From Bee Line Buzz Company to the Rochdale Runners

As we know that Greater Manchester’s franchised buses will be in yellow and black, it is worth noting that yellow buses are far from novel in our City Region. Historically, they have orange and white, white, orange and brown, and several other colours before then. None of them being in yellow till The Bee Line Buzz Company came on to the scene.

If you are over 30 years of age, yellow (with white and black) conjures up images of Tyne and Wear PTE buses. Tyneside PTE – when launched under its original name – chose the white, yellow and black of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Corporation. Instead of Verona Green and Jonquil, Merseytravel PTE chose yellow, white and black with some grey for its trains. Confusingly, our fellows in the North East chose a similar scheme for its Pacer units. With a bit of blue relief instead of black. As for the standard Tyne and Wear Metro livery, that was in the same colour as the Passenger Transport Executive’s buses.

It is for similar reasons why Greater Manchester’s buses will share the same livery as its trams. That of one unified network across the City Region. Outside of Greater London, the closest thing Great Britain has to London-style ticketing is the Pop Cards. These offer seamless travel within NEXUS Integrated Transport Authority boundaries from Sunderland to Blyth.

A journey from Tynemouth to South Shields can be made by a combination of bus, Metro and The Shields Ferry. You could get the Metro to North Shields and change for the ferry. After the ferry finishes, you could use it on the bus from South Shields to Tynemouth. Or transfer to the bus at Gateshead or Haymarket Bus Station. It is no surprise as to why public transport patronage per head is higher in that part of the UK outside Greater London.

There is also another reason as to why yellow and black was chosen for Transport for Greater Manchester’s franchised buses. For people with visual impairments, black text on a yellow background is easy to read. Similarly, a black M-blem 2.0 could be seen at greater distance on yellow than a white one. TfGM’s Pantograph typeface is easy to pick out on yellow, as seen on Metrolink signage. It is also why the Department for Transport uses this colour combination and Margaret Calvert’s Transport typeface for diversionary signs on any type of road.

Taking us to the past, we shall dust down our Clippercard wallet or our Saver Travel Club photo card and look at Greater Manchester’s Yellow Buses Through The Ages.

The Bee Line Buzz Company

Whether you remember its Promising Formative Years or its careworn middle age of secondhand double deckers, The Bee Line Buzz Company made an immediate impact with its red topped yellow and black minibuses. Instead of two double decker buses an hour, a bus route could have eight minibuses an hour. With smaller and narrower buses, this meant they can use smaller streets instead of main roads.

On one hand, operators could steal a march on their rivals by connecting the parts that others didn’t reach. On the other hand, these narrow streets could become more profitable than the main roads, leading to the loss of a more direct route in favour of a direct yet more circuitous replacement.

From 1987 to 1998, their flame flickered briefly. Especially in their formative years with its minibuses inspiring GM Buses’ Little GeM (at the expense of locally branded minibus routes). Formed in 1987 by Manchester Minibuses, they were a subsidiary of BET’s United Transport arm – basically what was left of the once mighty British Electric Traction. Soon, it was sold to Ribble, who in turn sold out to Stagecoach Holdings in 1989. Shortly afterwards, Drawlane (later British Bus and today’s Arriva) took over after Stagecoach sold its Bee Line operations.

With British Bus, there was greater integration between Bee Line and its sister North Western operation. Hence a Bee Line yellow and red version of the 1986 North Western livery. By 1997, Bee Line and North Western lost their separate liveries in favour of one that covered both liveries. This was later superseded by the cow horns of Arriva’s standard cream and turquoise livery.

Pennine/Potteries Motor Traction

Second only to Bee Line, Pennine made inroads into Tameside’s and South Manchester’s bus network. Formed in March 1990 by Brian Corbett as Pennine Blue, the original livery was inspired by Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation’s final livery of blue and cream. Whether on their Bristol REs or later Baby Blue minibuses, it was a most attractive one.

By 1993, Badgerline took a bigger slice of Greater Manchester’s bus network. After winning GMPTE tenders as part of its low-cost Red Rider network, they took over Pennine Blue with a blue and yellow version of Pennine’s livery. This was short-lived as control of Pennine’s operations moved from Denton and Dukinfield to Newcastle-under-Lyme – the Hobson Street of Potteries Motor Traction fame. Soon, many of Pennine Blue’s fascinating fleet was replaced by Bristol VRs, Eastern Coach Works and Roe bodied Leyland Olympians. Also in their place was PMT’s Knype bodied minibuses and some new M-reg Dennis Dart single deckers – in Plaxton Pointer and Marshall bodywork styles.

