Season Tickets and Recreational Travel in Greater Manchester

'A Fare Deal For You' over the last century


Ever since railway companies introduced season tickets in the start of the 20th century, the average bus and rail user has been the proud owner of a strip of card which allows discounts over single or return fares. Purchased on a weekly, monthly or annual basis, they were first known as 'contracts'.

With improved technology, it is possible to purchase a similar range of tickets from the booking office with mobile ticket machines on or off the bus/rail station premises. In the last decade, season tickets bought on the bus or train have gained popularity. This article takes a look at travel in Greater Manchester for pleasure and for profit.

New Boots and Contracts

Without the railways, London wouldn't have had its Oystercards, nor would we have had the season ticket as we know it today.

As the railway companies consolidated, their focus in urban areas switched more towards the carriage of passengers as well as freight. With passengers being attracted to the new suburbs, they travelled further from their place of work. In London, it was the Underground system and the Metropolitan Railway. In Manchester, it was the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, who introduced electric trains to Bury via Prestwich and Radcliffe in 1906. At the southern end of Manchester, it was Altrincham which benefited from electrification, using an overhead system from 1938.

Both the lines from Altrincham and Bury made places like Sale and Prestwich desirable places to live, away from the city yet 30 minutes away by clean, fast electric trains.

For regular travel, 'contracts' became a popular option, over paying separate single or return fares. This committed the passenger to travel over a given route within, for example, a weekly period. Even now, rail season tickets remain a popular option amongst rail users.

Cheap Away Days

After cheap fares were made available at the latter part of the 19th century, the railway companies also kick-started a boom in excursion traffic. As well as cheap excursion tickets and special trains for the Wakes weeks, rover tickets started to appear.

In 1906, Ashton Corporation was the first concern in Greater Manchester to introduce through-ticketing and coordination with Oldham Corporation. Their pioneering approach led to the launch of a rover ticket in 1922. This allowed a complete round journey from Ashton via Mossley and Oldham by tram. The journey wasn't exactly round, as the map suggested walking from Roaches or Haddens towards Saddleworth, where tickets would be accepted on Oldham Corporation trams. The single operator ticket was born.

With the railways nationalised on New Year's Day 1948, it became possible to explore Britain further by rail. By the 1950s, rover tickets known as 'Runabouts' were introduced, offering passengers unlimited travel within a given area. The idea was to boost off-peak patronage, but there was one serious competitor: the car.

Other than their Runabout tickets, cheaper off-peak rail travel was also available through special excursion trains to popular seaside resorts. This practice was common till the late 1960s, with some continuing well into the early 1990s.

In 1990, this changed again when British Rail launched APEX fares, allowing cheaper travel over longer journeys. With privatisation, the APEX fare came in a variety of brands from Virgin Value to Super Advance with options for minimum booking time from 3 to 14 days in advance of departure. This was changed by National Rail in 2008 where such fares are now referred to as Advance Purchase tickets.

Diminishing Returns

With the exception of North Western Road Car Company, day saver tickets were absent from the Greater Manchester bus scene. With increasing car ownership, some operators abolished cheap workmans' ticket, which allowed cheaper rate travel before the morning peak periods. At a time when bus operators needed a fillup, this probably exacerbated declining patronage.

Another factor were job losses among Greater Manchester's biggest employers. For example, Metropolitan Vickers once employed 10,000 at its Trafford Park work before closure in 1976. British Railways' Rail Modernisation Plan also saw the loss of sweated labour due to the closure of steam sheds in Gorton and Patricroft, as well as the infamous Beeching plan. 1969 also saw the closure of Bradford colliery, the last coal mine in East Manchester. This also reduced demands for works' contracts.

Bus only season tickets returned to the fore in 1974. Greater Manchester Transport introduced the Bus and Rail Season Ticket, which was a forerunner of today's System One Buscard Extra. This allowed travel over a given section within Greater Manchester by bus and train.

Following a fuel crisis and a 25%+ inflation rate, 1975 saw Greater Manchester Transport increasing its fare twice to cover rising maintenance costs and the abolition of separate fare stages for one man operated and crewed buses. This resulted in a 15% drop in passenger numbers, to the point trade unions showed concern. The result of this by the end of 1975 was a weekly bus and rail season ticket known as the SaverSeven.

