Bus Franchising Scheme to begin a year earlier than expected

Greater Manchester’s Bus Franchising Scheme is set to start a year earlier than anticipated. With the pandemic, it was envisaged that franchised operations would begin in Sub-Area A in 2023, with Sub-Areas B and C following suit in 2024 and 2025. This morning [10 May 2021], it was announced that a fully franchised bus network will be in operation by 2024.

Apart from being a year earlier than the timetable in Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s second consultation, this more or less meets the deadline dates set in the 2019 consultation.

Though the earlier start for Greater Manchester’s Bus Franchising Scheme set the agenda for today’s announcement, there was two more noteworthy announcements. One was the extension of our Metrolink system. Another was the one thing that our City Region’s bus geeks was dying to hear: the colour of our buses.

Trams to Middleton?

By the 2030s, Middleton could be part of the Metrolink network. Subject to a successful business case and available funding due next year, it is assumed that Middleton’s trams would use a new line north of Heaton Park tram stop. This would finish at Westwood, allowing for stations in Rhodes, Mills Hill and Chadderton as well as Middleton.

A future Metrolink route between Heaton Park and the western part of Oldham may follow the 59 bus route in some part.

This is not the first time that Middleton has been the subject of a light rail scheme. A Duorail system, if realised, would have seen monorails from Langley to Wythenshawe Civic Centre. The town last saw rail-based transport in 1965, when the branch from Middleton Junction closed. Middleton station closed to passengers on the 07 September 1964.

Still on the horizon are plans for trams to Bolton and Stockport. In the original Phase 3 Metrolink plans, the East Didsbury line would have terminated at Stockport. This would have followed the former Didsbury route up to its junction with Heaton Mersey and the Tiviot Dale line.

Plans for light rail/enhanced heavy rail to Bolton have been discussed since The Picc-Vic Project came to being. Back in 1972, it was expected that Radcliffe station would become a junction station again. This time with fast electric trains to Bolton [Trinity Street] station. In the last three years, plans for Metrolink trams have given us great potential for intermediate stops at Darcy Lever, Little Lever and Bradley Fold.

Yellow buses (or buzzes)?

The second biggest story is the realisation that Greater Manchester’s buses won’t be in the iconic white, orange and brown livery of Greater Manchester Transport and GM Buses.

By 2024, most of Greater Manchester’s will be decked in a yellow and black livery, presumably one inspired by the Free Bus shuttles. The reasons for yellow are threefold. Firstly: improved integration with Metrolink services as part of a zonal ticketing system. Secondly: the worker bee imagery of Manchester.

The third reason could well be neutrality. At present, no bus operator in Greater Manchester has a full yellow livery (since Cumfybus ceased doing TfGM tendered routes). Orange and white was chosen by SELNEC PTE for similar reasons back in 1969.

As noted in one of our previous articles, a video clip gave us a transition from Greater Manchester Transport buses to franchised buses via the deregulated system.

All change for Greater Manchester’s railway stations

In addition to Middletonian trams and yellow buses, the state of Greater Manchester’s railway stations haven’t escaped the attention of Andy Burnham. At present, only 40% of our City Region’s railway stations are fully accessible. Within that 60% is Levenshulme station, which is one of the busiest railway stations on the National Rail network to not have step-free access.

The office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester has given Network Rail four years to right this wrong. A wrong that has denied many passengers access to a nationwide rail network from their nearest station. If Network Rail fail to deliver after four years, Andy Burnham and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority could take control of our City Region’s railway stations.


With an increased majority from 62% to 67% in this year’s Mayoral Elections, Andy Burnham now has a mandate to give Greater Manchester the world class public transport network it deserves. One that is properly funded – hopefully with buses from Stalybridge to Hyde after 7pm – and safe cycle routes across our conurbation.

For Greater Manchester’s reelected Mayor Andy Burnham, it was the state of Greater Manchester’s expensive fares which inspired his decision. On his way to MediaCityUK today, Andy made his way on public transport from Middleton to MediaCityUK via Manchester city centre. On the 163 to Piccadilly Gardens, his fare was £2.55 – a pound more than London prices, where a £1.50 ticket covers a journey of similar distance.

Adding to the tram to his journey, expense wasn’t his only frustration; it was paying a premium to change modes. As he had to travel before 9.30am, System One’s £7.50 AnyBus and Tram ticket wasn’t available. For the average passenger, making this journey seven days a week would cost him or her £39.00 for a season ticket (or £129.00 for 28 days).

I shall let our reelected mayor explain things further. The subsequent responses are also worth reading.

What do you think?

Is bringing the Bus Franchising Scheme forward a year a good thing? Are you happy with the livery choice for Greater Manchester’s buses? Would you happily take a tram to Middleton in the near future? As always, feel free to comment.

S.V., 10 May 2021.

2 thoughts on “The Future’s Yellow: 2024 Start for Greater Manchester’s Publicly Controlled Buses

  1. In my archives, there is a paper-backed book called Middleton Tramways that was published (I think) in the 1960’s by an organisation based in Castleton. Middleton had links via the tramway system to a number of nearby towns. I think the tramway depot was somewhere near Hilton Fold Lane, not far from where Vitafoam has its mill complex.


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