Any Bus, Anywhere, in Greater Manchester: Introducing TfGM’s Route Explorer

A look at Transport for Greater Manchester’s exciting new travel planning tool

First Greater Manchester Volvo B7TL/ALX400, YJ51 RCX, Oldham bus station
Never miss a bus again: TfGM’s Route Explorer enables you to find bus stops and routes nearest to your locality. It details all bus services throughout the Greater Manchester area and offers links to its timetable library.

The lack of a decent travel planner has probably been a bone of contention for Greater Manchester’s bus users. With Google Maps and First Greater Manchester’s mobile app telling you when the next 343’s due, as well as directions on foot, it seemed as if TfGM and its contemporaries would fall behind.

From today, Transport for Greater Manchester has added a journey planner, which any bus passenger can be proud of. Its digital ‘Route Explorer’ enables passengers to find out about local bus routes from a given location in Greater Manchester. It also covers some cross-boundary services like the 590 from Rochdale to Halifax and the 236/237 routes from Glossop to Ashton-under-Lyne.

Services can be filtered by numerical order or frequency levels. Each bus service is colour coded according to frequency levels based on the number of daily departures. A magenta tag denotes a frequent service, such as the 192 from Piccadilly Gardens to Hazel Grove. Subsequent colour codes are violet, blue, cyan, dark green and light green. A service with a light green frequency denotes an irregular service, often every two hours, or in operation at certain times of the day (for example the peak hour only 221 service from Dukinfield, Tennyson Avenue to Piccadilly Gardens).

Where it improves upon previous travel planning tools is its use of Google Maps and responsive web design techniques. Its usage of Google Maps enable passengers to double click or right click on any given point in Greater Manchester. With responsive web design, TfGM’s Route Explorer fits snugly onto any smartphone and digital tablet as well as ‘old school’ desktop and laptop PCs.

As well as clicking on the Google Map, passengers can enter their usual bus stop in the departure point box. For the arrivals box, he or she can either enter their proposed arrival point or click on the ‘Anywhere’ box for a full list of bus services from their departure point. Then, he or she can choose their day of the week and time slot. They can choose whether they want their desired bus stop to be a 100m or 1km radius from their chosen pin point.

Within moments, details of bus services will appear. The Google Map displays bus routes from their position (though this function can be switched off). Pins detail all bus stops along each route with distinct pins to detail the start and finish of your journey. If I was to travel from The Stamford Arms to The Fleece Inn, it would show the 343 route. My start pin would be in Heyheads near Staley Road with my finish pin outside Mossley, Market Place.

On clicking the panel which advertises the 343 service, it tells me which operator runs the service (not that I need to know personally, I regularly use this service myself). If I had a single operator ticket (i.e. a FirstDay), I could filter the results to display First Greater Manchester’s route. From there, I can download the relevant TfGM Bus Guide (in Adobe PDF format) onto my smartphone, computer or digital tablet.

However, Route Explorer does have some limitations. If you’re travelling from Ashton-under-Lyne to Heywood, it advertises the lack of a direct service. Users new to the bus network would appreciate that, but it doesn’t detail any alternatives or where and when to change buses (this is where Google Maps’ Transit mode excels). Regular bus users travelling between the two points would board a 409 to Rochdale and change there for a 471 to Heywood. Or a 419 to Middleton, changing there for the 163 service.

So far from what I’ve seen, it looks promising. Real time information and details of cancellations and delays is some way off yet, though I assume the scope is there. Likewise with departure times to hand from given stops, as an alternative to downloading the timetable which I may already have in digital or dead tree form. It is easier to use than the much derided Transport Direct journey planner though the user interface isn’t quite as clean as searching for bus times on Google Maps itself.

Strengths:

  • Responsive web design, browser based – no need to download separate apps;
  • Intuitive interface: just right click or double click your mouse or tap your tablet twice from your street;
  • Detailed search function: choose from local landmarks within the arrivals and departures fields, or enter bus, rail and tram stations;
  • Categorisation: a great help for people wishing to know if Bus A is less frequent than Bus B, or as to whether both buses have the same or different operators.

Weaknesses:

  • No on-screen bus times: checking bus times is dependent on downloading the relevant TfGM Bus Guide.

