“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.

10 thoughts on “Whose Nine Is It Anyway? Bus Numbering Identity Crises

  1. The current system is appalling AND confusing! GMPTE should really look into the current system that seems individual operators can number a route whatever the hell they like! even some of the school services share the same number, its madness! trunk route services should be numbered with 2 digits, semi trunk routes with numbers in the 1xx and 2xx, circulars with the 3xx range and estate routes in the 4xx, 5xx and 6xx range! part workings should begin 7xx schools and contracts 8xx and 9xx and expresses 2 digits beginning with an x…. SIMPLES!


    1. Hi Bungle666,

      I agree, owing to the confusion with some operators’ choice of numbers being ‘out of zone’. Imagine if Manchester had its own A1 conflicting with the Great North Road? Duplicate numbers is one thing you don’t get with the road system because it was split into zones with London its and (for example) Dover’s A roads under zone 2. Why not buses?

      Your idea of trunk routes being given lower numbers is akin to the system used on our roads. I too do agree with the 700s and 800s being used for schools and contracts. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be easier if the Yellow School Bus services were allocated numbers in the 900 series?

      The only limitations with (for example) your idea on circulars being within the 300 series is that it has some grey areas; some (like the 217/218 routes) also assume the guise of semi-trunk routes. One good point is that it ensures all numbers are allocated on a Greater Manchester wide basis, though there may be some overlap with existent cross-boundary services (for example, prior to the withdrawal of Oldham – Halifax service 562, there was a second 562 from Bolton to Withins Estate).

      Another problem is some passengers have grown accustomed to the 1973 set of numbers (I’ve sometimes referred to my 41 route as the 339 or 340!), so obviously, the idea will need some public consultation beforehand.

      Bye for now,



  2. It can happen that two similar route numbers can be accepted, if they are in different parts of Greater Manchester where confusion is most unlikely to occur and I can immediately think of two low-numbered examples of this:-

    Service 12
    Middleton to Boarshaw
    Leigh to Manchester

    Service 18
    Manchester to Langley
    Altrincham to The Trafford Centre


  3. Hi Paul,

    Though one route is slightly out of the boundary, service number 592 was used for:

    Bolton to Leigh (slated for withdrawal this month);
    Burnley to Halifax (via Todmorden).

    For similar reasons using the 590 route number:

    Leigh to Lowton Circular;
    Rochdale to Halifax (via Todmorden and Hebden Bridge).

    This further explains some inevitable overlap on the cross-boundary services.

    It is true that in some parts of Greater Manchester, some confusion with the numbers is unlikely to occur. Anyone who seldom uses the Wilmslow Road corridor (if for example, living on Yew Tree Lane, Dukinfield) would automatically think of First Manchester’s route from Tennyson Avenue, Dukinfield to Ashton and Crowhill, instead of the Manchester to Altrincham equivalent.

    Bye for now,



  4. There’s two 592s in Leigh, the SLT one, which is going later this month, to Bolton and the Jim Stones one, similar to the 590.

    With the 19, which one? The one in Altrincham, the one to Trafford Park or the one from Warrington? 🙂

    I agree that having a service number with different route variations can be confusing. 184 has three different routes between Uppermill and Diggle, depending on the time: one via Dobcross to Old Station Turning, one to/from Huddersfield via Wool Road (Mon-Sat) and one to/from Huddersfield via Wool Road and Old Station Turning (Sundays). I remember in the old days when journeys on the 409 route that used to terminate at Thornham were numbered 410.

    One confusing route is over the border in West Yorkshire on the Shipley-Wyke route, with the 622/623 running from Eldwick to Scholes via Bingley, Shipley, Bradford and Wyke, while the 626 runs from Baildon to Brighouse via Shipley, Bradford and Wyke, both routes running every 20 mins each (10 mins combined). However, in order to improve reliability, some journeys effectively split in Bradford city centre, e.g. starting as a 626 from Brighouse but running to Eldwick. Buses display 626 Eldwick on the destination displays, which might confuse somebody expecting the 626 to go to Baildon.


