“They Cut the Fares, They Cut the Fuss…”

Remembering the ClipperCard

Persons of a certain age in my locality may remember the heady days of GM Buses and Greater Manchester Transport. As regular travellers they may have purchased a SaverSeven ticket of some description. Or, if they were more casual users, they may well have purchased a ClipperCard.

The ClipperCard was introduced in December 1979 by Greater Manchester Transport to offer discounted travel for more casual users who wouldn’t justify the need to purchase a weekly season ticket. Offering 10 journeys for the price of 9, it was an instant hit with cost-conscious bus users. Instead of showing the driver or conductor their season ticket or the need to tender the correct single or return fare, passengers boarded by clipping their ticket in a self-cancelling machine. This would stamp the date and time of each bus boarded.

Unlike the SaverSeven bus and rail season ticket, no photocard was required for the standard and off-peak adult tickets. The tickets were valid on all GMT buses and a selection of non-GMT bus routes within the Greater Manchester area. Travel was permitted on night buses by means of clipping a standard ClipperCard ticket twice. Where photocards were not required, they were transferable to other passengers – so long as person A did not use the same ticket and pass it to person B on the same journey who was waiting elsewhere.

All ClipperCards were not valid for use on contract and guaranteed services (for example the Macclesfield Parkside Hospital service), rail replacement buses, dogs, and on the 200 Airport Express route (later renumbered 757 by GM Buses between 1988 and 1993).

By 1985, there were four types of ClipperCard available in Post Offices, SaverSales shops and staffed British Rail stations throughout Greater Manchester. These included the standard ClipperCard, launched in December 1979 along with the Concessionary ClipperCard. Three years later came the Teen Travel Club and Shop and Save ClipperCard tickets. The latter was renamed the Off-Peak ClipperCard.

Standard ClipperCard:

  • Launched December 1979;
  • Valid on night services (by clipping the ticket twice).

Off-peak ClipperCard:

  • Launched in Spring 1982 as the ‘Shop and Save ClipperCard’;
  • Valid before 0730 hours and after 0930 on weekday mornings up to 1530 hours;
  • Valid after 1830 hours till the last bus of each day (not valid on night buses).

Concessionary ClipperCard:

  • Valid any distance at all times of the day;
  • Longest serving ClipperCard, available for purchase till 2004;
  • Not valid on night services

Teen Travel Club ClipperCard:

  • Launched in Spring 1982 for 16/17 year olds;
  • Upper age limit extended to 19 by January 1986;
  • Not valid on night buses and certain school and college services.

The end:

From the early 1990s, the multiplicity of differing fare scales (and competition issues) among Greater Manchester bus operators made the staged ClipperCards redundant. Therefore by the late 1990s, the concessionary ClipperCard was the sole survivor. A main issue entailed the collection of revenues from 71 different companies in 1994, complicated further by the Conservative government’s enforced split of GM Buses.

As electronic recording of fare receipts became the norm, the concessionary ClipperCard was pensioned off in 2004. During its twilight years, I had boarded some journeys where the driver did not clip the ClipperCard itself. As a result, the passenger gained a free ride, but GMPTE could not trace the concessionary fare receipts from each operator. The companies lost out, resulting in the service being withdrawn as a consequence.

Another factor in its demise was an expanded School Bus network, more tailor made than its predecessor based on American practice. However, the most marked factor of all was the modal shift of schoolchildren’s transport preferences. Over the last two decades, there has been a great shift towards children being driven to school by their parents instead of taking the bus or walking the short distance. The latter point is also a causal effect of the 1988 Education Act’s ‘Parental Choice’ legislation, which has seen children schooled further away from home in 2010 than in 1990.

Personal memories of the ClipperCard

Though I have fond memories of the ClipperCard ticket, I never even purchased one in my life. My sister used to purchase them in the mid 1990s for occasional travel with myself as her second passenger. I at the time purchased the Full Fat/No-Holds Barred 16 – 19 Bus Pass for more regular travel to Ashton-under-Lyne (where I was on a YTS programme at the time). My supervisor suggested purchasing a weekly 16 – 19 pass, and it was the worst thing I ever did – akin to leaving a child at the Woolworths’ pick and mix counter. Almost as soon as I purchased my first season ticket, I was on the 400 Trans-Lancs Express to Bury like a shot!

Earlier on (around 1982 – 1985), I used to be fascinated by the sight of several multi-coloured numbers left over from the Almex M self canceller machine. I wanted to take them home and play with them, and be hypnotised the falling numbered squares in sky blue, purple and red.