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Quick Start Tutorial

A: Off to do the Big Shop – Hattersley to Hyde

  1. Enter www.tfgm.com/route-explorer into the web browser of your smartphone, digital tablet or computer.
  2. The first thing you should see is a screen that details boxes for your departure and arrival points. Below is an embedded Google Map with a legend (entitled ‘Map Options’) that displays all bus stops, TfGM bus stations, Metrolink stops and railway stations. You can click on any of the four boxes to display any of the bus stops, bus stations, railway stations or tram stops.
  3. To enter your starting point, go to the heading entitled Where do you want to go from? and click any of the four options which can be highlighted in dark grey:
    • Place;
    • Station/Stop;
    • My location;
    • Anywhere.
  4. Being as we are travelling from Hattersley and live on Honiton Avenue, leave the grey box set to Place. Then enter ‘Honiton Avenue’; within moments, ‘Honiton Avenue, Mottram in Longdendale, United Kingdom’ appears in our box.
  5. Go to the heading entitled Where do you want to go to? As we want to go to Hyde town centre, it would make sense to click the Station/Stop box.
  6. In the box below, enter ‘Hyde’; within moments it would give us three options: ‘Hyde Central, Rail’; ‘Hyde North, Rail’ or ‘Hyde Bus Station, Bus’. As Hyde Central or Hyde North would be totally useless from Hattersley (unless we need the former station for a train to Rose Hill Marple), go for ‘Hyde Bus Station, Bus’.
  7. A further box details whether we wish to leave or arrive at a given destination for a given time slot. If we wish to leave Hattersley for 10am on a Saturday, leave the box set to Leaving.
  8. Click on the days pull down menu and select Saturday.
  9. Then, go to the time slot pull down menu and select 10:00-11:00.
  10. Click the purple Search button.

Within moments, Route Explorer details our nearest stop. We are presented with a list of buses which stop nearby. Our nearest stop is on Hattersley Road West. In our case, we have the joy of the 201, 341 and 387. Each route can be ordered by number or frequency levels. The colour coded frequency level tags are also used to highlight the route when seen in Google Maps.

Supposing you have a single operator season ticket like a Manchester Megarider, you can click on the Filter by pull down menu and select Stagecoach Manchester. The only service displayed is the 201 service from John Kennedy Way to Manchester city centre (Piccadilly Gardens).

To view your route:

  1. Click on the + button.
  2. You are presented with five options. You can:
    • View or download the timetable;
    • View the route map;
    • View your starting point;
    • View your finishing point;
    • Look at places served along the route.
  3. Click on View/download timetable (PDF) to look at the TfGM Bus Guide for your desired bus route;
  4. Click on View route map to see a Google Map detailing your bus route. This is highlighted according to frequency levels denoted in the coloured bullet seen after your route number and before the route details.
  5. Click on View start point to find your nearest bus stop. Clicking on the start point pin details all services which call at our stop. Not only scheduled bus services but also school services and Yellow School Bus routes.
  6. Click on View end point to find the nearest bus stop, bus station, railway station or Metrolink stop to your ultimate destination.
  7. Click on Places served to look at places your route stops along the way. In the case of our 201 service, this includes Godley, Thornley Park, Gorton and Belle Vue as well as Hyde, Denton, and our route’s starting and finishing point.

To start afresh, click on the New search button.

B: A bus to anywhere

  1. Unless you already have Route Explorer in your browser window, enter www.tfgm.com/route-explorer into the web browser of your smartphone, digital tablet or computer.
  2. Again we see the screen which details boxes for your departure and arrival points. Below is an embedded Google Map with a legend (entitled ‘Map Options’) that displays all bus stops, TfGM bus stations, Metrolink stops and railway stations. You can click on any of the four boxes to display any of the bus stops, bus stations, railway stations or tram stops.
  3. To enter your starting point, go to the heading entitled Where do you want to go from? and click any of the four options which can be highlighted in dark grey:
    • Place;
    • Station/Stop;
    • My location;
    • Anywhere.
  4. Go to the heading entitled Where do you want to go to? Then click on the Anywhere box.
  5. A further box details whether we wish to leave or arrive at a given destination for a given time slot. If we wish to leave Hyde Bus Station at 10am on a Wednesday, leave the box set to Leaving.
  6. Click on the days pull down menu and select Wednesday.
  7. Then, go to the time slot pull down menu and select 10:00-11:00.
  8. Click the purple Search button.

Within moments, Route Explorer details a full list of bus services from Hyde bus station. Each route can be ordered by number or frequency levels. The colour coded frequency level tags are also used to highlight the route when seen in Google Maps. As it is a Wednesday, it also details Checkmate Mini Coaches’ twice weekly service to Marple (Navigation Hotel).

