How does Transdev’s brand new bus service measure up against the competition? East of the M60 takes a look.
From the 04 November, Transdev will offer another way of travelling from Manchester to Leeds. Known as Cityzap, it aims to offer a more affordable way between the two cities. At Manchester city centre, its terminus will be Chorlton Street, outside the coach station. There will be an additional stop on Piccadilly Gardens.
After Manchester city centre, it will run non-stop to Chadderton (Broadway) before joining the A627(M) and M62 motorways. After exiting Junction 23, it will make two additional calls at Lindley Moor Road before rejoining the motorway at Junction 24. From the two stops, passengers may continue to Huddersfield on the 378 route or to Halifax on the 501 route (alighting at the second stop, travelling northbound). From Junction 24, it takes the M62 and M621 to Leeds City Bus Station.
Besides Cityzap, Manchester has five daytime journeys per hour to Leeds on Transpennine Express services alone. Four per hour from Manchester Piccadilly with the fifth one per hour from Manchester Victoria. Typical rolling stock on TPE’s trains are Class 185 DMUs.
In addition to Transpennine Express’ journeys along the Standedge line, three trains per hour are operated by Northern. They take the slower route via the Calder Valley line. One train per hour continues to Brighouse and Dewsbury. Two trains per hour continue to Halifax. Unlike Transpennine Express, rolling stock can vary from a plush Class 158 DMU to a spartan Class 142 Pacer DMU.
By train, that’s a total of eight trains per hour from Manchester stations to Leeds. Or a Leeds train every 7.5 minutes. Which is more frequent than the Ashton-under-Lyne to Eccles tram (every 12 minutes).
With a plethora of options by rail, what about road based public transport? Before Cityzap’s arrival in November, only one: National Express’ 060 and 061 coach routes. Branded as Express Shuttle during the 1990s, the 060/061 routes run from Liverpool to Leeds via Chorlton Street Coach Station. Its frequency is more or less once hourly, taking in both Lancastrian and Yorkshire parts of the M62 motorways. Most journeys go via Bradford Interchange.
Today, the 060 route is used on journeys after 7pm. The bulk of most Leeds – Liverpool journeys fall under the 061 route. Some journeys making up the broadly hourly frequency fall under the 351 and 381 routes with the latter starting at Wrexham or at Chester Bus Exchange. One return journey calls at Chester Zoo.
A brief look at past practices
Back in 1972 (45 years ago), all Leeds to Manchester trains called at Manchester Victoria. The frequency was two trains an hour: one per hour to Liverpool Lime Street via Stalybridge; and once hourly along the Calder Valley line. There was some seasonal extra trains.
By coach, there was a number of seasonal services which continued to Scarborough, Whitby, and Bridlington via Leeds. Some of which form part of todays Yorkshire Coastliner routes. Prior to 1972, North Western Road Car Company operated some journeys. Another selection of Liverpool to Leeds services formed part of a common pool known as Tyne-Tees Mersey.
In addition to National Bus Company’s express coach services, NBC operated a number of short distance express services. They used conventional buses with coach style seating. These were known as dual purpose buses: dual purpose in the sense they could be used on short distance express routes as well as local bus routes. They had a different version of the poppy red or leaf green livery. This to differentiate from National’s all white coaches, and the standard bus versions of red and green liveries.
In 1980, two examples of dual purpose bus routes were the 223 and 224 routes. As well as its core service from Halifax to Leeds, some journeys were extended southwards toward Manchester, via Oldham. They were operated by NBC’s Yorkshire Woollen District. This operated till 1985. Sometimes you could get a Leyland Leopard coach or, if you were unlucky, a Leyland National bus.
Zap back to 2017
Like National Bus Company in the 1980s, dual purpose buses play a part in Cityzap’s routes. Single decker buses will be refurbished to coach/dual purpose bus standards. To start off with, Cityzap’s frequency will also be once hourly. At present, Transdev’s other Cityzap services (for example, the Leeds to York service) operate every half hour. This may be subject to change.
