A look back at GM Buses’ Piccadilly Line
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Wilmslow Road and Palatine Road corridors were awash with the colours of numerous bus operators. Many of which were trying to compete with the main company which was GM Buses, later GMS Buses and now Stagecoach in Manchester. They included local coach operators like Walls and Finglands. Former National Bus Company subsidiaries like Ribble would join in. Then there was the Bee Line Buzz Company’s minibuses, and low cost independents with secondhand buses like UK North.
With most of Manchester’s undergraduates in halls of residences or houses along that part of South Manchester, the bus could be depended upon as a cheap way to stretch their student grant or miserable part-time wage. Some would compete on quality rather than price. Some would compete with nostalgia in mind.
25 years ago this week, Greater Manchester Buses’ response was a vehicle used by Stagecoach’s co-founder on the first day of deregulation (albeit collecting fares whilst dressed as a rabbit). Today, the man once seen in the rabbit suit had the last laugh with his company having a virtual monopoly on the Wilmslow Road corridor.
For many, this vehicle would become a hackneyed reference point for preserved buses in general. One which was a most important weapon in the early years of bus deregulation. A bus which epitomised London as much as jellied eels, Chas ‘n’ Dave, Ray Winstone and Reg Varney.
I am referring to the AEC Routemaster.
From Central Road to Parker Street
After the start of bus deregulation, operators outside London purchased surplus AEC Routemasters with the onus of bringing back The Good Old Days of Bus Travel. That of conductors, comfortable seats and open platforms. GM Buses were among a number of operators which adopted Routemasters, but they had a historical link; Manchester Corporation hired RM1414 (414 CLT) for the 41, 42 and 43 routes in 1963. Therefore, the arrival of ten AEC Routemasters came 25 years after Manchester Corporation hired RM1414.
GM Buses, realising this, deployed its Routemasters on the 143 route from West Didsbury [Central Road] to Piccadilly. A version of the London Transport roundel was adapted with the horizontal line superimposed by a new version of the GM Buses logotype. Between decks, advertising was replaced by ‘Piccadilly Line’ route branding.
The journey between West Didsbury and Piccadilly was every bit as good as the modern GMT standard buses. They made light work of Wilmslow Road and the heavy passenger loads. The windows were good (being of the winding variety) and the best seats aboard were either behind the driver or left window downstairs. Or upstairs at the front (but less so in 1988 as it would have been another three years and three months before GM Buses prohibited smoking on all its vehicles).
I had the joy of not only seeing them in operation, but also that of boarding one in 1988. My old school (the dearly departed Ewing School) offered a grandstand view of the Central Road terminus. On some weekly outings with the school, we would use one of GM Buses’ services (never the competitors like Walls or Ribble though) to Manchester city centre. One outing to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry involved one of the Routemasters. Though I loved my GMT standards, I found the AEC Routemasters a nice change from MCW Metrobuses every now and again.
Swansong and Reprise
In April 1990, GM Buses relinquished its Routemasters. Another company, a low-cost independent in the form of Mancunian Bus Co. would operate them a year after. They were an associate company of Midway and operated AEC Routemasters along the Wilmslow Road corridor till 1994. As well as the 143 route, they were also seen on the 42 route to East Didsbury.
Why Piccadilly Line, and was there also a Victoria Line?
As well as the London connection, pretty obvious as it stopped by Piccadilly Plaza. It picked up at the side nearest to today’s TESCO Express store, at a stand minus any cover besides the overhang of Piccadilly Plaza. It would reach West Didsbury, turning left onto Mosley Street, then left onto Princess Street before joining Wilmslow Road and Palatine Road via Whitworth Street, Oxford Street and Oxford Road.
The Victoria Line was the 46 and 47 circular routes via Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Didsbury. They started their route outside Manchester Victoria railway station and some buses were partially painted below the windscreen in royal blue.
Outside Greater Manchester
Besides GM Buses, NBC subsidiary Northern had operated AEC Routemasters prior to deregulation and purchased theirs from new. This also spawned the ill-advised Tynesider variant which was a botched attempt at adapting the Routemasters for One Person Operation.
Since deregulation, other operators of AEC Routemasters have included:
- Mansfield and District: spun off from former NBC subsidiary Midland General, theirs had a smart green and white livery which was modern yet non-intrusive and sympathetic to the lines of the vehicle;
- Reading Transport: entered service in 1994 with a smartly turned out version of the municipality’s standard livery;
- Burnley and Pendle: shortly after the start of deregulation, the municipal operator ordered AEC Routemasters for key routes between Burnley and Colne. They were branded as ‘EastEnders’ with the programme’s logotype and buses being named after characters. Dirty Den could also be seen in Harle Syke as well as Walford!
- Blackpool Transport: introduced in the mid 1980s for seafront services. Eschewing the green and ivory, they were tastefully painted in an ornate red and white livery.
Before I Go…
If like the author of this piece you remember seeing the Routemasters along Wilmslow Road, feel free to comment. Were you surprised to see a London bus instead of a GMT standard outside Cine City? Did you let the Olympians and Atlanteans pass in favour of one at Owens Park?
S.V., 03 September 2013.