Or ‘The Lost Indies of Greater Manchester’
Bus deregulation has divided its critics from industrial and passenger points of view. Where one critic claims it made for a more sustainable network, another one would see it as a total disaster, leading to lost patronage, rising fares and erratic timetable changes. I’m firmly placed in the latter camp favouring public ownership, but I shan’t bore you with the politics for the purpose of this post.
Whereas contemporary operations in Greater Manchester are dominated by First, Stagecoach and Arriva, there is still a number of independents servicing parts where the Big Three fear to tread. In 1989, there were some 68 bus companies, including GM Buses, within the conurbation. It is no wonder why British Rail and its privatised successors, and local minicab firms benefited from the chaos. Even so, it was still worth the odd journey on a weird and wonderful vehicle owned by a local independent.
For this special round-up, East of the M60 will list 25 companies from the last 25 years, who are running subsidised services in the sky.
1. Glossopdale Bus Company: throughout the early to mid 1990s, Glossopdale expanded by means of Derbyshire County Council contracts with a modern fleet of minibuses and single deckers. They took over Tame Valley Motor Services (1995) which enabled them to cover the Tameside area. By 1999, they were taken over by Stagecoach Manchester, but the founding fathers of Glossopdale, Jack Hampson and David Whyatt went on to form Speedwell Private Hire (now SpeedwellBus) in 2001.
2. Tame Valley Motor Services: formed in 1991, the fledgling company too expanded by means of tendered services, particularly in the Tameside area (one of which were evening journeys on the 343 route). Former GMT Standard buses and Volvo Ailsa’s formed part of the fleet, which were also seen in competition with GM Buses’ routes. They were absorbed by Glossopdale in 1995.
3. Pine Coaches: the Stalybridge company started bus operations in 1989 with the P1 route from Dukinfield to Ashton-under-Lyne, competing with GM Buses’ 1 service. By 1991, they ran a 50p Budget Bus service along Stamford Street, Ashton and a direct service from Dukinfield to Oldham. In 1992, they ceased operations.
4. Mybus: in 1991, the Hadfield company went for the cheap and cheerful (or should that be cheap and nasty?) market, competing with GM Buses along the Hyde Road and Wilmslow Road corridors. Typical fare were secondhand Nottingham City Transport and GMT Standard Atlanteans, London Transport DMS Daimler Fleetlines. After maintenance issues caught up with them, they disappeared in 1994, only to reform as…
5. UK North
1995 saw a new livery, similar buses and similar strategy. Even the art of turd polishing in bus operational terms was a hard one (new depot in Gorton and more recent secondhand buys). In 2005, they turned their guns onto the 192 and 85, causing The Mother of All Bus Blockages in the city of Manchester. They had the audacity to revive the GM Buses name, but similar maintenance and safety issues, and an accident saw UK North’s buses leave Manchester in 2007.
6. Citibus Tours Ltd was formed before deregulation with a shoppers’ service to Harpurhey, then had a brief flirtation with a City Centre Shuttle service. They were independently owned till being taken over by Lynton Travel who reduced the fleet age whilst continuing the Cheap and Cheerful element of its operations. GM Buses North took over Citibus in 1995 as a low cost operating unit in the MagicBus mode. Alas, this was a brief period as GM Buses North became part of FirstBus the following year.
7. Bellairs and Dootson began in 1992, operating minibuses around the Tyldesley and Atherton area. Prior to then, they majored in private hire coach services. They were acquired by local rivals Green Triangle Buses in 1999, who have since rebranded themselves as South Lancs Transport, a major player in Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley areas.
8. Atherton Bus Company started out as a single route bus operator owned by Paul Hughes, bus enthusiast and former GM Buses and Greater Manchester Transport employee. With his redundancy money, he ran the 592 route from Bolton to Atherton and Shakerley. Instead of acquisition by one of the bigger companies, ill health put paid to continued operation, forcing him to sell the 592 route to Green Triangle Buses in 2002. He remained a popular figure of the bus fraternity, becoming a data collector for GMPTE.