In addition to its choice of stops, the Cityzap driver could choose an alternative route between stops. If the M62 is clogged up between the A627(M) interchange and Denshaw, it could join the M62 at Denshaw, via Oldham and Ripponden Road.
As well as coach style seating, Cityzap’s refurbished buses will have free on-board WiFi.
Monday to Friday:
- From Manchester: 0600, 0700, 0810, 0910, and 1005. Then five minutes past the hour until 1605. Then 1715 and 1815.
- From Leeds: 0630, 0700, 0815, and 0930. Then half past the hour until 1830.
- From Manchester: five past the hour from 0805 to 1805.
- From Leeds: half past the hour from 0830 to 1830.
- From Manchester: quarter past the hour from 0915 to 1715.
- From Leeds: half past the hour from 0930 to 1730.
The fares are straightforward too and, unlike its competition, no advance purchase fares are available. You can pay the driver or download the Transdev Go app onto your smartphone. This enables you to pay via an iOS or Android device, and show the driver your mobile ticket. What’s more, owners of ENCTS concessionary passes can travel free on off-peak journeys.
- Single: £6.70 (£4.00 for under 16s);
- Return: £9.00 (£6.00 for under 16s) – return within one month of your outward journey;
- Rover Ticket: Daytripper, £9.50 – the freedom of all Transdev buses including Coastliner and Cityzap routes across Northern England for a day;
- Season Tickets: Weekly Gold (£34.00), Monthly Gold (£102.00) – all Transdev buses including Coastliner and Cityzap routes for a week or a month.
Discounts and concessions:
- Students and University Staff: £6.00 return, on production of valid student/staff ID card;
- NHS Staff: £6.00 return, on production of NHS staff pass to your driver;
- Senior Citizens’ and Disabled Persons’ pass holders: free of charge, subject to local time restrictions (after 0930 weekdays and valid all day on weekends and Bank Holidays);
- Under 19/Student Weekly Gold pass: all your favourite Transdev routes from Whitby to Preston for £22.10. Including Cityzap, Coastliner, and Red Express routes. For a nice discount.
Validity with other passes:
- M-Card and METRO West Yorkshire tickets: between Ainley Top and Leeds;
- System One passes and day saver tickets: between Chadderton and Manchester.
Since the Industrial Revolution or thereabouts, journey times between Manchester and Leeds have been a deal breaker. The mere mention of ‘bus’ to some passengers mean ‘slow’, ‘stopping all the time’, ‘unreliable’, or ‘full of noisy kids’. To some extent, ‘slow’ and ‘uncomfortable’ are possible adjectives used to describe coach travel. Let’s have a look at the journey times between Manchester and Leeds.
- National Express: 70 – 95 minutes;
- Cityzap route: 70 – 90 minutes;
- Northern (Calder Valley line): 86 minutes (via Halifax) – 102 minutes (via Brighouse);
- Transpennine Express (via Stalybridge): 48 – 57 minutes.
With five trains per hour getting to Leeds in less than an hour, it is no surprise as to why Transpennine Express’ trains are popular. It offers the fastest way between the two cities. That is before we talk about the promises of accelerated journey times on HS3 or Northern Powerhouse Rail projects.
Both the National Express and Cityzap journey times hover between 70 to 95 minutes. At the upper end of the scale, National Express’ 90 minute journey includes a call at Bradford Interchange. As most of National Express’ journeys from Manchester to Leeds average 75 minutes, Cityzap could give the white coaches a run for their money.
The slowest, as well as the fastest journey times, between Leeds and Manchester are also by rail. Slowest of all is the all stations route via Brighouse and Dewsbury: 1 hour and 42 minutes. Second slowest is the Manchester Victoria train to Leeds via Halifax and Bradford Interchange. In spite of the snails pace (in comparison with TPE), you get a wonderful run along the Calder Valley line. If you only do one section of that route, travel from Rochdale to Halifax or Brighouse.
