The World's Our Bus Stop, 1996

42 Buses in 5 Days


1996 was a most interesting year for bus operations in the Greater Manchester area. To say it was a transitional year was quite an understatement. Within the first part of the year, GM Buses North and GMS Buses were sold to FirstBus and Stagecoach.

By the end of 1996, GM Buses North's network changed beyond recognition, following extensive rationalisation at the end of September. Meanwhile, in Stagecoach land, the Network 7 was slashed to £5.00 a week.

The bulk of services were operated by double deckers inherited from Greater Manchester Transport and GM Buses.

You may ask yourself... what was I doing on the 400?

Between 1995 - 97, I was on a Youth Training scheme. With the summer period being lean months, I couldn't bring myself to eight hours of ennui. Armed with a 16 - 19 bus pass, I had places to visit, coach seated buses to board, and the odd Bee Line vehicle with a Tommy Cooper video playing in the front luggage tray.

Before February 1996, I was quite content to pay single fares to Ashton. Back then, a single journey from my home would cost 80p. At this time of writing, the fare has doubled to £1.70 (£1.90 maximum since 2010). My supervisor at the time introduced me to the 16 - 19 bus pass. Bad move.

This further fuelled my wanderlust. I realised that my £9.45 a week enabled me to board the Trans-Lancs Express (the 400 at 17 minutes past hour or the 401 half an hour later from Ashton). This also meant Rossendale, Mayne of Manchester and Pennine, as well as GM Buses North and GMS Buses (for the south). Between the 8th and the 12th July 1996, I made notes of each journey made that week.

Now for the part you have been waiting for: 'The Diary of a Bus Hopping Electronics Trainee Aged 17 Years and 21 Days'.

Monday 8th July 1996

For most people, the prospect of an easy Monday morning is a most exciting one. At the time I was quite the opposite. After being mid way through a BTEC ONC in Electronics and Engineering, I found myself increasingly bored. As the college term finished for its summer term, this meant no classes to attend, reduced library opening hours and having little to do besides the odd drawing or bus trip.

Along with a handful of other trainees, we were three months into moving from its previous premises in Heginbottom Mill and generally struggling to find our feet. The trainees, like myself, who studied the BTEC option were less apprehensive about the move, used to college protocol and the size of the complex. Others, more suited to the on-the-job training and smaller premises fared worse.

As usual, I caught the 0828 346 into Ashton Bus Station, changing for the 219, where I alighted outside The Swan. The order of the day for the 346 was one of the remaining Leyland Atlanteans in the last version of the GM Buses livery.

With little to do, I later caught the 219 up to Stalybridge Celtic's ground. At the time, Stalybridge Celtic was in the midst of seeing a new main stand. This would later open in August 1996, in front of a friendly game with Oldham Athletic (who we beat 3 - 1).

Returning on the 237 (aboard a MCW Metrobus) into Stalybridge, I visited the local studies library for a quick session on the microfilm viewers, to read old Stalybridge Celtic match reports. I later bought my dinner in the town centre prior to catching the 235 into Ashton.

My reason for reaching Ashton (for leisure purposes) was always as a good excuse to catch the 400 or 401. I caught the latter as its route via Abbey Hills Road held greater sway over the tedium of Hathershaw. On reaching Oldham, I boarded the more scenic route to Rochdale, the 58.

On reaching Rochdale, I looked around the market and returned on the 409 (to Oldham), 401 (to Ashton) and my bus back home which was the 40.

Without a pass (single fares only), the journey would have costed £11.15. As there was no day rover tickets for any bus in Greater Manchester (bar the Wayfarer), the journey would have costed roughly £3.60 with 2 single fares and a SuperGem Teen Day Saver (for both GM Buses North and GMS Buses).

Tuesday 9th July 1996

I actually had something to do at college that day.

Without the bus pass, this would have costed £2.00 - not even enough for a SuperGem Teen Day Saver.

Wednesday 10th July 1996

Once more, nothing to do, and another wasted journey for my Constellation expandable briefcase. In this case, I returned home, dropping my briefcase off, before returning to the bus stop for the 40 into Ashton.

The first place I had in mind was Bury. This posed a potential excuse to visit the East Lancashire Railway or its award winning market. This meant the 401 and a trip through Middleton and Heywood before reaching Bury Interchange.

For the railway, Bury always meant so much to me: the visit in 1984 when there was only Bolton Street railway station and the transport museum; and a then more recent visit on the 5th July 1996 for its Diesel Week celebrations.

As usual, I looked around both indoor and outdoor markets, saw the rare Pointer Sisters album I could never afford at Save Records and called at Chadwicks' stall for a Black Pudding butty. On the way back, I caught the 461 into Rochdale. I was bored with the arrow style straight route of the 471 and enjoyed the more circuitous ride through Darn Hill and Bamford.

Following a refreshment stop in Rochdale, I returned to Ashton on the 400, and returned home on the 346. Single fares alone, this journey would have been a straight £11.

Thursday 11th July 1996

As with Wednesday, another wasted journey for the briefcase. Result: another jolly, Oldham and Rochdale again. This time, I used the journey to visit Oldham Art Gallery before boarding the 58 to Rochdale from Mumps Bridge.