The most tangible change besides its rolling stock was a switch of livery. To the yellow and red of Potteries Motor Traction – adopted after PMT was sold to its management. Nevertheless, PMT’s livery looked attractive on its rolling stock, especially on the new Dennis Dart. A neat touch was the cartoon badger that Badgerline used to add to the bottom of all its buses.

Pennine’s yellow and red livery was in use till 2001. By then, control transferred from Newcastle-under-Lyme to First Manchester’s Oldham depot, making way for its Tomato Soup livery. Tameside’s last link with Pennine ceased on the 23 April 2018 when the Pennine Depot Team’s Broadway garage closed.

Stuart’s Bus and Coach

Before First Pennine took on Rothesay Garage on Broadway, Dukinfield, it was the last depot of Stuart’s Bus and Coach till its demise in 1998. At the time, Stuart’s Bus and Coach had a modern white livery with a red, green and yellow diagonal stripe.

When deregulated operations began, Stuart’s Bus and Coach’s vehicles had a predominantly yellow and white livery. Design-wise, a halfway house between a standard 1980s coach with a diagonal sweep and the livery of Graham’s Bus Service in Paisley. As for the early bus fleet, many of them were secondhand purchases from Grampian Regional Transport with Alexander bodywork.

JPT Travel

In its twilight years, JPT Travel shunned the blue and silver for a vibrant yellow and blue livery. Inspired by Yellow Buses’ 1980s livery, the only thing distinguishable from Bournemouth’s buses was the JPT lettering in Crillee Black.

The then-new livery looked good on an Enviro400 named Charlotte, a new purchase from 2009 which reflected the operator’s ambitions. It looked good on their Plaxton Primos and Enviro200s. At worst, we couldn’t forgive them for the design fail of a big Day Saver £2.50 sign on the front window of one of their double deckers.

On a melancholy note, it reflects a time when expansion saw a loss of quality control. Some buses started reaching their Joshua Lane depot without repainting into JPT’s smart livery. It was also applied to the fleet of sister company Eurobus, for competitive routes along the Rochdale Road corridor (short journeys of the 17 route).

By April 2014, the yellow and blue started to give way to Stagecoach Greater Manchester’s beach ball livery.

Cumfybus

Though Cumfybus have ceased operations in Greater Manchester, they are very much alive and well in Merseyside. The company has two depots in Aintree and Southport and their buses are still in yellow.

Cumfybus’ yellow seems to be the same shade of yellow as the Metrolink livery. Excluding Cumfybus’ wavy text, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘a TfGM M-Blem 2.0 would be nice beside the entrance’. Not convinced? You already have a precedent with the buses used on Manchester’s Free Bus service (late Centreline or Metroshuttle to some of us old timers).

Burnley Bus Company (Rochdale Runners)

Unlike Stott’s Tours or Vision Bus for example, Transdev Blazefield seldom do ‘one size fits all’ liveries. They subscribe to the theory of each bus route or group of routes being a marketable brand. Its aim is so passengers can identify well with their local buses (I mean, how many people say Witch Way or “that Witch bus” instead of X43 these days?).

In Transdevvania (sorry, Lancashire), Bury is home to the Bury Bolts. Rochdale is home to the Rochdale Runners, a collection of R-prefixed local routes like the R1 to Syke (formerly the 440). The Rochdale Runners have a bright yellow and orange livery which make them easy to pick out at great distances. Especially when your bus to Norden has to be picked out between seven electric blue Diamond buses on the 163 route.

With a bit of imagination (kudos to Best Impressions’ expertise there), the yellow and orange livery looks more like a regular service bus instead of a school bus. A version of the Rochdale Runners livery (with GMT orange) would have been superb for our buses, maintaining a link with the past as well as its franchised future.

The Coachmasters

Perhaps Transdev Blazefield’s design influences in the Rochdale Runners livery could be inspired by two operators from this part of Lancashire. One of them being the recently revived (and almost as classy as Hubert Allen era) Yelloway. Another one could be Houston Ramm’s The Coachmasters.