For the purpose of this section, these refer to any walk-on adult fares that are valid within a calendar month. The calculated rail fare is based on the return journey being made a fortnight after departure.
- National Express: £19.20 (flexible fare) – advance fares vary according to departure times. A £1.00 booking fee is also added for online bookings;
- Cityzap route: £9.00 (Adult Return);
- Northern (Calder Valley line): £22.00 (Anytime Return);
- Transpennine Express (via Stalybridge): £22.00 (Anytime Return).
With walk-on fares, the rail option was always going to be more expensive if you yearned for flexibility. If you are able to decide which trains you need to board, the Advance purchase option shouldn’t be ruled out. On Transpennine Express this option is a popular one, but you need to purchase your ticket by the day before you depart (until 6pm).
If you fancy taking the Calder Valley line, advance fares can be purchased up to the time of travel. Via your smartphone as a mobile ticket for example. If I was to travel on the 1016 to Leeds on the 28 October, £5.50 one way. Supposing I caught the 1251 on the 11 November, another £3.80, taking it to the sum total of £9.30. So long as I caught the aforementioned trains.
Whereas Transpennine Express’ advance fares include a seat reservation, Northern’s advance fares do not. The reason lies with the rolling stock, which makes seat reservations almost impossible. In place of the Class 158 DMU, you might sometimes get a Class 156 Super Sprinter train. Or a Class 150 Sprinter unit. If you’re really unlucky, either a Class 144 or Class 142 Pacer. With Transpennine Express, Class 185s all round at the moment.
On National Express, advance purchase fares can vary according to times (like the trains), but £19.20 for an hourly service is poor value. For another £1.80, you could have eight trains an hour to play with on an Anytime Return. If you’re on a day trip, the £17.00 Off-Peak Return train fare offers better value for money compared with National Express coaches.
With the forthcoming Cityzap service, their £9.00 return fare is a steal. Compared with National Express, a resounding ‘yes’, especially if you’re taking a day trip. Even better if you fancy a short break to Scarborough; from Leeds, you could add another Coastliner return fare or take the train. Being as the present timetable has no journeys after 7pm, National Express, Northern, and Transpennine Express have the upper hand at night time. On the M62 corridor, National Express should have more to fear than Arriva and FirstGroup.
- National Express: online, at a National Express ticket office or National Express registered travel agent, or on the coach;
- Cityzap route: on the bus or via mobile app;
- Northern (Calder Valley line): at the ticket office, online, automatic ticket machines, National Rail registered travel agent, or via smartphone;
- Transpennine Express (via Stalybridge): at the ticket office, online, automatic ticket machines, National Rail registered travel agent, or via smartphone;
The journey experience: what to expect:
- National Express: luxurious plush coaches with WiFi. Can be pricey compared with train at times;
- Cityzap route: luxurious and refurbished middle-aged buses with WiFi. Cheap and cheerful;
- Northern (Calder Valley line): anything from a plush Class 158 DMU (recently refurbished) to a Class 142 Pacer unit (at worst, a former Merseytravel PTE specification one with worse seats than the railway station’s bench seats). Great views;
- Transpennine Express (via Stalybridge): recently refurbished Class 185 DMUs, often overcrowded. First Class seats also available.
Best for flexibility
Whether you wish to choose your journeys or board any train you please, the rail option more than makes up for its priciness. If you either miss a Cityzap or a National Express coach, that’s another hour till the next one. By train, you have the choice of four fast ones at Manchester Piccadilly, or one fast train and three slower ones at Manchester Victoria. If your train ticket says ‘Manchester Stations’ you can use it on the Metrolink’s City Zone to transfer from Victoria or Piccadilly or vice versa.
One thing that is often forgotten about with Off-Peak and Anytime walk-on fares is being able to break your journey. Not only to change trains where a break of journey is needed. If you’re boarding any of the Leeds trains that call at Stalybridge, you could call in the famous Buffet Bar. Then board another train to Leeds.
