Alexander’s Last Ride: Farewell to the Volvo B10M

Special running day along 192 service from Piccadilly Gardens

Stagecoach Manchester Volvo B10M R982 XVM, Wellington Road South, Stockport
Farewell: the Volvo B10M, which was Stagecoach Manchester’s step entrance single decker of choice from 1997 to 2009 on many routes. Seen here is R982 XVM, drafted in at short notice from Hyde Road depot on the 04 April 2014.

After nearly 25 years of operation in Greater Manchester, the Volvo B10M will be a thing of the past. With the exception of driver training vehicles, Stagecoach in Manchester is set to give them a good send-off on the 14 November.

Along with its usual Enviro 400H double deckers, the 192 service from Hazel Grove to Manchester [Piccadilly Gardens] will be joined by the Alexander PS bodied single deckers. As well as some from Stagecoach Manchester, they will also be joined by some from Stagecoach in Cumbria and North Lancashire.

All fares income on the Volvo B10Ms will also be raised for Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention,  Stagecoach Manchester’s charity for 2015 – 16. The usual Stagecoach Manchester and System One day tickets and season tickets will also be accepted along with ENCTS passes.

For the event, our fellows at Stagecoach Manchester have produced a timetable. Services operated Volvo B10Ms will leave Piccadilly Gardens and Hazel Grove [Park and Ride] on the hour from 1000 to 1700. These will be further to existing Saturday journeys.

The Volvo B10M and their place in Greater Manchester bus history

Since 1994, the Volvo B10M made an immediate impact onto the Greater Manchester bus scene. 21 years ago, they made their presence known on the Wilmslow Road Corridor. Its first operators? In a roundabout way, the same people who became the last operators of that marque.

In 1994, GM Buses had been split up with both GM Buses North and GMS Buses owned by their management. Though Stagecoach Holdings had had operated in Greater Manchester since March 1989, their first Stagecoach Manchester buses were as a subsidiary of Stagecoach Ribble. This was on the 42 service, where Volvo B10Ms were introduced.

Their move ruffled the feathers of numerous operators from East Didsbury to Piccadilly. Back then, Wilmslow Road saw GMS Buses, Finglands, Bullocks, UK North, South Manchester, and Bee Line vying for the student market. 21 years on, First Greater Manchester and Stagecoach Manchester have a duopoly. After Stagecoach Manchester (Mark I) pulled out, the Volvo B10Ms were bought by Finglands Coachways, with their take on the Stagecoach Starsky and Hutch livery.

1996 would see GMS Buses taken over by Stagecoach Holdings in the March of that year. Summer ’96 would see the Alexander Dash bodied Volvo B7s (leased by GMS Buses for their Super Route services) replaced by Volvo B10Ms. As well as adding 13 seats (36 on the former compared with 49 on the B10Ms), their excellent acceleration and smooth ride won plaudits from passengers and drivers alike.

Ten years later, their dominance would be challenged by the Alexander Dennis integral Enviro 400 double decker. A rapid roll-out of low floor buses meant the game was up for the Volvo B10Ms. By 2009 they were seen on secondary routes, a role fulfilled till the arrival of Enviro200 single deckers to Stockport and Ashton depots (2010 and 2011).

In 2012, they were no longer seen on Transport for Greater Manchester contracted school services. All school services funded by TfGM would be 100% low floor using TfGM’s dedicated fleet of Yellow School Buses or the operators’ own low floor vehicles. One exception to the rule was Stagecoach Manchester’s contract with Derbyshire County Council. The 794 from Charlesworth to Oldham (Bluecoat School) was one of the last regular workings to feature a Volvo B10M.

As of today, they are seen on Stagecoach Manchester’s training buses. Some have been kept in reserve for emergencies as seen in the above picture, loading on Wellington Road South, Stockport.