Other ClipperCard imitators:

Greater Manchester Transport wasn’t the only area to offer self-cancelling tickets of that vein. Other areas included:

  • Metro West Yorkshire PTE: Saver Strip;
  • Eastbourne Buses: The Dunky Card;
  • Nottingham City Transport

ClipperCard Trivia:

  • Ever wondered why the ClipperCard machines used to break down a lot? They were originally going to be launched in 1976, but their launch was delayed till December 1979 due to issues regarding working practices;
  • Greater Manchester Transport’s first foray into TV advertising involved the ClipperCard. Going out in the Granada ITV region, the adverts included a grinning Cheshire Cat with the tagline “Get a ClipperCard and you’re laughing…”;
  • At this time of writing, a handful of Stagecoach Manchester MAN low-floor single deckers still have the Almex M ticket machines intact – some six years since the last ones were sold! The bulk of these are based at their Ashton depot, opened in January 2008 to replace the Glossop depot and the Mayne of Manchester bus depot on Ashton New Road;
  • The typeface used by Greater Manchester Transport for the ClipperCard lettering is Linotype Zipper designed by Phillip Kelly in 1970. The same typeface is also used on the David Bowie album ‘Hunky Dory’ and as part of the opening and closing titles of the Granada TV series ‘The Comedians’ from 1979 – 1984.

Further reading and references:

  • Greater Manchester Buses, Stewart J. Brown, Capital Transport (1995);
  • Season Tickets and Recreational Travel in Greater Manchester (from my own website);
  • ClipperCards and Saver Tickets leaflet, Greater Manchester Transport (1985);
  • ‘A Fare Deal for You’ leaflet, Greater Manchester Transport (1983).

S.V., 03 March 2010.

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15 thoughts on ““They Cut the Fares, They Cut the Fuss…”

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  1. I use to travel to school on Mayne’s Buses and very often if there was a large que of kids waiting to board the driver would just let you on without removing a clip.
    It was a great thing and brings back alot of memories.

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  2. Yo Stotty,

    I remember when Mayne of Manchester used to do the school buses at my local school (All Saints) on the 841 route to Hattersley. It was quite a squeeze for me as I used to walk home to and from and pass the queues itself! There’s now a proper bus turnaround facility.

    They had the former London Transport DMS double deckers at the time acquired from LT and Stevensons of Uttoxeter.

    Stuart.

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  3. some of the B10’s still have clippercard machines installed too! although the big ol’ volvo’s themselves are becoming rather scarce on the road now

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  4. The cancelling machines were a pain in the a**e! They’d breakdown at least once a week, so we carried carrier bags to tie over them and thus stop every second passenger asking “Is it broke?” You would spend three times a long as normal at each stop whilst all the pensioners then fumbled in their bags to find the 12p flat fare (this was 1986). Clipper Cards were the single cause of more late running than the missed turns, breakdowns and traffic jams combined. Drivers hated them.

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  5. I remember reading somthing like that. They were intorduced to speed up boarding times and infact ended up slowing things down. Its funny because the same thing happens today with passes. Theres so many fake passes that drivers are having to double check alot of them, plus im sure the £15 bonus drivers get for every dodgy pass they confiscate helps two:)

    Back onto the subject of Mayne’s, they aquired a batch of late Atlanteans from Stagecoach/GMS in 1997 and im pretty sure they removed the clipper card machines because they were always broke.

    Im pretty sure there was 4 laminated clipper cards on ebay about a year ago that sold for about £60. Wish id kept mine.

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  6. Many thanks for your comments. To anyone who has read this post though not yet commented feel free to do so.

    Stotty: I remember the Atlanteans which Mayne of Manchester acquired. If I remember rightly, didn’t one of them have the Leyland Olympian style radiator?

    Paul: I had forgotten about the boarding delays, though I do remember the regular breakdowns. I wonder if they foresaw this palaver when they tried to launch them in 1976 (hence the breakdowns caused by the periods spent in storage). Today’s equivalent ticket based delay is the amount of time spent by drivers selling Megariders or FirstWeeks (unless they’ve been prepared already) – especially on Monday or Tuesday.

    MH: yes I remember seeing them on the Volvo B10Ms. Till recently I used to get the 1753 220 bus home which was always a Volvo B10M or Enviro 400. With the former they still had the machines installed. Two weeks ago I saw a Volvo B10M on a peak hour 216 outside Manchester Piccadilly railway station. I wonder if any of Stagecoach’s Volvo B10Ms are going to be preserved?