  5. Hi Shaun,

    On the 19, I always think of first and foremost the Altrincham one to Manchester Airport via Sale and Wythenshawe Hospital. Slightly confusing is the fact service 18 begins at Altrincham and follows a slightly different route to the 19 between Manchester Airport and Sale. The main distinguishing part is that it goes to Hale Barns prior to reaching Ringway.

    Prior to First Huddersfield’s renumbering scheme in 2006, the Colne Valley services were placed within the 350s. This of course is rather confusing if you’re travelling from Uppermill to Marsden or Slaithwaite on a 365 (given the other 350 following the old pre-October 2004 352 and 355 routes). Renumbering any part workings of the 184 to 185 would run the risk of confusing passengers on the 185 from Marsden Dirker to Huddersfield.

    I too remember the 410 being a part working of the 409; if I remember rightly they terminated by St. Cuthbert’s High School, back in the day when the Yew Tree Hotel used to have a Pullman carriage as part of their restaurant! From an early age, I never found the 409/410 confusing; most of my journeys on that route were to Oldham. Rochdale meant a good excuse to get the 400, with the temptation of staying on till Bury!

    Bye for now,



  6. You can usually associate bus numbers with areas but in Newton Heath, the 396 to Ashton under Lyne, via Hollinwood, Fitton Hill and Waterloo always seemed to be a strange bus .number that bore no resemblance to any other bus service numbers in that area.

    Can anyone shed any light on that for me, please.


  7. Hi Paul,

    Indeed, 395 and 396 do seem to be ‘out of zone’. Any route between 390 and 399 was – and to some extent still is – a Glossop area one, as per the 1973 renumbering.

    The 395 and 396 route numbers seem to have been used in Ashton since 1992. I suppose the idea was so they would complement Stott’s of Oldham’s 398 route. Therefore, I would date that idea from the start of that year when Pine Coaches’ Oldham extension was partially replaced by the 398 and a new 395 (Ashton – Waterloo Circular). That became the present day Limehurst Farm service operated by Bluebird, taking over part of the daytime 334 via Turner Lane.

    There seems to have been some attempts to number the Ashton services within the 390s. Take for example the 393 to Smallshaw; for a brief period, the 331 and 333 were renumbered 391 and 392.

    Bye for now,



  8. This happens with coaches too, take Stockport for example there are 2 325 that goto Stockport Bus Station the obvious one being 325 Brinnington Circular then there’s the National Express 325 Manchester-Birmingham via Stockport service and it has happened in the past whereby someone has tried getting on a Brinington Circular 325 thinking it was the service to Birmingham

    Also this now happens in Rochdale now with 2 528s operating from Adjacent stands:

    528 Centerbus Rochdale-Halifax
    528 National Express Rochdale-Haverfordwest

    Coincidentally both leave Rochdale at the same time 10:05 in the morning, no one has made the mistake yet but I’m guessing someone will sometime

    Another funny thing is that since the reorganization of National Express routes this sees First back operating on 528 again only this time operating a completely different route and instead of First Calderline we have First Cymru


    1. Hi Andrew,

      Yes, I forgot to mention duplicative issues with coaches, but having two 528s on different destinations departing at the same time from Rochdale bus station… my word! At least passengers would be discerning enough to know the difference between Centrebus’ white, orange and blue Optares compared with the mainly white livery of National Express.

      It is a good job that Oldham bus station doesn’t have two lots of 60s. Likewise Hollingworth; at least there is only one 350 which calls at The Gun Inn (350: Chorlton Street – Sheffield – Nottingham – Clacton-on-Sea).

      How I love the confusion and the irony that FirstGroup have got the 528 from Rochdale back, albeit to Haverfordwest instead of Halifax!

      Bye for now,



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