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