Bus Week: Buses – bringing freedom
One of my early memories is of being at Hyde bus station with my mum and sister, boarding the 346 bus to take us home. As I board I stretch up to the driver and hand my shiny new ten pence coin and pay my fare. We then sit at the back of the bus for the short journey back to our house.
What happened to the square yellow ticket I would have been given, the purple ink letters on it smudged as it was issued out of the ticket machine, I don’t know. But I remember stretching up and holding out the coin, feeling all grown up. A few years later, the fare went up to 12p.
Fast forward a bit to my early teenage years and buses were a symbol of my new found independence. No longer was I tied down to going out with my parents – now I could head off by myself, a plethora of destinations available from the bus shelter down the road.
For a flat fare of thirty pence I could go all over the place. Stuarts Buses’s 209 would take me all the way to Manchester on their rickety buses, the age of the vehicle disguised by a series of “personalised” number plates – a technique used by several companies. Even then I remember the thrill of being bounced around on those buses, which always had a slightly dodgy feel about them – indeed maintenance would be part of Stuarts’s undoing. Many years later the company shut down, partly thanks to windows falling out of two of their buses whilst in service.
From the same bus stop I could also head to Stockport on Pennine Blue’s 334 service which, connected the town with Stalybridge.
Pennine Blue were a company made up of ex-GM Buses drivers who aggressively went after their former employers routes. One of those they targeted was the 346, running their buses five minutes before those of GM Buses. Suddenly a simple urban bus route now had eight buses an hour running along it, many running empty.
But as a teenager I always preferred the Pennine Blue buses. Their early motley assortment of Bristol RE single decker buses looked smart in their blue and cream livery, a colour scheme that would have reminded some older residents of the former Ashton Corporation buses which disappeared in the 1960s.
And they had character. At Christmas the company would put tinsle and baubles up. It all felt very different and exciting compared to GM Buses’s rather standard and uniform fleet.
And the 334 was a good bus route, enabling me to wander aimlessly round Stockport’s shopping district on those heady Saturday afternoons.
For my early teens it was the bus that gave me independence; the ability to go wherever I wanted to, see whatever I wanted to see. And it allowed me to do it an affordable price.
But inevitably times changed. Hitting the age of 16 I could no longer get those ultra cheap fares. The train from my local station could take me to Manchester for a similar price to the bus but at much greater speed.
And inevitably there was the difference that passing my driving test made. Whilst I never had my own car (and to this day, never have) the ability to move around at my convenience was far easier. Just as long as I could borrow my mum’s car anyway.
Despite living in London with its amazing bus network, I’ve long since given up on buses for exploration. Too slow thanks to the traffic. Much better to travel by tube, train or tram. And longer journeys out on clearer roads tend to see me get travel sickness for reasons (as does being in the back seat of a car for that matter.) Now the bus is a means to an end. A functional service. Nothing exciting.
Most of the time.
For it’s when in a strange new town that the bus still comes into its own. What better way to get a feel of a city like Vancouver in Canada than to sit on the bus and look out of its windows as the world goes by?
Now if only the fare was still 12p…