Just weeks after Stagecoach Manchester brought the first cross-city bus route in years to Manchester when it extended the 50 to Salford Quays, First Manchester is set to catch the bug by extending one of its own services beyond the city centre.
From the 28th of October, the 18 (Manchester – Langley) will be extended beyond Shudehill Interchange to Manchester Royal Infirmary via Piccadilly Gardens and Oxford Road.
Cross-city services have a long history in Manchester. Stuart Vallantine wrote in 2008 that they date back as far as the 1920s. More recently, the 1990s saw services stretching across the city region from, for example, Chorlton to Oldham (a journey that has recently been made possible again thanks to Metrolink). The last cross-city services I can remember were the 64/65 routes operated by First Manchester, which until around the year 2000 (if memory serves me right) ran between Eccles and Middleton via Manchester.
Since then, aside from a few limited stop services from Lancashire and West Yorkshire extending beyond the city centre to the Trafford Centre for Christmas shopping, and a few peak journeys on Bluebird’s 77 extending to Grosvenor Street near the Metropolitan University, we’ve had a dry few years for this type of route.
What killed them off? It could have been that city centre road planning since the 1996 bomb made it difficult to reliably run buses right through and out the other side, or maybe the increasingly consolidated bus operator landscape meant companies were keen to ‘stick to what they know’ and not challenge well-resourced rivals in other parts of the region. Whatever the reason, Manchester is quite unusual amongst UK cities in not having a core network of cross-city routes.
The TfGM-led Bus Priority project aims to make it easier for buses to be routed across Manchester city centre, with routes planned to run from Middleton, Atherton and Leigh to Manchester Royal Infirmary, but that isn’t scheduled to be ready to be ready until 2015. With the extension of the 18, First has given the plans an early boost, providing a link between Middleton and the MRI before the city centre is fully ‘prepared’ for it.
Cross-city routes could do a lot for competition in Greater Manchester, especially on pricing. For example, First is notorious for its high fares in the north of the city; a few route extensions for Arriva and Stagecoach services from the south could help bring those down.
Who’s going to be brave enough to take the plunge and make the next big cross-city expansion?
Image credit: Mr MPD