“You’re always out there running/And I see that lost look in your eyes…” – ‘Confusion’, Electric Light Orchestra (1979)
Since the dawn of bus deregulation, the duplicity of service numbers, by means of commercial and subsidised services has been far from unique. Sometimes, Company A may operate Service Number A to a different route to that of Company B’s version of Service Number A. This could either take the form of:
- Service A having a different route on a different day;
- Service A being operated by more than one company with each company having slightly different routes to each other;
- Service B taking over Service A’s operations on a different day or different time of the day;
- Service A being run the same company albeit with a different route on certain journeys;
- Service A’s number being used elsewhere within the same locality for a completely different route.
The first three points sum up the 343 from Oldham to Hyde to a tee. In 2009, there were three different routes:
- Monday – Friday daytime: via Lees Road and Carrbrook Village;
- Saturday daytime: via Staley Road, Winterford Road and Micklehurst Road, omitting Carrbrook Village, then Lees Road;
- Sundays, Bank Holidays and Evenings: via Greenacres Road instead of Lees Road, then via Winterford Road, omitting Carrbrook Village.
Just to complicate things further, each of the three variants had different operators; SpeedwellBus, JPT Travel and First Manchester. Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, there are two different 188s, operating two different routes. Confusingly, both of them begin at Manchester city centre; one of them goes via Newton Heath, with the other via Ashton Old Road, terminating at Ryder Brow. Both of them are operated by the same company (Bluebird Bus and Coach).
From the middle of April this year, there will two versions of the 202 operating in Glossop. One would be the subsidised evening, Bank Holiday and Sunday service, but the second one would be a short route to Chisworth, operating via Simmondley on weekdays.
Local Renumbering Issues
In Ashton, the 38 and 39 routes continue to Hazelhurst, a part of Ashton-under-Lyne expanded in the 1950s through municipal housing construction. On taking over the 337 and 338, Pennine renumbered the routes 38 and 39 on splitting the route at Ashton, with the 337 and 338 operating from there to Crowhill. The 336 and 351 were later renumbered 32 to 35, forming part of a circular route with some 350 journeys. These complemented/competed with Mayne of Manchester’s 232 to 235 routes – now part of today’s 217, 218 and 231 services.
Though the renumbering worked well on the 38 and 39, the effect was less successful with the 331 and 333, briefly renumbered 391 and 392, in line with Smallshaw route 393. Customer input, accustomed to the 1973 numbers – and the 1 and 3 before then – saw them revert to 331 and 333. Under the 1973 set of numbers, any route within the 390 series would have been allocated to Glossop depot.
Even now, some passengers refer to the 409 bus as ‘the nine bus’. My mother, from Oldham, still does now and then, given that it had been referred to as the 9 route whilst operated by Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Rochdale corporations. Whilst SELNEC undertook its renumbering exercise, they quite rightly kept some link with the pre-1973 numbers unlike some post-deregulation routes.
Numbering Alternatives for Part Routes?
Prior to recent years, it was common practice for part routes in Greater Manchester to have been suffixed by the letter X. In line with National Bus Company/Tilling/BET practices, express routes have often been prefixed with the letter X instead of a round number like 400 or 500.
An extra number? The standard GMT/GM Buses numerical indicators allowed for numbers up to 999. Today’s electronic displays allow for four figure route numbers, though this may be problematic if a bus allocated for route number 1984 has manual indicators. (Paper and markers to the rescue in this instance)
A decimal point followed by an extra number? Trent Barton has opted for this method with The Nines. Between Alfreton and Mansfield, a decimal point made the 91 and 92 the 9.1 and 9.2, given that the core route was similar with slight variation for each point.
Grand Renumbering Exercise 2.0, Anyone…?
The last time Greater Manchester had a comprehensive renumbering of all its routes was 1973. There was somewhere in the region of seven number one routes that year, a situation inherited by SELNEC following the consolidation of former municipal undertakings. The numbering of commercial routes is often down to the operator; therefore, conforming to, or choosing a number close to the 1973 route numbers, may be eschewed in favour of the company’s own. For example, some may use a prefix, as in S48, O4 or A1.
Tendered services are often allocated similar numbers to the 1973 set which on paper is passenger friendly. Where timetables may have part route workings and route variations, we complicate things a little. Add more than one operator over different days, erm… System One pass at the ready.
Given that routes have come and gone in the last three decades, it may be a good idea to look at the 1973 numbers with fresh eyes. For user friendliness, we should retain the 1973 set for incumbent routes, but integrate some of the newer commercial routes currently outside that set. For example, the late S48 could have been assigned number 351, with the late S50 (or present C20 service) being renumbered 349 or 222.
In some cases it may be more user-friendly to add a number to each variation of the route. However, if an individual working slightly different to most of its journeys, I would say it would be worth suffixing the number with an X. For example, the 344 (from Oldham to Hyde via Waterhead) could become 343X with similar treatment meted to First Manchester’s part route journeys to Mossley [Brookbottom] and Dukinfield [Boyd’s Walk]. At present, there are two lots of 344s entering Hyde bus station; along with the solitary variation of the 343, there is also the Backbower Circular route.
To embark on a renumbering scheme and reappraisal of the 1973 system would be more Byzantium given the number of operators TfGM would need to approach. With tendered services, most of the groundwork is already there. In recent times, most tendered routes have been numbered to a way most faithful to the 1973 plan. For example, the present 217 shadows the pre-1980 route between Ashton and Mossley. The Sunday service of the 389 was briefly renumbered 388 prior to reverting to 389 on curtailment of the Gee Cross – Marple section of the route.
With commercial routes, I could imagine some operators being possessive if they were forced to renumber (for example, their number 11 as 311 or 102). Where route numbers are prefixed by a letter, this has often been for ease of use and marketing reasons. For example, S48 meant SpeedwellBus’ 48, in place of the 3 before 48 used by First Manchester. GM Buses sometimes used letters for their minibus services to distinguish from Big Bus Services such as the 409 (hence O4 for a minibus service via Hathershaw) and give the passenger some idea of its locality (hence also A1 for today’s 337/338/38/39/41 routes in place of 337/338 for the Crowhill – Ashton – Hazelhurst services with Ashton Mini Lyne branding).
In future years, I wonder if extra powers would allow for reduced duplicity of route numbers? In conversation, I have confused many a person on the 41 route. More people associate the 41 with Wilmslow Road rather than Tennyson Avenue. Perhaps it would be more user-friendly if Tameside’s 41 was renumbered 338 or 339.
What’s My Nine…? (Your comments, please)
What experiences do you have with route duplication? Have you ever boarded the wrong 188, hoping to reach Newton Heath, though ended up in Higher Openshaw? Do you think the 19 ought to be renumbered somewhere in the 100 series along with the other Wythenshawe routes? Feel free to come up with further suggestions on how route number duplication could be averted.
S.V., 01 April 2012.