9. Stuart’s Bus and Coach was formed as Trimtrack in 1979, primarily as a coach operator. The dawn of deregulation saw the introduction of bus operations in and around Hyde. Like Mybus, they also competed on the Hyde Road corridor, introducing a direct Newton – Hyde – Manchester service. In competition with the 330, they ran a direct service to Tameside Hospital from Hattersley. Secondhand buys formed most of their fleet till 1995 saw the acquisition of new Ikarus single deckers and a new depot on Broadway, Dukinfield (Rothesay Garage). By 1998, it was all over for Stuart’s as an accident on a schools contract saw their demise. Today, their Rothesay Garage is owned by First Manchester.
10. Pennine Blue: also capitalising on the closure of Tameside Garage, this independent company had a handsome fleet of secondhand vehicles in blue and cream. Its buses included numerous Bristol REs, a former Leeds City Transport Leyland Atlantean, and former Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport and Chesterfield Daimler Fleetlines. Its first route was the 348 from Mossley (Hey Farm) to Haughton Green via Ashton. By 1994, Badgerline purchased them with operations under the aegis of their PMT subsidiary. In 2000, this time as part of FirstGroup, First Manchester took over operations.
11. A. Mayne and Son (bus operations)
Mayne of Manchester’s bus operations outlived the 1931, 1968 and 1985 Transport Acts with expansion of stage carriage work a causal effect of the latter. Along with Pennine, their niche was the Tameside area as well as East Manchester (where its buses were jointly operated before deregulation with Manchester Corporation, SELNEC and GMT). They carved a niche with the 232 – 235 circular routes to Manchester via Mossley and Stalybridge. By February 2008, its bus operations were sold to Stagecoach Manchester, originally as a going concern under the holding company of GM Buses East.
12. Walls Coaches: also sold to Stagecoach Manchester, Walls Coaches’ green and white buses were a feature of the Wilmslow Road corridor. They were among Greater Manchester’s early operators of low floor vehicles with, by the late 1990s, a modern fleet. On selling up, Walls continued coach operations, like its contemporary from Ashton New Road do to this very day.
13. South Manchester Transport: following the sale of Pennine Blue, its original managers took part in the gold rush that was the Wilmslow Road corridor. Most of its vehicles were former Merseyside PTE Leyland Atlanteans, some of which hitherto seen on Pennine Blue routes. Their presence was ephemeral with operations only lasting a year.
14. R. Cooper (Dennis’ Coaches): Dennis’ were among the first deregulation era operators in the Tameside area, beginning with the 341 route from Mossley to Ashton-under-Lyne ASDA (Langham Street). In the early 1990s they ran direct services from Hyde and Dukinfield to Manchester (via Ashton New Road) and competed with GM Buses and Stagecoach Manchester thereafter. They outgrew the Crickets Lane, Ashton garage and moved to a new site in Charles Street, Dukinfield. Attempts to compete with the latter on the 330 and 347 routes failed, with Dennis’s being swallowed up by its bigger brother from Perth.
15. Tyldesley Taxibus only operated one route: the T21 service from Tyldesley to Gin Pit in 1996. It was operated using Ford Transit minibuses. This, despite being a good attempt to serve uncharted lands untouched by GM Buses, barely lasted a year. Today, Gin Pit is a bus free zone, with the exception of taxi company minibuses or TfGM funded LocalLink services.
16. The Coachmasters first made their mark with the lengthy 456 service from Wigan to Rochdale. The company expanded by means of schools contracts and rail replacement bus services. In 2010, they began operating commercial and tendered bus routes in the Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside areas, investing heavily in new vehicles. Unfortunately, this avenue saw the company pull out of bus operations due to liquidation the following year.
17. Central Coaches had a short reign in the Oldham and Saddleworth areas, with their domain the 407 route from Oldham to Denshaw. Secondhand buses and coaches, mainly blue and white linked the Lancashire town with the Pennines, with examples including a former Scottish Bus Group Alexander bodied Leyland Atlantean. Reliability and maintenance issues put paid to their tenure in 1990.
18. Vale of Manchester’s niche was around the Irwell Valley area of Manchester and Salford. The company was owned by a management team who failed to bid for Ribble Motor Services, in the midst of Ridley’s fire sale of the National Bus Company. It also competed with GM Buses in the late-1980s early-1990s on the Wilmslow Road and Stockport Road corridors using Alexander bodied Leyland Leopards. In the mid-1990s, one of its services had the least changed timetable throughout the GMPTE boundary – given the fluidity of service changes then – as of now in the Oldham and Tameside areas. After expansion through GMPTE tenders and fleet modernisation, an unprecedented hike in fuel and insurance costs (which also led to the withdrawal of a single 220 journey in January 2008), led to the company’s demise four months on.
