The Eaziest Way from A to B

Remembering the Bee Line Buzz Company

Readers of a certain age living in Greater Manchester may remember the early days of bus deregulation for clapped out double deckers, competition and ticket validity issues. There was one company which was an exception to this.

The 26th of January 1987 saw the launch of the Bee Line Buzz Company. Eschewing double deckers, its remit was to deliver high frequency bus services using minibuses. Instead of having a service with a half hourly frequency using double decker buses, the same route would be served with 20 seater minibuses operating every 7/8 minutes. Unlike conventional bus services, they could be hailed anywhere on the route like a black/yellow taxi cab (apart from some sections where conventional bus stops were used).

The idea of replacing conventional bus operations with frequent minibuses was not without precedent. Harry Blundred dabbled with this before deregulation in Exeter within the National Bus Company. This was later copied in the Hereford and Worcester city centre areas.

Up to its launch, the streets of Greater Manchester saw the PTE owned GM Buses competing against a wave of independent operators. Some were long established companies like A. Mayne and Son and Finglands. Others were more recently formed companies like Citibus and Stuarts. The launch of the Bee Line Buzz Company however did more to ruffle the feathers at GMPTE on Portland Street.

Unlike the older independents, the Bee Line Buzz Company was part of a national company, United Transport, who also had transport interests in South Africa. Its frequent services and modern fleet prompted GM Buses to launch its Little Gem services. This name superseded locally branded minibuses such as Ashton Minilyne for minibus services from Tameside depot.

Personal recollections:
I had my first experience of Bee Line Buzz Company’s services in February 1987, within its first week of operation. Mine was with 18 others as part of a school trip to Hatchett’s Wood in Wythenshawe. We caught the number 5 route from there to Palatine Road, West Didsbury for my then school at the time, which was Ewing School.

Also in the same year, I could recall boarding the number 14 route from Hyde Park to The Forester pub in Dukinfield. It was Guy Fawkes’ Night and along with my Dad, I went to a Tameside MBC organised display on the spare ground opposite Hyde Park. It seemed amazing to me seeing a computerised ticket machine, compared with the Almex ones used on GM Buses. The journey experience to me was almost like boarding a taxi given its intimate atmosphere compared with the usual double decker on the 343 route.

The routes:
As a proud owner of a Bee Line Buzz Company timetable with maps, the routes (as noted on the 14th of September 1987) were:

  • 1: Altrincham – Wythenshawe – Stockport;
  • 2: Altrincham – Manchester;
  • 3: Manchester Airport – Stockport;
  • 4: Altrincham – Sale – Wythenshawe;
  • 5: Wythenshawe – Manchester;
  • 6: Heald Green – Manchester;
  • 7: Ashton-under-Lyne – Droylsden – Reddish – Stockport;
  • 8: Stockport – Marple;
  • 9: Stretford – Stockport;
  • 11: Stockport – Reddish – Gorton – Manchester;
  • 12: Manchester – Urmston;
  • 14: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Dukinfield – Hyde – Stockport;
  • 15: Stockport – Davenport – Hazel Grove;
  • 16: Stockport – Bramhall – Hazel Grove;
  • 20: Flixton – Stretford – Stockport.

Only two of the routes remain in more or less of the same form as their 1987 route. These are the number 7 and the number 1 routes. The latter was renumbered 11, whereas the former’s route is virtually unchanged apart from the fact it also serves the retail park and multiplex cinema at Ashton Moss. Both are operated by Stagecoach Manchester and run to frequent intervals.

At this time of writing, the 7 has a 20 minute frequency operated with single decker buses, though no service after 2030 hours, Sundays and Bank Holidays. This is operated from Stagecoach Manchester’s new depot at Ashton-under-Lyne, just off Clarence Street. Marshall bodied Dennis Darts and Optare Solos are frequently used, with the former vehicles inherited from the acquisition of A. Mayne and Son’s bus operations in January 2008.

The 11 has a 10 minute frequency, also operated with single decker buses, though no service after 2030 hours, and on Sundays and Bank Holidays. This at present is operated from Daw Bank depot in Stockport. With the possibility of Charles Street depot closing this summer, could the 11 transfer to Stagecoach Manchester’s proposed new depot in Northenden?

What happened next?
Sadly, the party was over for the Bee Line Buzz Company’s bold aims by the end of the 1980s. Firstly, the company was acquired by Ribble Motor Services at the end of 1987. Stagecoach Holdings took over Ribble in March 1989 and sold the Bee Line operation to Drawlane. By 1989, its minibuses disappeared from the streets of Greater Manchester, replaced by worn out double deckers from privatised NBC owned companies such as London Country.

Drawlane later became known as British Bus. In 1993 – 1994, they tried to bid for GM Buses North, but were beaten by an employee and management buyout. By 1996, British Bus were sold to Cowie Holdings, before becoming Arriva two years later. In 1998, Bee Line was no more. Along with its stablemate North Western (not to be confused with the North Western of NWRCC fame), they became part of Arriva North West. Its operations were ran from Merseyside. Manchester area operations were known as Arriva Manchester.

Today, Arriva Manchester has two depots. One of them is the Manchester depot just off Fairfield Street, inherited from the original North Western, formerly owned by Tilling and BET. Its second depot is in Wythenshawe.

Though not part of Arriva Manchester (in this case Arriva North West), the former Blue Bus depot is Arriva’s third depot in Greater Manchester. This being the result of its acquisition of Horwich independent Blue Bus on the 31st July 2005.

Recommended reading and source materials:
‘Greater Manchester Buses’, Stewart J. Brown (Capital Transport, 1995);
Bee Line Buzz Company timetables (1987);
GMPTE Bus Times: 7 and 11 bus routes (2009);
7: Ashton – Reddish – Stockport (Stagecoach Manchester);
11: Altrincham – Wythenshawe – Stockport (Stagecoach Manchester).

Before I go…
I would be most grateful if anyone could fill me in with extra information on the 1987 Bee Line Buzz Company routes (in a sort of ‘Where Are They Now?’ type of thing). A special mention also to Martin Bryant of the Manchester Buses blog, who commented a few months back asking me about the Bee Line routes. I hope this article fits the bill in some way.

S.V., 08 May 2009.

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