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When Margaret Thatcher privatised bus services in 1986, her aim was to encourage competition and consequently bring about an improvement in service quality. In the beginning it seemed there was a deterioration in service. Any Tom Dick or Harry, it seemed, could go out, buy a bus and set up as a private operator - that's what Ann Gloag did and look where it got her.

There are well over 50 companies operating local bus services in Greater Manchester - nearly 70 if you include school bus operators
220 million passenger trips are made each year in Greater Manchester
There are ten bus stands in and around Piccadilly, plus another ten on Cannon Street (above)
On average, there are 312 bus movements per hour from Piccadilly
Buses in Greater Manchester cover 80 million miles per year, a quarter of the way to the moon - that's 200,000 miles per day
Thanks to GMPTE for providing these figures

Recently, things have been improving. The private companies have been ordering brand new buses designed to attract people to ride with them:

Stagecoach has a whole fleet of Scottish-built Alexander double decker buses and single deckers, well designed and worthy successors, I think, to the best buses of old
FirstBus recently introduced a very eye-catching articulated bus onto its 135 Bury-Manchester route. It's nice despite the sugary colour scheme
UK North, previously known for their smoke-belching vehicles of early eighties vintage have been introducing sleek, ergonomic new V-registered double deckers on the high-capacity student route down Oxford Rd and Wilmslow Road.
Mayne - who incidentally were never taken over by Selnec and GMT - have also introduced futuristic new buses though in their more traditional style livery
Bluebird - with home I travelled to and from MANCAT Moston on refurbished single-deckers, have now introduced brand new single and double deckers in their attractive blue livery
Bullocks, based in Cheadle, have also stuck to a reassuringly traditional livery of red and cream, and operate some attractively old-fashioned-looking rear-engined double deckers on routes routes round Stockport and south Manchester.

So what of the future? The future is often, actually, a return to the past, correcting the mistakes of the past.

Who, for instance, decided to get rid of trams - Manchester's last tram made its final journey in 1949 before the return of the Metrolink in 1992. And what forward-looking manager decided that trolleybuses should be axed? I can just about remember seeing them in Piccadilly - they were gone by 1962. Maybe if I'd been old enough to comment, and had been saying "Keep the trams, keep the trolleybuses" I would have been regarded as a crank, or a backward-looking nostalgia-buff.

Salzburg trolleybuses - why can't we have them here?

But if you go to Salzburg, Austria, today, you'll see trolleybuses in daily use, and most cities in central Europe have tram systems much better than ours. For over 30 years, they've had flat fare tickets for one journey via tram, bus or train, they have cheap weekly and monthly tickets. They have more cars than we have, but they use them less.

Where did we go wrong?


Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 13:03:56 +0100
From: Dominic Scaife <>
Subject: re: bus transport... Where did we go wrong?

Dear Aidan, As a regular user of the buses in Regensburg (Germany), I was interested to read your report and views on the buses in Manchester.

I am convinced that it would be an excellent thing to send the Manchester transport planners...

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We went wrong because of the short-sighted, ill-informed, unimaginitive decisions of people in positions of authority who should have known better, influenced by passing fashion and by those interested in material gain at the expense of the common good.

Those bad decisions are still being made today, but we, who have opinions on these things, should try and encourage lateral thinking and greater public awareness.

So, to conclude, I've got a few suggestions which will some will regard as impractical, backward-looking and downright silly:

  • Re-introduce the classic front-engined, rear-platform, two-man British double decker bus, as still used in London. Re-tool the factory and start manufacturing them again, keeping the best points of the design, but using modern materials. Use these buses to supplement one-man buses of more contemporary design, particularly on high-volume routes.
  • Re-introduce bus conductors on as many routes as possible.
  • Re-introduce trolleybuses in Manchester, and have them running through the new city centre and out into the suburbs.
  • Develop a powerful and attractive corporate identity for public transport - the London Transport logo and ident, developed in the 1920's and 30's, and the Smart Bus system on Merseyside, are good examples. It should combine diversity with a unified message of quality, reliability, good design, innovation and style.
  • Introduce a unified ticketing system, so you can go from bus to train to tram on one journey, and use a low-price monthly ticket to access the whole system.
  • Stop punishing car drivers - yes, it seems to go against the fashion in this age of scapegoatism, however, penalising the car-driving public through higher parking charges and draconian parking policies won't improve public transport or reduce congestion.

  • Abolish road tax. Yes, even more of a contradiction, but if, you then introduce congestion charging as a replacement for road tax, people will have to pay more to drive their car on high-demand roads, encouraging a switch to other transport methods, while those in rural districts, who rely on their car, aren't penalised.
  • Borrow against future income from congestion charging and use it to build a superb public transport now. Congestion charging is part of Government policy, but not borrowing against the future income it will bring.
  • Engage in a high profile PR campaign to promote the new public transport system, but don't alienate the car driving public. Here are a couple of ideas - they could also be used for other forms of public transport:

From: Stuart Cunningham
Subject: Trams, Trolleys, and other nostalgia
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 08:09:24 -0600

Dear Aidan: As a boy I lived on Manchester Road, Denton. I used to think of Crown Point, a few blocks to the East, as the center of the...

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Enjoy driving more - take the bus!
Driving can be a pleasure, but sitting in a traffic jam isn't much fun, so if more of us take the bus, it will leave the roads clearer for those who for various reasons have to use their car. Try it, you'll be surprised at how comfortable, quick and affordable it's become to travel by bus

Bury QTVR panorama

Take the car if you need to, take the bus if you don't!
Journeys are divided into two types: those which can only be made by car, and those which could be made by car or bus. If your journey falls into the latter category, you may be surprised at how quick, convenient and inexpensive travelling by bus has become. By taking the bus you'll be helping to improve the flow of traffic, and you'll be getting more exercise and reducing pollution too. So why not give it a try.


Book: "Looking back at Buses, Trams and Trolley buses around Manchester" by Ken Healey, published by Willow Publishing"

Shop: The Ian Allan bookshop, near the bottom of Piccadilly Station Approach is an Aladdin's cave for bus and public transport enthusiasts, even part times ones like me! They've got a fascinating selection of books, many of local interest, with some tempting model buses in the window, some in the local liveries past and present.

Museum: Museum of Transport on Boyle Street - it's at the top end of the Queens Road bus depot, near the junction of Queens Road and Cheetham Hill Road, Cheetham Hill. You can also visit the Bury Transport museum, opposite the East Lancashire Railway, open on Sundays only.

Website: Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive:

There's also small but committed group of people who campaign on public transport issues, they're the Greater Manchester Transport Action Group, who have a section on the Civic Society website.

That's all from me - I'm off on the bus to have a look at the new city centre, due to be opened officially next Wednesday evening. It's a big improvement on what was there before, but I won't be joining in the universal tone of self-congratulation, because... well, you'll have to wait and see!

Greetings from a cold and clear Manchester on Thursday 18 November 1999, uploaded 4.19pm.


From: Ihor
To: Aidan O'Rourke
Subject: Buses
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 02:22:38 -0800

In light of Prescotts' report, your views beg due consideration. As you know on this subject, I am in total agreement. The new M60 motorway being built will be grossly inadequate in 18 months. Two lanes? A better example of short sightedness I have yet to witness. The minimum I have discovered is three lanes plus a carpool MOV lane (Multiple Occupancy Vehicle)

Here in L.A. we have the space and the money. yet LA has its congestion problems. We won that award again this year. Keep the cry for sanity going on Aidan, you are not alone.

Ihor Los Angeles

Yes, will do! AOR

Join Aidan on his Manchester Photo Walk.
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