    Lovely jubbly,

    Stuart.

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  7. Stuart, yes one of the Atlanteans did have an Olympian style grill. Apparently it had a minor bump soon after it arrived at Mayne’s and had the unusal radiator grill added. Intrestingly they still own that Atlantean although its only used as a seat store at there Warrington depot.
    Also i think one of Uk North’s Atlanteans also gained an Olympian style front grill.

    The Volvo B10M seems to be a regular on the 216 at the moment. I’ve seen it a few times in Ashton over the last few weeks. Its certainly alot nicer than that horrible ex Bullocks Olympian.
    I was told by a driver that this perticular B10M is in perfect condition as its spent most of its time at Charles Street in reserve.
    Theres been 4 B10M’s up at there Glossop depot for over a year now, would be nice if one was preserved, although most seem to end up going over to Merseyside forming part of there ‘Blue’ army.

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  8. Thanks for the update Stotty.

    On the peak hours 220/221 routes I used to prefer the Volvo B10M over any of the other single decker rolling stock due to the legroom (especially that prized left seat behind the back wheel arch) and the ride quality.

    I cannot speak for the Bullocks Olympians, as the last Bullocks bus I went on was one of their single deckers on the Oxford Road Shuttle service. The last Bullocks double decker I boarded was a Dennis Dominator in January 1999 with a less protrudent front panel for the indicators than the GMT standards on the top deck.

    Stuart.

    It’s nice to know that I did not dream about the ex-GMT Atlantean with the Olympian style radiator grille. 🙂

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  9. I have a machine at home 🙂 I used Saverstrips in West Yorkshire for many years after starting secondary school in 1986 (though I had a metrocard most of the time from 1989). They were far more complicated, coming in various denominations 5p, 10p, 15p and up to around a £1 before they were phased out. they were sold initially as 12 tickets for the price of 9 then later 12 tickets for the price of 10. Boarding slowed down after a fare rise as everyone chinged their old fare and then a 5p saverstrip. My wife remembers the 2p saverstrips. I don’t recall them breaknig down very often but they often printed the wrong time or date making them hard for inspectors to check on trains. Having said that thy did break when concrete was poured into them which happened a couple of times at my local station. They are still used for zonal fares in Copenhagen – my wife’s just stocked up as her new job involves travelling there regularly. She did come home from her first trip going “look – Saverstrips!”. We had the dreadful advertising of “Ker-ching a saverstrip”. The two large bus companies (First and Arriva) stopped accepting them then Keighley and District stopped taking them and then they were withdrawn completely.

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    1. Hi Nathan,

      I was nearly tempted to buy a ClipperCard machine at the Museum of Transport (Cheetham) during their Spring Transport Fair. Despite it going for a fiver, the logistics of carting what would be a heavy yet novel doorstop on the 218 home was a non-starter.

      In Greater Manchester, support for the Almex cancellers seem to have been withdrawn by stealth. Firstly, any new buses ordered by GM Buses’ successors (Stagecoach Manchester and First Manchester) had no facility for the machines. Secondly, some smaller operators (and on newer buses owned by First, Stagecoach or Arriva) didn’t have them; passengers would show the driver their tickets, who would clip each square manually. Some didn’t bother, giving them a free journey.

      As with the Metro West Yorkshire counterparts, ClipperCards too were available in fare stage components.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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    1. Would this Oldham Road be the one in Ashton-under-Lyne or the one in Ancoats?

      Could it be Peak Wayfarer services 395 and 460 up to Castleton via the Derwent Dams operated by Mayne of Manchester?

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  10. Ah Clippercards. Memories. I always remember that when the concessionary fare went up, they always told you to go to the GMPTE ticket office to replace your part used Clippercard with a new one at the higher fare. Of course the Clippercards never changed design so next to no one ever did, but being an obedient 13 year old, I did once go to the ticket office to do just that.

    The bloke behind the desk at Hyde Bus Station just looked at me as if I was completely mad and pretty much told me to go away.

    Quite why they even put out information telling you to pay the difference, I now can’t understand! What would have been wrong with just saying “You bought it at the cheaper fare – go, you!”

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    1. Hi Andrew,

      Unbelievable, especially when you were trying to be honest. If I remember rightly, ClipperCard users were given six months grace from fare rises, so the said ticket was still available at the old price for that period. You could have bought one a day or two before the ClipperCards went up and it would still be valid for the ten journeys post increase.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  11. I had my grandad’s concessionary card, plus my full price one, some deft slight of hand went on there…as I boarded one would be subbed for the other.

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