After doing a long bus route from Wigan to Rochdale (the 456), The Coachmasters expanded by means of schools contracts and National Express work. By 2010 they started applying for GMPTE tendered routes, taking over the 346’s evening journeys from Checkmate Coaches in July. Newly acquired Enviro200 midibuses were seen on the service from Ashton-under-Lyne to Gee Cross.

With their smart yellow buses, they could have a been a window into franchised operations in Tameside. Instead, after the company was struck off the Companies House register on the 30 November 2010, The Coachmasters ceased bus operations the following year. As for the 346, First Pioneer took on its evening journeys before the tender was taken over by Stagecoach Greater Manchester.

Stevensons of Uttoxeter

During their deregulation era expansion, the yellow, white and black of Stevensons of Uttoxeter was a familiar sight in central Manchester. They were seen on some journeys of the 130 from Manchester to Macclesfield. Like The Bee Line Buzz Company, they were taken over by British Bus in 1994, becoming what is now Arriva Midlands.

What is slightly less well known is its link with one of Greater Manchester’s most iconic bus and coach operators. Before joining Stevensons of Uttoxeter, a certain Julian Peddle worked for Mayne of Manchester as Traffic Manager from 1978 to 1980. Today, he is a shareholder of High Peak Buses, Midland Classic and Centrebus.

In the 1980s, its livery was nearly all yellow with a thick black and white diagonal stripe. A similar livery – in red and cream – was applied to one of Mayne of Manchester’s Londoner style Daimler Fleetlines. Needless to say, they went for a more traditional expression of the red and cream livery which worked better.

GM Buses North

Hold the phone…! Did GM Buses North have yellow buses??? Before you all hyperventilate, only one GM Buses North vehicle had a yellow livery. That was 4373, ORJ 373W, a Northern Counties bodied Leyland Atlantean that first entered service at Weaste depot as 8373.

In addition to its orange, grey and whortleberry livery, there was plans by GM Buses North to start a low-cost arm. This, presumably was based on the low-cost operating unit at Oldham, and mooted as a successor for Citibus’ operations.

What would have happened was that more cheaper and more cheerful GM Buses North routes would have been in a yellow version of the regular GM Buses North livery. Initially, the grey strip would have been a blue one (again with a link to Citibus), and these may have charged lower fares Magic Bus style.

In the end, this never came to fruition. 4373 was a regular performer on Tameside and Oldham routes in 1996 and 1997. Usually on the 331 and 333 Ashton circulars and on the 343 route’s daytime journeys. (GMS Buses did the Sunday service with Glossopdale on evening journeys back then).

Nexus Move

The final one is our cover star on this blog post: LK66 EHY. At present, Nexus Move’s buses has no standard livery. They are usually in the liveries each vehicle initially came in, with the exception of Saddleworth Rambler Volkswagen minibus, MX67 GYW. This retains the branding of Saddleworth Rambler‘s original premise, as a shuttle bus from Saddleworth villages to Greenfield station.

Painted in yellow and green, LK66 EHY looks like a foretaste of what we might receive on our rural routes. In TfGM’s future yellow and black livery, though without the green end.

Before I go…

Can you name any other examples of Greater Manchester operators that have had yellow buses well before this year, never mind 2024? Please note that school buses in dedicated Yellow School Bus livery are excluded from this subject area.

S.V., 12 May 2021.

4 thoughts on “Greater Manchester’s Yellow Buses Through The Ages

  1. Nexus move have 2 in yellow other is LK66EHW rear route number on side of rear window

    GM buses 4373 also did 355 and old 387 routes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I go back to a holiday eons ago when I saw yellow buses up and down the promenade that carried the rather catchy name of “Flying Banana”.

    Like

    1. Hi Paul,

      That was Great Yarmouth where you saw yellow open-top buses along the promenade. When I last went to the resort in 2006, First Eastern Counties had open-top AEC Routemasters on the route from North Denes to Nelson’s Monument/Pleasure Beach. One of them was painted in Flying Banana’s livery.

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

      Like

  3. GMBN did have a special yellow liveried Route 135/136 single decker, M275 NVM, it was a Northern Counties Paladin bodied Volvo B6. Based at Bury depot, but had a short spell at Bolton too around late 1995/early 1996 if I recall.

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