1987 was a most transitional year on two counts for me. Firstly, the end of that year would see more minibuses in Dukinfield. Secondly, I would move to a special school in West Didsbury [The Ewing School] which had a grandstand view of deregulated operations.
I was fortunate enough to begin my attendance at Ewing School in a classroom opposite the Palatine Road terminus of the 143 route. This (how ironic these two words would prove to be in eleven years time) was the domain of the First Group, where I would be based till the 26 June 1989. The view ahead had a circular sandpit and four flats on the left hand side. It looked out to a long disused Texaco garage.
Where Ewing School differed from ‘normal schools’ was that one day was set aside for social interaction away from the classroom. This meant going out for walks around parks, the toy fair at Kendal Milne’s store, or using the 143 when the Manchester Education Committee minibus was otherwise engaged. On one trip to Hatchett’s Wood, I got my first taste of deregulation writ large: a journey aboard a Bee Line Buzz Company minibus. It seemed like the acceptable side of deregulation.
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For 1987, Greater Manchester bus operations would be dominated by The Bee Line Buzz Company. Part of United Transport, a BET subsidiary, their yellow minibuses would usher an influx of ‘bread vans’ onto the street of South Manchester, Stockport and Tameside. Dukinfield was no exception with the launch of the 14 route. Whereas the 388 and 389 ignored Yew Tree Lane and Lyne Edge Road, their nippy minibuses could weave around the estates effortlessly. With a good brand presence, they were popular with most passengers – apart from those who struggled to get buggies on board.
After The Bee Line Buzz Company hit the streets in late January, GM Buses decided to unify all its locally branded minibus services with a single moniker. March 1987 saw the introduction of Little Gem services. In September 1987, the A1 was augmented with the A2 and A3 services. The A2 offered a circular service from Ashton to Ridge Hill Estate whereas Its stablemate would shadow the 388 and 389, albeit via Yew Tree Estate. Both routes served the hospital grounds during visiting times. The new services would compete with the Bee Line’s 14.
GM Buses upgraded their 153 service with Express branded buses between Mossley and Manchester. Since deregulation, the peak hour service was upgraded to a once hourly daytime one, with peak hour extras. Friday and Saturday evenings would also see extra journeys. Finding their feet in Ashton for the first time would be Citibus Tours. Their first routes, 419 and 428 were proudly advertised as being free of subsidy from GMPTE.
Expanding by means of secondhand GMT standards, Mayne of Manchester took on the 216 route from Ashton to Manchester. Using secondhand DMSs, they competed with GM Buses with a new route from Manchester to Mossley, the 4. These were later renumbered in 1990 along with the 357 route, becoming circular routes 232 – 235.
Meanwhile in Dukinfield, Bee Line proved to be a handful, but competition came to King Street on the 330 route. Stuarts Bus and Coach began the 333 route from Tameside Hospital to Hattersley, via Dukinfield and Hyde. GM Buses still dominated, but the question on most lips was ‘how long?’
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To board any vehicle besides a GM Buses one was a rare experience for me. Perhaps it was a ‘better the devil you know’ attitude at Chez Vallantine which proved to be a good one. We also liked the ‘Busy Bee Buses’ though they didn’t come our way.
For me, my most memorable journeys in 1987 were:
- A return trip to Wigan from Oldham on the 401 route;
- Aboard a privately hired Express bus (a D-reg NCME bodied MCW Metrobus) to Lyme Park with Dukinfield Baptist Church;
- A Bee Line Buzz Company journey one Guy Fawkes’ Night to The Forester pub from Hyde Park (after seeing a Tameside MBC organised display).
Part Three follows tomorrow.
S.V., 02 October 2011.