The SaverSeven was an instant success, leading to some drivers switching over to buses. SaverSeven tickets were available on a 4 zone basis, with a fifth zone being launched by 1983, to accommodate services within New Mills and Hayfield. To cater for this, SaverSales outlets opened in bus stations throughout Greater Manchester, often alongside separate information offices. Both Altrincham and Whitefield bus stations, GMT's first purpose built examples had such facilities from the start.

By December 1979, with patronage still falling, came another ticket. Whereas the SaverSeven permit catered for regular users, and required a photocard, Greater Manchester Transport introduced a ticket for passengers who fell between heavy user and very casual user. The result was the Clippercard, which offered 10 single journeys for the price of 9. Initially slated for release in 1976, the Almex self cancelling devices created opposition with the unions, resulting in a three year delay and the proliferation of faulty Clippercard machines.

With higher unemployment presenting a challenge to Greater Manchester Transport, there was a market for more off-peak tickets. In 1970, SELNEC was first with the Cheapway fare, which allowed reduced fares between 1000 - 1200 hours and 1400 - 1600 hours on weekdays. This was stopped by GMT in 1975. On the other side of the Pennines, West Yorkshire PTE introduced off-peak fares in 1980, and South Yorkshire PTE, throughout 1975 and 1986 have heavily subsidised fares based on the mainland European model. In 1981, GMT had a fares freeze on some routes, though this had ceased a year later.

Though the then Tory Government virtually outlawed cheaper bus fares (following Lord Denning's ruling in favour of Bromley Council over subsidies on London Transport's 'Fares Fair' scheme), cheaper off-peak season tickets were still on the agenda. A project in cooperation with the Peak National Park saw the launch of the Peak Wayfarer ticket. Self-validating by means of a scratchcard, this allowed passengers unlimited bus and rail travel within Greater Manchester and Derbyshire on most buses and scheduled British Rail services for a single day.

1982 saw the dawn of the 'Shop'n'Save' Clippercard, which allowed 10 journeys for the price of 9 at a lower price than the standard Clippercard. Also introduced the same year was the 'Sunday Rover' ticket. With an initial price of 80p, it allowed unlimited bus travel in Greater Manchester on most buses during Sundays and Bank Holidays.

The following year also saw the launch of the Teen Travel Club for 16 - 17 year olds. A reduced rate Clippercard was made available for Teen Travel Club members. A weekly season ticket was made available shortly after.

The start of the 1980s also saw SaverSales outlets moving beyond the bus station. Where the extra expense of opening a bricks and mortar SaverSales outlet were unrenumerative, Greater Manchester Transport introduced mobile SaverSales outlets. These appeared at outdoor markets and on some car parks. Stopping points for mobile SaverSales outlets included Partington's outdoor market and the car park of Ashton-in-Makerfield's Duwit hardware store. If desired, companies could hire the mobile SaverSales van. This would park outside the factory or office during lunch breaks.

By 1985, the number of outlets for Greater Manchester Transport's range of season tickets expanded to include main post offices. For the first time, its tickets were advertised on television. Airing in the Granada region, an animated Cheshire cat showed its contentment with saving money on single fares by purchasing a Clippercard. The choice of slogans were "They Cut The Fares, They Cut the Fuss" and "Get a Clippercard and you're laughing".

Land of Confusion: Deregulation and Through Ticketing

Besides the fragmentation of 50 years work into integrating public transport in Greater Manchester, the 1985 Transport Act saw further complications in terms of through ticketing. Before the 26th October 1986, Greater Manchester's bus network had Greater Manchester Transport, A. Mayne and Son, and a handful of National Bus Company routes operating into the city centre. In the run-up to bus deregulation, the then independent Citibus and Finglands gained licences to run a limited number of routes.

From the 26th October 1986 a wave of locally owned independents competed with the newly renamed GM Buses. In the beginning this led to chaos over the validity of GMPTE's Saver Travel Club tickets. For example, the SaverSeven may be valid for use on the Bee Line Buzz Company services as well GM Buses' but probably not on Stuarts' journeys. Soon after came the Every Bus Saver, a pass which did everything said on the ticket; (almost) every bus in Greater Manchester.