Friday 12th July 1996

Another fruitless day at Beaufort Road - and a further excuse to get a bus somewhere semi random within Greater Manchester. The only problem was that 'somewhere semi random' turned out to be Bury Interchange.

Unlike my usual journeys, I went via Stalybridge railway station to enquire about train fares to Scarborough (where I would later embark on my family holiday) and to pick up a timetable. From Stalybridge, I caught the first bus in the station, and it just happened to be one of GM Buses North's Leyland Atlanteans on the 388 route via Yew Tree Lane and Newton up to Hyde.

With all three Dukinfield buses out of bounds from Stalybridge, I caught Pennine's 346 home, dropping off my case and a train timetable. Due to the novelty of boarding one of Pennine's yellow minibuses, I continued my journey to Ashton on the 40 service.

At the other end of the scale, I later caught the 400, operated with coach seated MCW Metrobuses bodied by Northern Counties, all the way to Bury. Once more, looked around the market, had a look at the East Lancashire Railway and returned via Rochdale, this time on the 469 route through Jericho. Predictably, I returned home on the 409 and the 400 routes (Oldham, then Ashton).

Into 2008

Twelve years since these rough notes were written, Greater Manchester's network had changed again. Pennine, then under the ownership of FirstBus' PMT subsidiary, became part of First Manchester (GM Buses North) in September 2000. The beginning of 2008 saw Mayne of Manchester's bus operations sold to Stagecoach Manchester (GMS Buses). Rossendale however has remained part of the public sector, owned by Rossendale Borough Council, albeit with a greater presence in the Rochdale and Bury areas.

Repeating the same journey would see Rossendale as the sole survivor. Both the 400 and 401 services are no more, with the 409 and 471 running along the same route between Bolton and Ashton.

The 40 has since been renumbered the 41 with a change of route and (in the daytime) operator. In 2001, the 40 merged with the 1 service (Ashton - Hyde via Dukinfield Town Hall and Yew Tree Lane). This followed the route of the 40 service up to Yew Tree Lane, then that of the 346.

From 1996 - 2001, it was the only route to serve the Richmond Park housing estate. 2004 saw the link with Hyde severed, leaving the 389 and 346 to cater for that section. Two years later, Speedwell Bus took over the daytime route.

Rolling stock comparisons

In 1996, double deckers were commonplace in Greater Manchester's bus network. Both GMS Buses' and GM Buses North's fleet comprised of GMT standard Leyland Atlanteans and Olympians inherited from their predecessors. The last GMT standard Leyland Atlantean on revenue earning service operated in 2002 on the 26 route to Leigh.

Express services were operated by coach seated Northern Counties bodied MCW Metrobuses. These were being displaced by single deckers, in the form of the Wright bodied Dennis Dart (dubbed as Superbus - and as low floor vehicles despite being step entrance buses). Again, these had coach seats, though with less comfort than the double deckers.

Pennine's fleet comprised of Eastern Coach Works bodied Leyland Olympians, cascaded from its parent company in Newcastle-under-Lyme. These were regular campaigners on the 346 route. Also present were the then newly purchased Dennis Darts, bodied by Marshall and Plaxton, often seen on the 32 - 35 routes. Shorter routes, such as the 39 and the 40 were operated using Mercedes minibuses with van chassis.

Fast forwarding to 2008, we see Dennis Dart single deckers as standard fare on First Manchester's route. In the Tameside area, the Marshall bodied vehicles have since been replaced by Plaxton Pointer bodied examples. Within Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, more modern Wright bodied counterparts feature heavily on most routes.

Making its presence felt in the Tameside area - with First Manchester and Speedwell Bus is the Optare Solo midibus. With big bus comfort levels and the flexibility of a minibus, these have become regular performers on subsidised routes. The 337, 39 and 41 routes are core Optare Solo territory.

Reversing a trend towards single decker vehicles is Stagecoach Manchester. Recent purchases have been weighted towards the Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 double decker. Further double deckers have been acquired through the takeover Dennis' Coaches and the bus operations of Mayne of Manchester. Most examples see regular service, even Mayne's 1987 East Lancashire bodied Dennis Dominators, acquired through Brighton and Hove Transport.

Stagecoach in Manchester also operates the last surviving GMT standard buses. A 1986 Leyland Olympian sees regular service aptly on the 86 route to Chorlton, in Magic Bus livery. 1991 H-Reg Dennis Dominators amble merrily on peak hour journeys of the 236/237 from Piccadilly Gardens, in the standard Stagecoach livery.

"...And This Is Me"

After 1996, I had become more able to visit weirder and more wonderful places by bus in Greater Manchester. Two years later (to celebrate Public Transport Week), I did so on a limited issue all operator bus only rover ticket. Three months later, this mutated into the System One Bus Only Day Saver. The rest as they say was home economics, and the start of several circumnavigations around the SELNEC/GMPTE boundary.

Then came FirstGroup's FirstDay ticket in 2000 - through ticketing on Pennine routes and former GM Buses North ones. Two years later, I was able to travel to West Yorkshire for a measly £2.50 (now £3.70 at 2008 prices). If I was that daring, I could travel from Warrington to Garforth in one day!

One wet September in 1998 at Altrincham Interchange, a bystander called me 'a glutton for punishment' for travelling around the conurbation by bus. You know what, they were right, and ten years on I still am.

Stuart Vallantine,

Friday 20th June 2008