Supposing you have a single operator season ticket like a Manchester Megarider, you can click on the Filter by pull down menu and select Stagecoach Manchester. All services operated by Stagecoach Manchester are detailed. With a System One Buscard or Any Bus DaySaver burning a hole in our wallet, we fancy trying one of the bus station’s lesser known routes. We plump for the 304 service to Marple, instead of going for the easy option of a train from Hyde Central.

To view your route:

  1. Click on the + button.
  2. You are presented with four options. You can:
    • View or download the timetable;
    • View the route map;
    • View your starting point;
    • Look at places served along the route.
  3. Click on View/download timetable (PDF) to look at the TfGM Bus Guide for your desired bus route;
  4. As we set Where do you want to go to? to Anywhere, there is no map denoting the route nor a second or third map its starting and finishing points.
  5. Click on Places served to look at places your route stops along the way. In the case of our 304 service, this includes Gee Cross, Romiley and Compstall as well as our route’s starting and finishing point.

To start afresh, click on the New search button.

C: See a pin, pick it up, and place it somewhere on the map

  1. Unless you already have Route Explorer in your browser window, enter www.tfgm.com/route-explorer into the web browser of your smartphone, digital tablet or computer.
  2. Again we see the screen which details boxes for your departure and arrival points. Below is an embedded Google Map with a legend (entitled ‘Map Options’) that displays all bus stops, TfGM bus stations, Metrolink stops and railway stations. You can click on any of the four boxes to display any of the bus stops, bus stations, railway stations or tram stops.
  3. Double click or right click your mouse, or tap your mobile device’s touchscreen twice on a location of your choice. Say for example we wish to place our pin near The Dysarts Arms on Huddersfield Road, near Hey Farm estate.
  4. Another box will appear with five options:
    • Set start location;
    • Set end location;
    • Zoom In;
    • Zoom Out;
    • Centre map here.
  5. Choose Set start location. Supposing our humble abode is on Mossley Road close to the Heroes of Waterloo public house, in Ashton-under-Lyne, we need set our arrival point near there.
  6. Double click or right click your mouse, or tap your mobile device’s touchscreen twice near the Heroes of Waterloo public house. From the menu, choose Set end location.
  7. Supposing we’ve had an evening session tonight, we could use our mobile phone’s internet access, or the pub’s free WiFi to view Route Explorer. Leave the departure day set to your regular pub night (for our example, we’ll leave it set to Thursday.)
  8. Being as we’ve left The Dysarts Arms at five to eleven pm, select 23:00-24:00.
  9. Click the purple Search button.
  10. Within moments, your route or desired routes will appear. In our case, it is First Greater Manchester’s 350 service, and as luck would have it, our last bus is around half past eleven! Another quick half or quick pint of Robinson’s Unicorn may suffice being as making last orders at the Heroes of Waterloo is pretty doubtful!

To view your route:

  1. Click on View timetable (PDF) to check your times.
  2. Click on View Map to see the route of your favoured bus. You will find pins representing:
    • Each stop in the same colour as the highlighted route;
    • Pins representing your starting and finishing points: in green for The Dysarts Arms, red for the Heroes of Waterloo;
    • Further pins denoting nearby bus and railway stations, and in our case of the locality, Ashton-under-Lyne’s Metrolink stop.
  3. Click on Start stop for a detailed view of your chosen stop.
  4. Click on End stop for a detailed view of your arrival point.

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One more thing…

Feel free to comment on TfGM’s Route Explorer itself. Did you find it easy to work out on your own? Or did you find the tutorials easy to follow? Did it work on your smartphone, laptop, desktop PC, or digital tablet.

Other than that, enjoy their fantastic new site and happy bus hopping. Who knows, you might see Mr East of the M60 himself (and if anyone wishes to claim their £5.00, they can…).

S.V., 25 September 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Any Bus, Anywhere, in Greater Manchester: Introducing TfGM’s Route Explorer

Add yours

    1. Dear Siho,

      First and foremost, real time information of bus service times. In other words, details of early or late running and cancellations. Plus details of road works or staffing issues which may be instrumental to changes in the timetable that day.

      The only problem with this, is collating such information from Greater Manchester’s 30+ bus operators may be a mammoth task. (Which would have been manageable if the buses weren’t deregulated and fragmented).

      Also, I would love to see local tram and train times added, though I assume this may be introduced once Get Me There’s up and running.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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