My Life in the Company of Volvo B10Ms: my recollections

I shall miss the vehicles, and I have been on a few Volvo B10Ms outside of Stagecoach in Manchester territory. The first time I saw one was aboard a Sunday journey of the 346 service in the autumn of 1996. Having had a dog in tow (my first Jack Russell Terrier, Brandy), I stuck solidly to the Greater Manchester Transport/GM Buses protocol (on single decker buses) of sitting at the back seat.

The first thing that struck me was the plushness of its cushions. They were plusher than most of today’s buses. Legroom was decent, though the best legroom could be gained near the back emergency exit or on the seats behind the back wheel arch. That I found was also true of Stagecoach Lancaster’s example, one Easter in 2002 en route to Morecambe (on the long gone X51 service via the M6 from Preston).

Whereas the 216 had low floor MAN single deckers, the 219s had the Volvo B10Ms. The latter were also regular performers on the 153, 220 and 221 services. On the 219s, the B10Ms would be usurped by Volvo Olympians and Enviro400s. Prior to the acquisition of Mayne of Manchester’s bus operations in February 2008, the 220s and 221s would see former Mayne’s vehicles taking the place of the trusty B10Ms.

By 2001, some were refurbished with the new Stagecoach interior trim. The first I recall were aboard its rebranded 236/237 routes. The summer of that year saw the 236 and 237 become the X36 and X37 – limited stop from Piccadilly Gardens to Ashton-under-Lyne then all stops to Glossop (via Woolley Bridge on the X36 or Hadfield on the X37). Buses stationed at Glossop depot were named after animals by local schoolchildren, with names like Ashton Antelope and Glossop Gazelle.

The last time I remember seeing them in regular service throughout Greater Manchester was 2009, when I worked in central Manchester and Altrincham Back then, the 220, 221 and 370 routes were its regular haunts (though the peak hour Dukinfield – Manchester buses would see greater use of Enviro400s).

One year later, I was surprised to see them alive and well in Eastbourne. My experience of which, on a short journey aboard the 99 service from Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea. It was one of the early M-reg ones with dual purpose style seats. Unlike the Greater Manchester examples, legroom was awful, exacerbated by the plastic seat backs. Suffice to say, they were the same style of seats used on the Merseytravel PTE Pacer units. With thicker cushions.

On introduction, they were right for the time. It was their reliability and use of a lorry chassis which made for solid performance. With the Alexander PS Type Volvo B10Ms first hitting the streets in 1990 (Mainline among its early customers along with Burnley and Pendle), it was tried and tested enough for reliable all-round service. Negotiating Crescent Road on the 346 or Winterford Road on the 153 was a cinch, even with a full load.

You could safely say that today’s equivalent could be the Enviro200, but they lack the B10Ms capacity (or their thrash). The Wright StreetLite, Enviro300 or the Optare Versa may be considered as contenders. The Wright StreetLite might have the looks though lack the smooth ride and have a layout which screams ‘midibus’.

Should East of the M60 be around in 2035, expect to see a retrospective article on the Wright StreetLites. By then – hopefully – the Volvo B10M would be adopted by many preservation societies.

Given its role in Greater Mancunian bus history, the Volvo B10M is long overdue the bus equivalent of a testimonial fixture. They are just as influential as the conurbation’s latest electric-hybrid buses, the Dennis Dart SLFs, and the GMT-standard Leyland Atlanteans. For future generations (for whom 7001, the Park Royal bodied Leyland Atlantean would seem like ancient history), now is the time to preserve more of the buses which defined the post-deregulation era. Their importance shouldn’t be understated.

S.V., 02 November 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Alexander’s Last Ride: Farewell to the Volvo B10M

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  1. Great bus the B10M. At Stagecoach Ribble we inherited two of the original Stagecoach Manchester’s B10Ms at Fleetwood in 1994 for operation on the 180/182 Fleetwood-Preston service. Replacing Leyland Nationals they were a revelation with their handling and rapid acceleration. You could race unsuspecting cars away from the lights and caught many an unaware car driver up at roundabouts. You had to watch the rear end swing though. Quite a few drivers caught the depot gates at Sidings Road. Nothing I’ve driven since has fitted the bill quite as well.

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