Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #5: Route Indicators

The fifth part of a concise guide to bus operations from a passenger point of view, aimed at bus noobs more than anything

SHMD Atkinson Double Decker UMA 370, Greater Manchester Museum of Transport
The excellent Atkinson double decker, SHMD’s of course…

Look at this picture below: what is the dark grey panel between the upper and lower deck windows? Is it:

  • a) A destination blind;
  • b) A destination board;
  • c) An indicator.

If you’ve answered ‘a’ or ‘b’, you’ve only got part of the question right. The answer is ‘c’, an indicator.

An indicator is the proper term to describe the said apparatus. A destination blind refers to the actual blind which displays separately (as seen above) inside the indicator’s apertures. The Atkinson double decker has three apertures: one for intermediate stops, another for service numbers, and the third one for its ultimate journey.

Blinds were originally made of linen with relevant information printed onto the cloth. By the 1980s, linen was eschewed in favour of paper. This allowed greater variety of colour and the addition of logos.

Till recently, each area had distinct indicator layouts. For example, Manchester’s buses had a three piece indicator display with the service number on the left, intermediate stops on the right, and its terminus at the bottom. The SHMD one seen above has the ultimate journey above the intermediate stops and service numbers.

Manchester’s was adopted as a standard layout when SELNEC began operations on the 01 November 1969. Its standard Leyland Atlantean and Daimler Fleetline vehicles saw the service number aperture moved to the right. This enabled queueing passengers to identify their service at a split second.

Where space is limited, particularly so on single decker buses or minibuses, the intermediate display blind may be omitted. By the time electronic blinds became the norm, these issues were assuaged. Not only that, the driver can change the indicator display at the touch of a button instead of leaving the cab to update rear and side displays.


At one time, the average indicator board was printed with bold sans-serif fonts, usually in uppercase forms. By the early 1970s, thanks to improved printing technology, it became the norm to see more subtle yet clear typefaces. SELNEC adopted a version of the Helvetica typeface, and this continued till 1992 when successors GM Buses opted for GillSans on some vehicles.

When Greater Manchester Transport ordered its first Leyland Olympians, their prototype came with a non-standard electronic display. Subsequent ones came with a revised version of the three piece indicator layout. Again the number was on the right, and its terminus was on the bottom. This time, the intermediate stops were placed above the terminus aperture.

The layout was nothing new. Structurally it was similar to Bolton Transport’s displays on the East Lancashire and Metro Cammell bodied Leyland Atlanteans. A similar layout, more akin to GMT’s 1982 layout, was adopted by SHMD on their Daimler Fleetlines. Whereas GMT’s standard three piece indicators had the terminus in uppercase, the Olympians displayed the terminus in a narrow version of Helvetica (first letter uppercase, rest lowercase).

At one time, displays would have been backlit with a fluorescent tube at night times, making the white text more effective. By the early 1990s, fluorescent yellow would usurp this. Today, manual destination blinds are a dying breed with the big bus owning groups’ vehicles. They are still popular with small independent operators.

Electronic Indicators

We have come a long way since electronic indicators were first seen on our buses. We go back to our prototype GMT Leyland Olympian which used a dot-matrix display. This had the service number and its destination on the same single line layout. This didn’t impress Greater Manchester Transport, but experiments continued. Some Leyland Olympians, within the ANA xY series of registrations had LED style side and rear number indicators.

The first operator in Greater Manchester to make full use of LED indicators was probably Shearings’ bus operations. They had a single line display similar to GMT’s first Olympians, though with LED number display style text.

After the split of GM Buses, Stagecoach Manchester updated the former GMS Buses fleet with electronic displays as standard. From 1996-97, they would become more standard. Nowadays, only a handful of Stagecoach Manchester’s fleet uses manual indicator displays. GM Buses North’s then new Volvo single deckers (branded in Superbus livery) also had electronic displays from the start.

Though a development on the manual displays, the new electronic displays had one problem: visibility from great distances. The start of the new millennium saw orange LEDs introduced, alleviating this problem. By the end of the noughties, we would see blues, reds and yellows introduced.

Even so, we are several years away from full multi-coloured bus indicators. I doubt as if they will catch on: passengers prefer a working clutter-free display. Be it in Helvetica, LED form or that popular font on temporary displays using a black marker, Drivers’ Cursive.

S.V., 13 June 2013.


2 thoughts on “Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #5: Route Indicators

Add yours

  1. One plus side with a electronic indicators is the ease of transfer if a vehicle is owned by one of the big operators (First, Stagecoach, Arriva, Go-Ahead for example) as before whenever a vehicle was transferred between depots its destination blind would have to be took out and a new one put in when it reached its new depot, whereas now with the electronic indicators most if not all of the big operators have all the routes operated programmed in

    BTW I do remember GMBuses experimenting with electronic indicators in the early/late 80s as Leyland National 202 was fitted with them when it re-entered service at Oldham Depot


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