Bu-Val’s niche was the Rochdale area, particularly the north western part covering Wardle and Stansfield. Based in Littleborough, they began operations with red minibuses (secondhand Dodges). With First Manchester gradually reducing their presence in Rochdale, the second part of the noughties saw an expanded local network from Manchester to Littleborough of commercial and subsidised services. The start of 2011 saw them launch a free Night Bus. By the start of May they won further tenders around Oldham and Rochdale, but the expansion seemed to have ‘too fast too soon’ as the company ceased trading three weeks after.
20. Universal Buses Limited was formed in 1998 as a big bus offshoot of Bu-Val. Again, based in Littleborough, they had a modern fleet of white Optare Excels and Dennis Dart SLFs (UVG bodywork). They expanded rapidly in Tameside and Oldham winning GMPTE tenders (including the 351 and 356 Saddleworth – Oldham/Rochdale services using Rural Bus Challenge money), and operating a handful of commercial services. By the middle of 2000, Universal Buses (then operating from a second depot at Ward Street, Chadderton) were history with Stagecoach Manchester taking over operations. The Ward Street depot was used by the Perth giant up to 2009.
21. Sports Tours (t/a Pioneer): John and Brenda Whitehead’s company were among the early competitors of Rochdale’s deregulated network, they began operations with the only NBC ordered Alexander M bodied Leyland Leopard. Issues over the step height of their buses for a future GMPTE tender saw them lose the prospective service at the last minute. After using coaches and dual purpose buses for stage carriage service, they turned to midibuses with former South Yorkshire PTE Dennis Dominos. Preferring to concentrate on private hire coaches, their bus operations were acquired by First Manchester as ‘First Rochdale’ in 2002. The name was Pioneer was resurrected in 2005 for five years as First Manchester’s Tameside operations.
22. MR Travel began bus operations in the second half of the 1990s with well turned out GMT Standards as part of their fleet. By the middle of the noughties, they had a small yet steady network with Dennis Darts the mainstay of the fleet. In 2008, he ceased bus operations and sold his coach fleet to Courtesy Coaches’ resurrected Yelloway Motor Services.
23. Tattersall Bus and Coach was a local company based in Bolton. Between 2003 and 2008 they operated the T9 service from Hall I’Th’ Wood to Bolton and Irlam, and the 573 and 578 services from Bolton to Chorley. The T9 service began on the 27 February 2006 and lasted till the 25 July the same year. Nothing has been heard of them since their 578 service was withdrawn in July 2007.
24. Wigan Bus Company came onto the scene in 1993, a transitional year which saw the split of GM Buses and competition with Merseybus on the streets of Wigan and Liverpool. Another operator with a fleet of secondhand vehicles, decided to revive the County Borough of Wigan municipal livery. Routes included the 660 from Wigan to Warrington. By 1996, British Bus took over, adopting the short-lived WiganBus moniker before becoming North Western [Mark II] and, ultimately, part of Arriva North West.
25. Lyntown Bus Company had a small yet smartly turned out fleet of Bristol RELLs in a distinctive green and red livery. Their domain was Eccles and Partington, but the Bristol RELLs would resurface in the livery of Midway Motor Services. Midway succeeded the Lyntown Bus Company in 1990 and covered the same area.
25 Companies? Is That All?
As said earlier, some 68 companies operated buses in the Greater Manchester area in 1989 alone. If you can think of another 38 operators, ideally independents, or have memories of working for the 25 featured above, feel free to comment away. I have made the job easier by opting for the more obscure or slightly obscure companies. If you boarded any of their services, comments are equally welcome. Heck, there may enough for a follow-up, but I shan’t embargo that till 2036!!!
- The North West Bus Handbook (British Bus Publishing, 1993);
- Greater Manchester Museum of Transport website (operator timeline);
- Transport for Greater Manchester website (Latest Service Changes, 2001 to present day);
S.V., 24 September 2011.