Soon after, companies started offering single operator tickets to ensure passengers stayed loyal to their services. In response to this, GM Buses launched the Busabout ticket, designed for travel on its own services. This was rebranded in 1993 as the SuperGeM range of tickets.

Gaining in greater popularity within that decade were single operator tickets. In some areas, the Every Bus Saver would have been a luxury where a Busabout would have sufficed. The one thing which was holding back progress of such tickets was the technology.

Till the mid 1990s, ticket machines only tendered single, return and day rover tickets. This was to change in 1993 when the Network 7 ticket became available to purchase on board the bus. Soon, the photocard and trip to the SaverSales office was almost obsolete.

Off-Bus Ticket Sales and Information

Traditionally, bus information and season tickets were available from the bus depot's traffic office or the bus operator's time office. For example, the time office at West Didsbury or Levenshulme (Lloyd Road) (as well as ensuring drivers stuck to the timetable) would enable passengers to gain timetables as well as tickets and fare enquiries. As with most areas up to the 1980s, bus depots also served as bus stations.

Soon, bus stations and tram termini started to offered such facilities. In Greater Manchester, this was to change by 1975 when the SaverSeven bus and rail season ticket was launched. Separate to bus information offices, came SaverSales kiosks, where bus and rail season tickets would be purchased. These appeared at all main bus stations throughout Greater Manchester.

With its increased popularity, the SaverSeven led to the Clippercard and an increase in the number of outlets. This ranged from mobile outlets to post offices. The SaverSales office and local post offices became the first stop for most Mancunian bus passengers who wish to renew their season tickets.

This changed again in 1995 when the SaverSales outlets were ditched in favour of the Travelshop. Some information offices, such as the one in Hyde bus station closed with the SaverSales kiosk becoming its Travelshop. The mobile SaverSales outlets were ditched with Travelshop provision maintained at main bus stations.

The Travelshop concept remains in use today with information and ticket sales available under one roof at most main GMPTE bus stations. There are some exceptions, like Altrincham and Hyde bus stations where bus information is available outside Travelshop opening hours. Since then, off-bus ticketing has extended to local off-licences and newsagents where a PayPoint sign is displayed. In 2008, Stagecoach Manchester launched off-bus ticket machines where Manchester Megariders and System One Bus Only season tickets are available to credit and debit card holders on the 192 route.

On board for increased patronage

The middle part of the 1990s saw an increase in the number of bought on the bus weekly tickets. Whereas a journey to the SaverSales office would warrant payment of bus fares to the nearest branch, single operator tickets became a more convenient option.

The newly split GM Buses North and GMS Buses launched separate weekly tickets. Whereas GMS Buses retained the Network 7 pass, GM Buses North launched 'The Big Orange'. As well as its main ticket, The Big Orange spawned regional spin-offs within its operating area. These included The Bury Segment which offered unlimited travel on GM Buses North routes to, from and within Bury. Covering a more smaller area was, for example, the Moston Slice. This was valid on GM Buses North routes with Moston.

Both GMS Buses and GM Buses North remained in employee ownership till April 1996. After fighting off bids from British Bus (now today's Arriva) and West Midlands Travel (now part of National Express), GMS Buses was the first to be sold. In March 1996 it became part of Stagecoach Holdings. The Perth based company was no stranger to Greater Manchester, having at the time owned Ribble for seven years. Under the moniker of Stagecoach Manchester, operated from its Ribble subsidiary, it competed against GMS Buses on the Wilmslow Road corridor, before selling its route to Finglands.

A month after, GM Buses North succumbed to FirstBus. The Aberdeen based company, formed by the merger of the GRT Group and Badgerline, had at the time already owned Pennine through Potteries Motor Traction. Under Stagecoach Holdings ownership, GMS Buses adopted the 'Stagecoach Manchester' name previously used by Ribble for their journeys on the 42 route.

