Bang Goes the Ridleyian Utopia
February 1999 saw myself back on the buses for profit as well as pleasure. Gaining employment as an Environmental Caretaker for Groundwork Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside, I was back on the 220s and the 343s. In their infinite wisdom, they rerouted an existing route adding another two buses per hour for the journey home.
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The delusion of Ridley’s Utopia of driver owned operators was stymied by the vagaries of free market economics. In the real world, in a populated country such as the United Kingdom, 600 drivers owning their own chunk of Stagecoach Manchester was unworkable. Instead of the public monopolies, we had private monopolies in their place. Independent companies were being acquired by major bus owning groups leading to the dominance of the Big Three operators. To reflect this, FirstBus renamed themselves FirstGroup the previous year, following the acquisition of Great Western Holdings (who held the Great Western Trains and North Western Trains franchises).
January saw the sale of Glossopdale Bus Company to Stagecoach Manchester. This increased the Perth company’s presence in the High Peak as well as on tendered services in the Tameside area. As a consequence, Stagecoach Manchester was the sole operator of the 343’s evening and Sunday service. The minibuses were eschewed in favour of Leyland Olympians.
February 1999 saw a fundamental change to Pennine’s Dukinfield services. The Tame Valley area, served by the 33 and 35 routes saw the end of FirstGroup’s tenure along Park Road. They were diverted to serve The Albion Hotel complementing the 346 up to there from Ashton. In place of the 33 and 35, Mayne of Manchester revised its 221 route to serve Tame Valley. Renumbered 222, it would operate to Stalybridge (omitting Tennyson Avenue) then reach Ashton via Tame Street and Park Road.
Owing to the success of the direct rail link, the 400 service ceased to serve Manchester Airport in the May of this year. This was to become the first of many changes to the Trans-Lancs Express, leading to a change of operator and withdrawal five years later. Affecting Dukinfield, service revisions included the withdrawal of the 328 route from Stockport to Ashton. The 0815 journey of the 221 (operated by Mayne) was cutback to start from the Old Pack Horse in Audenshaw. The 3 service was no more under Stagecoach’s tutelage and renumbered 398 and 399. From Hattersley, they were extended to cover Glossop to compensate for the revision of the 397 service, curtailed to run between Marple and Hyde.
For Pennine, August 1999’s set of changes saw the withdrawal of the 600 route from Hey Farm to Trafford Centre. Services 32 – 35 were renumbered: 32 and 34 became the 348; 33 and 35 the 349. Whereas the 33 and 35 hitherto omitted Stalybridge bus station, this was remedied with the 349 serving Armentieres Square and the bus station.
Appearing on Pennine’s fleet were Leyland Lynx single deckers, cascaded from Birkenhead. From Newcastle-under-Lyme came Roe and Northern Counties bodied Leyland Olympians (late of Yorkshire Rider before PMT), Knype bodied minibuses and tri-axle Volvo Olympians (originally seen several miles away from Staffordshire in Hong Kong). Stagecoach also turned to Hong Kong for their Magic Bus services, this time with Dennis Dragons.
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My Most Memorable Bus Journeys of 1999:
- A clockwise circumnavigate taking in Altrincham, Walkden and Bolton, without a single limited stop service used;
- My one and only journey aboard the 600 from Ashton-under-Lyne to the Trafford Centre. Vehicle: a bog standard ECW bodied Leyland Olympian.
Part Fifteen follows tomorrow.
S.V., 14 October 2011.