management buyout in September 1994. These vehicles then entered the FirstBus fleet in March 1997, when the business of CentreWest London Buses Limited was sold to FirstBus plc. In 2001, all the CentreWest examples passed to First Bristol Buses Limited, Bristol, at their Lawrence Hill depot for use on Service 8 rail link service, carrying route branding for that service over FirstGroup coach livery. Power operated wheelchair ramps on the centre doors had been fitted to these vehicles from new, but by the time First Midland Red acquired these vehicles, most no longer worked, or were so unreliable that they were removed.
After arriving at Worcester (Padmore Street) depot these vehicles were kept in storage while they are prepared for service. When finished they were mainly used at Worcester depot on Service 144 between Worcester and Birmingham, however from October a few examples spend short periods at Hereford depot. In July 2004, most of the vehicles in the batch received green route branding for Worcester overground Service 33, and from this time they were mostly used on that service, but as always, some did occasionally stray onto other routes.
Initially it was unclear what decision the First Midland Red management had made as to the fate of the centre doors, with many believing them to be a waste of time and space in a small city like Worcester. However, it was later decided that the centre doors were to remain operational but drivers would not be encouraged to use them. The centre doors continued to be a point of contention and as late as the autumn of 2006 the body shop at Worcester was asked to draw up plans for a cost effective method of removing them.
Due to unusual destination display mechanism inherited from London Bus, for over 6 months after entering service these vehicles did not have route numbers displayed and were seen to run with paper numbers in the nearside window, or simply no route numbers at all. Some of the first examples into service ran with no route numbers or destinations displayed!
In February 2004, a fifth example, registration number ODZ8924, was delivered to Worcester (Padmore Street) depot. This vehicle was kept in storage for about a week before entering service at Worcester depot on Friday 13th February 2004. It entered service still carrying the FirstGroup national fleet number of 67324, that it received during its final few weeks service with First Bristol Buses. The number was removed on 17th February in favour of local fleet number 266, which was not in sequence with other vehicles from the batch and logically the bus should have received number 268. When First Midland Red updated their fleet with the National fleet numbers, this vehicle was renumbered to fleet number 67322, but this number clashed with ODZ8922, which was still in service with First Bristol, and about a week later it was given the correct fleet number, 67324.
Fleet Number 264 (registration number ODZ8920) was destroyed in the Worcester (Padmore Street) depot fire on Wednesday 17th March 2004, which was a cause of much celebration among many Worcester drivers who dislike the Pathfinder bodied Lances. Four days before the fire it had been renumbered to fleet number 67320, in line with the group national fleet numbers, but although the new numbers had been fitted to the vehicle, it never saw service with its new number as it had been in the depot for maintenance for several days leading up to the fire. After the fire, between April and October 2004, another seven examples were acquired, these were ODZ8922 in April, ODZ8923 in May, ODZ8913–14 in June, ODZ8915 in August and ODZ8911–12 in October.
The last five of these to be delivered, ODZ8911–15, had passed from First Bristol Buses to First Southern National Limited in July 2001, where they were converted to single-doors with B39F layout and used at Taunton depot on Services 28 and 928 between Minehead and Taunton, with route branding for these services. ODZ8913 was the exception and received FirstGroup “Barbie2” livery without route branding when it was converted to single doors. In 2003, the Somerset operations of First Southern National merged with First Bristol Buses to become First Somerset & Avon Limited.
In November 2006, the company has finished its program of repainting the fleet into FirstGroup livery, and started to overhaul the Pathfinder bodied Lances. Fleet numbers 67313 and 67311 were the first two vehicle to be worked on, and both re-entered service in “Barbie3” livery, without branding, just before Christmas 2006. 67322 had been stored since 11th December 2006 with accident damage, and thus was the next vehicle to be overhauled, with 67323 also entering the body shop on 28th December 2006. Both these vehicles were converted to single doors during the overhaul, and 67323 re-entered service on 24th April 2007, with 67322 remaining in the body shop for a few months longer due to the accident damage.
By the end of 2007, all of the Pathfinder bodied Lances had been overhauled and repainted, with several vehicles moving to Redditch depot. Although the centre doors had been removed no extra seating was fitted to the vehicles converted by First Midland Red as the company were unable to find any seats of the correct design, and these operated with a standing area where the centre doors had been. The surviving examples remained in service until July 2010, when withdrawals began, and the last three examples were withdrawn when First sold Kidderminster and Redditch depots in March 2013, being replaced with surplus vehicles transferred from those depots.
In December 2003, First Cymru gave up their ten dual-purpose seated Lances, fleet numbers 816–825 in the First Cymru fleet. These vehicles were new in 1994, as part of Badgerline’s cross-fleet Lance/Verde single-decker upgrade and they quickly settled in to service on the X1 and X2 “Timecutter” services, connecting Cardiff with Port Talbot, Bridgend, Neath and Swansea.
These buses were not particularly popular fitters and drivers alike while at First Cymru, so nobody was too upset when First decided to move them to First Midland Red, upgrading Redditch Overground services from the aging Leyland Lynx. All ten examples drove in convoy to Redditch depot on 21st December 2003, and went into storage. They then moved in small groups to Worcester (Padmore Street) depot to be prepared for service, with the first example, fleet number 273, entering service at Evesham depot on 16th January 2004. Most entered service still in white Cymru livery with red and green stripes, but two examples, registration numbers L819HCY and L823HCY, had already been repainted into FirstGroup “Barbie2” livery before being passed to First Midland Red.
Visually, except for the obvious livery differences, these vehicles were similar to the first batch of Lances acquired new by Midland Red West at Birmingham (Digbeth) depot in 1994. However, there are a number of detail changes that show these vehicles had been originally intended for long distance work. These changes include…
After entering service with First Midland Red, most settled at Evesham depot, and by the end of 2004, all had been repainted into FirstGroup corporate livery. When Evesham depot took delivery of their new Alexander Dennis Enviro300 buses in Feburary 2005, these Lances were moved to Redditch depot. In March and April 2006, four of these vehicles, fleet numbers 67112–67114 and 67117, were withdrawn and passed to First Northampton. The remaining vehicles survived with First Midland Red until the end of 2007, with the last example being withdrawn in February 2008.