Within its first year, Stagecoach aimed to make a maximum impact. In the summer of 1996, the Network 7 was reduced in price to £5.00 from £10.00. The impact was almost immediate leading to most Stagecoach Manchester passengers using prepaid weekly or monthly tickets. The result of which has seen increased boarding times at the start of each weekday caused by passengers renewing tickets. This led to Stagecoach Manchester launching a 4 week Megarider by 2008. Instead of being bought on the bus, it is only available online.

The following year saw the Network 7 ticket renamed the 'Manchester Megarider'. Since the launch, passengers aboard Stagecoach Manchester routes increased from 71 million to 85 million over ten years. Since its launch price of £5.00, the ticket returned to its £10.00 price tag in 2008.

Pushing the boundaries

With both the big bus owning groups consolidating in Greater Manchester and the rest of Britain, their season tickets became nationally recognised brands. Out went the regional names for each season ticket and in came almost universally known brand names. With the Big Three bus owning groups also rail franchise holders, a national brand became more important.

Whereas Stagecoach persisted with regional names for its season tickets, FirstGroup (as known since 1998 following the acquisition of Great Western Holdings) were the first to ditch its regional names. From 2001, all daily, weekly and monthly tickets were prefixed with 'First'. Its daily tickets became known as 'FirstDay', weekly tickets 'FirstWeek' and monthly tickets 'FirstMonth'.

2002 saw First Manchester expanding the validity of its FirstDay to West Yorkshire. This remains in use today, making it possible for the passenger to travel from Warrington to Leeds for £4.00 (2009 prices). Arriva North West, making further inroads into Greater Manchester, have since 1998 offered day saver tickets for travel within Greater Manchester. Other examples are available for travel throughout the North West, and the North West and North Wales. A day saver for travel on all Arriva buses outside London (and Green Line services) is also available!

As well as being able to purchase a FirstDay ticket within Manchester, its brand name is also instantly recognisable in other FirstGroup areas like Sheffield, Great Yarmouth and Glasgow. Whilst being passenger friendly, the pulling power of the brand also affects the independent operators. In Greater Manchester, this has seen Dennis' Coaches, A. Mayne and Son's and Bullocks' bus operations succumb to Stagecoach. Likewise, Springfield Coachways and Pioneer were absorbed by First Manchester. In Greater Manchester, regular passengers are more likely to pay for weekly or monthly season tickets as they offer more substantial savings on single fares - something which some of the small operators were unable to offer till recently.

System One

Though single operator tickets were gaining popularity, there was still a need for multi operator tickets. 1995 saw the Every Bus Saver and its bus/rail counterparts rebranded under the System One name. To avoid the chaos caused by tenders signed in the early years of deregulation, agreeing to support System One tickets became part of the contract between GMPTE and the operator itself.

Since 1981, Greater Manchester already had a multi operator day ticket in the form of the Wayfarer. Absent since the demise of Greater Manchester Transport was a similar ticket for travel only within Greater Manchester. With the Wayfarer ticket priced a little out of reach for journeys within the conurbation, this need was addressed in September 1998.

Following a successful trial on the 16th June 1998, System One launched a Bus only day saver ticket for use on all buses in Greater Manchester. This was extended to include bus and rail day tickets with equivalents for travel on train and tram, bus and tram, and all three modes of transport.

With several people unable to make the Travelshop, the local shop became another outlet. February 2007 saw PayPoint terminals dispensing System One passes.

Where Next?

The logical progression from standard paper tickets is that of electronic smart cards, similar to Transport for London's Oystercard. The idea is that one ticket would cover all routes without the need for he/she to flash his/her pass at the driver/conductor like a workplace security pass.

The current concessionary fare scheme identity cards allows for that provision, meaning a chip could permit entry to their desired bus/train/tram. With adult passes, this could be subject to the amount he/she has placed on their card, similar to a prepaid credit card.

GMPTE's Transport Innovation Fund application also allowed for this provision. With its electorate voting 4 to 1 against the proposals, this may be placed on hold. It may not be so for too long; Stagecoach Manchester's new ticket machines allow for smartcard technology at this very moment in time. A similar system has been in operation on First West Yorkshire routes in Bradford since 2001. Who knows?

Ticketing Timeline

The Tickets


Stuart Vallantine,

Tuesday 14 July 2009