Best for affordability
Cityzap offers the most affordable way of travelling between the two cities. What’s more, you can also use your ENCTS pass along the full route. If you’re paying the £9.00 return fare, the fact it is valid for a calendar month makes a cheap and cheerful city break possible. For another 50p you could take a day trip to York or Harrogate, changing at Leeds for the 843 or the 36 routes. Plus countless other Transdev bus routes in Northern England. For £9.50, you could go from Whitby to Manchester and change once!
Best for speed
Even under pre-HS3/NPR conditions, Transpennine Express offers the fastest route into Leeds from Manchester railway stations. 48 or 57 minutes (latter time including a stop at Stalybridge), it gives road based transport a run for its money. In most cases, a viable alternative to being stuck on the M62. Especially in winter.
Most scenic journey
This is a tough one because all four options afford splendid views across the Pennines. The Transpennine Express route is at its most scenic between Stalybridge and Huddersfield. By road, the M62 offers stunning moorside views (with Scammonden Bridge its crowning glory). On the downside, not the best of journeys to make with high winds and heavy rain beating on the coach or bus.
If time isn’t an issue, the Calder Valley line offers a more splendid route. Whether you’re sat on a Class 158 or stood up on a Pacer unit, the journey via Summit tunnel covers both rural and industrial settings. It runs at a gentle enough pace to allow you to admire George Stephenson’s handiwork. Especially once you’ve passed Littleborough station up to Hebden Bridge. Take in how he managed to hem in a double track railway alongside a river, a canal, and an arterial road.
Which way now?
It depends on whether you prefer flexibility or economy. With its wealth of journey options from central Manchester, the train would be many casual traveller’s go-to option for public transport.
For economy, Cityzap could provide a useful budget option. Its £9.00 walk-on fare should be popular with day trippers. Its acceptance of ENCTS passes, even more so for senior citizens wanting to travel quickly at no cost. Not only across the whole stretch from Manchester to Leeds but also Chadderton to Manchester. The journey on Cityzap between the two places is 17 minutes, compared with 31 minutes on First Greater Manchester’s 182 service.
At one end, Cityzap could encourage National Express to raise their game. Cost-conscious passengers – students, young families, and senior citizens – have turned to the coach as a rail alternative. In the last decade, National Express has faced competition from Megabus and advance purchase rail fares. If you have a concessionary pass, you could find free or reduced rate travel as a trade off for slower journey times. Like the railways, you need to pay for a discount card to get a discount on National Express coach fares. On Cityzap? Just scan your ENCTS card.
Realistically, with eight trains per hour in the daytime (four at Victoria and four at Piccadilly), there’s no competition compared with a Cityzap every hour (or half hourly). The railways will retain its niche among short distance business travellers and commuters between Manchester and Leeds. The Calder Valley train service caters for local passengers and commuters alike.
There is also another factor besides flexibility and economy: the waiting environment. Whereas Leeds City Bus Station is an airy facility for local routes and National Express coaches, the same cannot be said of Chorlton Street. Even with modernisation work in 2002, it still has a grim ambience: a poor first impression of Manchester city centre.
Compare and contrast with Manchester Piccadilly station’s concourse. Or even Manchester Victoria station in the last year. Cityzap’s bus stop (EZ on Chorlton Street) is nothing on Rochdale station, let alone the mainline termini. The reasons for which are understandable. One, it is cheaper than paying National Express’ fees for using the coach station. Two, Transdev already use Stand EZ for the Witch Way and Red Express routes. Using the said stand offers more connection opportunities with Lancashire.
Cityzap’s launch could ruffle a few feathers. Once operations begin on the 04 November, we await developments with great interest. As a means of getting to the Christmas markets from Leeds (without standing up for fifty minutes), its launch date could be a masterstroke.
S.V., 27 October 2017.