Following the Governments decision to take over finacial control of London Transport, and the subsequent abolition of the GLC together with the setting up of London Regional Transport and the "Buses" white paper of 1985, deregulation of bus services outside the central London area became law.
Many suburban and rural bus services were affected by this act of parliament which forced local authorities to review their spending on local transport needs, and therefore put routes out to tender thus allowing private operators to tender for services which before were operated by the big monopoly of London Transport.
In Orpington however LRT decided to involve a complete network of services, which centered on Orpington. It also involved parts of the surrounding area where previously bus services did not operate.
So the whole network was put out to tender, London Buses gained the whole midi-bus network but were unfortunately unable to reach pay and conditions with the trade unions.
This therefore led to the setting up of a new company "Orpington Buses Ltd" trading as ROUNDABOUT.
Recruiting from the outside labour market although some did take place from within London Buses
As a subsidiary company of both London Regional Transport and London Buses this new company was born.
London Buses was making the point very strongly that Orpington was chosen as a "pilot scheme" with the intention of starting with a clean slate, as if no bus routes existed at all. How then should a network be devised to serve the area, adopting criteria such as ensuring all housing should be within 400 metres of a bus service? Physical constraints on conventional bus operation would be solved by the introduction of much smaller vehicles, and remembering this was in the post-"Fares Fair" trauma, when headways (as well as fares) had been increased, this was also seen as a way to provide more frequent services without undue additional resources
The answer was to introduce a "midibus" network, and hence "Roundabout" was born. London Buses was also keen to address the public's perception of minibuses as being "breadvan conversions", so the decision to choose purpose built vehicles resulted in the initial purchase of new Iveco Daily (RH class) 21-seaters and Optare City Pacer (OV class) 25-seaters. Two second-hand Dodge 25-seaters (A class) were also bought as standby vehicles.
Roundabout was a subsidary of Selkent, who although obliged to comply with the network emerging after considerable consultation, had serious doubts over the wisdom of replacing Titans at 20 minute headway on route 229 (210 seats per hour) with RHs at 7-8 minute headway on route R1 (168 seats per hour) through St Pauls Cray estate. But the scheme went ahead from 16th August 1986, and brought huge benefits to the local community as a whole, bus patronage was said to have increased by about 10% in the Orpington area, against a continuing London-wide drop around 2% per annum. From 31 Oct 1987, route R2 had a Saturday service introduced, and the daytime frequency of route R4 was increased from 30 to 20 minutes. Regrettably, cuts in KCC support for bus services saw route R6 withdrawn Knockholt Pound - Sevenoaks just nine months after its introduction, and by March 1988, the route was withdrawn entirely and partially covered by revamps to Kentish Bus services in the area.
But Selkent's fears for the St Pauls Cray estate were justified. Route R1 ran in two overlapping sections at 15 minute headways: Queen Mary's Hospital to Green Street Green, and Grovelands to Bromley Common. The combined service interval of 7-8 minutes over the common section was difficult to adhere to, and passengers indeed found the narrow seats and gangways of the RHs cramped and uncomfortable. There was no luggage provision, while overcrowding did materialise at certain times of day. Purchase of MCW's extended Metroriders was decided upon for allocation to route R1, and these (MRL class) were progressively introduced from August 1987, offering more (and wider) seating, better passenger circulation and luggage pens. In October 1987 about half the service double-ran via Orpington Hospital, stopping outside the new Canada Wing, and such journeys were distinguished by carrying route number R11. In July 1988, most of the Queen Mary's Hospital journeys had a double-run introduced via the new Tesco store near Crittals Corner. However, regardless of origin/destination, all journeys carried route number R1, except those via Orpington Hospital, which showed R11, a (perhaps) confusing practice perpetuated throughout Roundabout's tenure.
All Roundabout's original vehicles (except the A class) were given names. The RH class were named after birds, and the replacement MRLs perpetuated this with the same names followed in naval tradition by the Roman suffix "II"! The OV's were named after winds. However, on repaint, the names were not always replaced, and the DT and MC classes were not christened at all. However, Roundabout's last class (FM) were named after signs of the zodiac....!
More information can be found in the Fleet List