Bluebird’s Wings Clipped By Stagecoach Manchester

Middleton independent devoured by Perthshire giant

Bluebird Bus and Coach, Enviro 200 DD56 BLU, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
Shortly after the demise of SpeedwellBus, Bluebird Bus and Coach gained the 395 and 396 routes. By Summer 2013, Stagecoach Manchester’s swirls may adorn Bluebird’s young fleet of low floor Dennis Dart SLFs, Enviro200s and Optare Solo SRs, seen in Limehurst and Fitton Hill on the 395 and 396 routes.

Only last week, East of the M60 reported on Stagecoach Manchester’s acquisition of First Greater Manchester’s Wigan operations. Subject to Office of Fair Trading approval, Greater Manchester Buses South Ltd (an indirect operating subsidiary of Stagecoach Manchester), has agreed to acquired Bluebird Bus and Coach for £2 million. The purchase includes its depot on Greengate, Middleton and their 40 buses. Its staff will become Stagecoach employees under TUPE arrangements.

The company was formed in 1988 by Tom Dunstan, who had had experience at North Western Road Car Company, SELNEC Southern and Greater Manchester Transport. After his death in 2004, his son Michael Dunstan took over operations. Quality was its aim from the start, at odds with the reputation some operators had at the beginning of bus deregulation. Today, Bluebird Bus and Coach has a modern fleet of low floor single deckers. Unlike its Middletonian neighbours JPT Travel, it has refrained from aping their more competitive edge. Unlike its bigger rivals, they have operated services on Boxing Day from the start.

Bluebird Bus and Coach’s routes include a mix of commercial and subsidised services. Its main hitter is the 112 from Manchester to Middleton via Moston. Subsidised routes include the 396 from Ashton-under-Lyne to Newton Heath via Fitton Hill – along the route of Mayne of Manchester’s (1988 – 1994) 424 route. Other operations include a free bus for University of Salford students and staff.

Should Stagecoach Manchester gain OFT approval, its fleet will increase to 790, including the 120 acquired from First Greater Manchester’s Wigan operations. Therefore, Stagecoach Holdings could be the proud owner of an English and a Scottish Bluebird. The transfer may be completed by the summer of 2013.

Les Warneford, Managing Director of Stagecoach UK Bus, said: “This is a good fit with our existing successful bus network in Greater Manchester. We believe there is scope to develop the business and attract more customers to bus travel through our good value fares and high quality of service.”

By the end of 2013, your DayRider or Manchester Megarider ticket could take you from Makerfield to Middleton and Mossley. We shall see…

S.V., 07 November 2012.

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20 thoughts on “Bluebird’s Wings Clipped By Stagecoach Manchester

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      1. i know the OFT on the good bit me and another ex Remploy work are on a 2 week job trail at Tesco in Hatteslery with the cleaning firm that does the store

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  1. One that has been rumoured for many a year, sad to see actually happening. Will be very very interesting to see what JPT/ First do in moston when the OFT confirm it. (which they will)

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    1. Hi Connaire,

      It would be sad to see the end of Bluebird Bus and Coach. Their vehicles are often well turned out in the two-tone blue livery (apart from on the 395 and 396 where the yellow or white Dennis Dart SLFs turn out). Historically, they are one of our elder post-deregulation operators (surpassed only by Checkmate Coaches and – apart from a five year hiatus in stage carriage operation – Stott’s of Oldham).

      What is somewhat ironic is that Stagecoach Manchester already has a Volvo B10M (as a training bus) in North Western Road Car Company livery to accompany Bluebird’s OO05 BUS (the Dennis Dart SLF in SELNEC Southern livery). Ironic in being the companies which the late Tom Dunstan worked for.

      Few of Bluebird’s routes directly encroach onto First Greater Manchester territory to a point where market share may be threatened. The exception to this involves the 112, 113, 115 and 116, which shadow FGM’s 52, 81, 81A, 88 and 89 routes between Blackley and Moston. The Sunday and Bank Holiday only 78 service could be integrated with Stagecoach’s 76 route (though at the expense of the Chamber Road section), or renumbered either 76A or 183 (with the Chamber Road link maintained) – with the latter’s Monday to Saturday extension to Royal Oldham Hospital added on journeys based around visiting hours. Though the 396 shares Oldham Road/Ashton Road with the 409 and 419 between the Dog and Pheasant and The Hathershaw Hotel, there seems to be little scope for direct competition with FGM’s routes.

