Tomato Soup, Anyone? Perhaps Not!
The real start of the new millennium saw me seek serious bus bashing away from the Greater Manchester boundaries. Whereas the trend towards Bank Holiday services in Dukinfield was ‘as little as possible’, I was most happy to find a normal service on Good Friday of this year in Huddersfield. I made the most of this by catching a Trans-Pennine Express to Huddersfield and a bus to Holmfirth.
Two years on from my last visit (and 16 years since my first one), I rediscovered the joys of the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport in Cheetham. Since then, I have kept in closer contact with their special events, starting with a spring transport festival in 2001, coming home with a Stockport depot indicator blind from one of the autojumble stalls. Yearning for the romance of the regulated environment, I started collecting old Greater Manchester Transport timetables, maps and other leaflets.
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A new chief took the helm at GMPTA, and this fellow meant business from day one. On asking people about their experiences on bus travel in Greater Manchester, hundreds put pen to paper. Instead of a handful of complainants, it was an almighty snowball. Apart from punctuality and reliability, other things which hacked off most passengers were the attitude of some drivers and the buses themselves. Fifteen years on from deregulation, it was clear that the product had a long way to go towards mainstream acceptance, one worth leaving their cars at home for.
This maxim was particularly true of operations in Dukinfield. Low floor was light years away unless you caught the 330. On some occasions, you were just as likely to see an Alexander bodied Mercedes minibus as well as a Northern Counties bodied Leyland Olympian on the 41. The 343 still had GMT standards, in the form of Olympians and downgraded NCME bodied MCW Metrobuses, hitherto seen on the 400 Trans-Lancs Express route. On the 346, Dennis Darts dominated; the 349 saw Leyland Lynx and the odd Leyland Leopard as well as Darts.
Changes to Dukinfield bus routes involved Mayne of Manchester’s withdrawal of the 222 service, in favour of a revived 221 service. This change, effective from January, saw the Tame Valley area of Dukinfield cut off from the main bus network. It became the first part of Tameside to see a bus route replaced by a shared taxi service (aka Demand Responsive Transport or DRT to its friends). Also departing from the scene was Dennis’s Coaches, with the Dukinfield to Ashton section of their 216 route withdrawn. Instead, their 216 route would serve Mossley. This arrangement lasted till September of this year.
February saw a change of operator for the Monday to Saturday evening 343 route. This time, Pennine took over from Stagecoach Manchester. Low floor Dennis Tridents were replaced by step entrance Dennis Darts and Mercedes minibuses. The Sunday service would follow suit the following year.
March saw the end of Pennine’s status as full time operator of the 346. Mossley based Checkmate Coaches took over evening journeys with Mercedes Vario minibuses regular fare. Journeys were extended to serve Gee Cross. September saw changes to Stagecoach Manchester’s network with the 398 and 399 services discontinued. The revision of the 397 service saw the Gee Cross to Hyde section discontinued. They would form part of a slightly retimed 346 service, extended to terminate at Stockport Road via The Grapes Hotel (in line with the hourly evening service). Compensating for the loss of the 398 and 399 between Ashton and Hattersley was the 238, a new circular route operating every half hour, using Mercedes Vario minibuses.
The changes also affected the 201 and 217 routes. Mayne of Manchester took over the half hourly service from Stagecoach Manchester, operating between Tameside General Hospital and Manchester via Droylsden and Clayton. The extensions from Ashton to Hyde (via Stalybridge and Hattersley) were absorbed by the 201 route, which would continue to Mossley, taking in Dennis’s short lived 216 extension. Some 201s terminated at Hattersley, with a once hourly extension to Glossop via Broadbottom.
Though PMT’s yellow and red livery (along with the Tomato Soup of Greater Manchester) would be seen on Dukinfield’s buses till the second half of this decade, FirstGroup was developing a standard livery for its older buses. Whereas one livery for its newer buses was created in 1998, another variation of the Barbie livery was devised. Most of the roof top was decked in indigo with magenta relief. The skirt was decked in indigo with fade out magenta vinyls seen above the skirt. The First logo and name was above the door with the constituent right of the entrance door below the lower deck window cantrails. To create an effect of ribbon glazing on Olympians and VRTs, windows were given black surrounds.
FirstGroup weren’t the only company which fancied a change of livery. Stagecoach ditched its Starsky and Hutch stripes for its blue swirls. From a design point of view, swirls seemed to have been all the rage in 2001: the National Lottery Charities Board had one; the disastrously rebranded Royal Mail (as Consignia) did too. Stagecoach’s proved to be more enduring, still with us in 2011. The new livery, designed by Ray Stenning at Best Impressions, seemed odd at first, but has weathered better ten years on. First’s fades didn’t have the same staying power.
The big bus owning groups were in the midst of building a national identity, one which it seemed disregarded local connections. For example, Potteries Motor Traction became First North Staffordshire. FirstGroup applied this thinking to its tickets, introducing the FirstDay to Pennine and Greater Manchester companies. In that sense, FirstGroup has succeeded, meaning a regular bus user in Oldham, would be au fait with asking for a FirstDay in Weymouth, Bristol or Halifax.
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My Most Memorable Bus Journeys of 2001:
- Huddersfield to Holmfirth on First Kingfisher’s 309 service;
- A Trans-Pennine bus journey from Oldham to Bradford via Huddersfield and (on the return leg) Marsden.
Part Seventeen follows tomorrow.
S.V., 16 October 2011.