      Then again I may be proven wrong.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Probably good news for passengers, probably bad news for TfGM. One less operator to bid for tenders. Bluebird operate the X5 (gained from Stagecoach) and most 291 (gained from Arriva) which I’m sure will push up tender prices in the long run.

    Wouldn’t like to be sat in JPT towers though – they seem to like sparring with Bluebird. I can see them withdrawing some competing services.

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    1. Hi Rob,

      My thoughts exactly, both on how it could pan out for passengers and Transport for Greater Manchester. With the former, it could mean Stagecoach’s (in comparison to First Greater Manchester) cheaper single fares and equally attractive season tickets in the short to medium term. Given the increased market share which may arise, I doubt as if they could keep the Megarider price at less than £15 for long.

      As for the latter, which independent operators are expanding into or entering stage carriage operation at this very moment? I doubt as if Rossendale or Transdev will expand; Maytree Travel are contracting. In 2012, there is less chance of a local private hire company expanding, given the present backdrop of the Big Three transport groups and the capital required in the midst of a recession and lack of borrowing to small business.

      I was just imagining the hiccoughs at JPT Towers too. Could Stagecoach Manchester’s future Middleton depot mean Wilmslow Road style competition on the 17, 18 and 58 routes?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  3. I note from TfGM service changes that JPT are curtailing their 17 at Middleton from 25th November – rather than continuing through to Rochdale. They seem to vary this route most months!
    17 25/11/2012 Rochdale – Manchester Jpt journeys are changed to run between Middleton and Manchester only. Times changed.

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    1. Hi Paul,

      Almost full circle with JPT’s version of the 17. I remember when they launched their journeys that they originally began in Middleton. Needless to say, the last changes also included the incorporation of Eurobus’ operations.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  4. Announcement to staff at First Chester and First Birkenhead made this morning advising that Stagecoach have bought these depots and operations for £4.5million. The sale also includes the leased outstation at Wrexham and around 110 vehicles.

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    1. Hi Buspilot,

      It seems as if First Retreat has become the Aberdonian group’s fastest growing subsidiary, but more seriously this is another strategically important purchase for Stagecoach. As a result, this means Arriva and Stagecoach will dominate both sides of the Mersey estuary. I wonder if a similar revolution as at Wigan would gather momentum, with new buses being drafted in almost immediately?

      I wonder who’s next?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  5. Lately Bluebird buses have been looking a little unloved. Damaged panels, replacement panels of a different colour, generally a bit tatty and indicative of an operator either struggling or that doesn’t care for its appearance. My money was always on the former. Sad to see them go.

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    1. Hi Mark,

      Yes I’ve noticed that too (even on the SELNEC Southern Dennis Dart SLF). I would say the former; Mayne’s twilight years in bus operator saw the addition of former Nottingham City Transport single deckers and the re-upholstering of some Scanias with individual plastic seats in place of standard bus seats. If there’s one consolation, it is the fact that Bluebird’s employees will be transferring to Stagecoach instead of being out of job following an operator’s demise (as was the case in January this year with SpeedwellBus).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  6. I might have missed it somewhere else, but did you notice that GM Buses East is the company taking over Wigan? ( Aka Mayne’s) so they did get the last laugh!! it also means Stagecoach will be operating in two places where buses had lights on the front to show customers they belonged to someone who cared ( Mayne’s and Wigan Corporation)

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    1. Hi Pete,

      Yes, I did notice the fact it was Mayne of Manchester’s (bus operating) forerunner who have taken over Wigan depot. One thing which I didn’t twig was the fact that both Wigan Corporation and Mayne of Manchester had lights on the front of their vehicles. Interestingly, both of these were to distinguish themselves from other operators bearing red and cream liveries (Ribble Motor Services and Manchester Corporation respectively) – also succeeded by Stagecoach Holdings’ subsidiaries!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  7. Do you know when the OFT decision will be completed? JPT have near enough withdrawn from Route 17. They say it’s due to the Rochdale Road QBC. I am worried Stagecoach will get too big, it could be the new First! I would like to see Stagecoach run one of the 17, 18, 163 to Middleton, just to break up the First monopoly on this route. Perhaps JPT have gotten wind of some plan of this kind and withdrawn before it happens.

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    1. Breaking News: It has just been announced on Coach and Bus Week that the OFT has decided not to refer Stagecoach’s acquisition of Bluebird Bus and Coach to the Competition Commission. Therefore, the red, orange and blue swirls will be darkening the streets of Middleton by this summer.

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