A century ago, trams were a common sight in towns and cities across the United Kingdom. Fifty years later only one system survived, in the seaside town of Blackpool. More recently, trams have had a limited revival, reappearing in five towns and cities across England and, most recently, one in Scotland.
The city of Manchester was the first in the UK to reintroduce trams, its system opening in 1992.
Manchester Metrolink initially comprised two lines, to Altrincham and Bury. The system has since gained several extensions, with further expansion planned.
Parts of the Metrolink system, including both the original sections, were created by converting suburban railway lines to tram operation.
The system was therefore designed for high-floor trams to provide level access at railway stations.
As a result, in Manchester city centre where the trams run on-street, high platforms have been built to provide level access on and off the trams.
Beyond the city centre, the tram system operates on a mixture of converted railway lines, purpose-built segregated infrastructure and on-street.
There are also plenty of buses in central Manchester. However, there isn't a single, co-ordinated network. Bus operators have freedom to decide when and where to operate. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) provides bus stops and bus stations, and subsidises individual bus services where operators do not provide them commercially.
Of the private bus operators which run into Manchester, Stagecoach is the largest.
In April 2014, many of the Stagecoach buses I saw in Manchester were hybrid-powered double-deckers. The hybrid buses carry a green-based version of Stagecoach livery.
As is usual in the UK outside London, the buses have just one set of doors.
On some services, the buses carried dedicated branding.
This image was taken at the busy TfGM-operated bus station in Piccadilly Gardens, in the heart of Manchester.
Route 192 operates along a busy corridor south east from Manchester to Stockport and beyond.
The service operates at very high frequency, with a bus about every 3 minutes during the daytimes.
At that intensity, it is not surprising to find two buses running together.
As well as hybrids, there were some standard diesel-powered double-deckers to be seen. Some of these also carry route-specific branding.
Stagecoach also operate single-deckers on some services into central Manchester.
TfGM has supported clean technology by buying hybrid buses, then supplying them to operators running TfGM-subsidised services.
Stagecoach were one of the operators using TfGM-supplied hybrids when I visited Manchester.
At first sight, Magic Bus might appear to be a competitor to Stagecoach.
Magic Bus operates alongside Stagecoach-branded services from Manchester city centre towards the universities and beyond, generally using older buses and charging lower fares.
In fact, Magic Bus is a brand of Stagecoach.
It may seem odd that Stagecoach appears to compete against itself in this way but, by having its own low-fare service on this busy corridor, it may deter low-cost competitors from running buses along this route.
At the time of writing, a journey on Magic Bus costs £1 for any distance. The same journey on the Stagecoach-branded bus would cost between £1.40 and £2.60 depending on how far you travel.
Stagecoach period tickets are valid on both services. Magic Bus period tickets, which are cheaper, are valid only on Magic Bus.
First also operate a large number of buses into the centre of Manchester.
I did notice a small number of hybrid-powered double-deckers operated by First.
These carry a silver-based version of First livery.
I also found single-deckers were very much in evidence.
Although many of the buses carried First's latest livery, some of the older vehicles still wore an earlier version.
Like Stagecoach, First was operating hybrid buses supplied by TfGM on services which are operated with TfGM subsidy.
Articulated buses are not a common sight in the UK, but First operates a small fleet of them on route 135, linking Manchester with Bury.
This service operates along broadly the same corridor as Metrolink.
These buses have two sets of doors.
Although much less prominent than Stagecoach or First, Arriva operate a small number of services into Manchester city centre.
Like First and Stagecoach, Arriva use a mix of single-deck and double-deck buses in Manchester.
Arriva's double-deck fleet includes hybrid-powered buses.
These can be identified by their green-based livery.
Smaller operators also provide bus services in Manchester. Over the years, a number of companies have come and gone but some continue to operate into the centre of Manchester.
Manchester Community Transport (MCT) is an example of smaller operator which continues to provide bus services in and around Manchester, including into the city centre. MCT operates as a social enterprise.
Route 44 is subsidised by TfGM, who have supplied hybrid-powered buses to MCT for the service.
Route 147 links Manchester Piccadilly railway station with several of Manchester's higher education establishments. The service is subsidised by the universities and colleges it serves. It does not run at weekends.
The service is operated by Bullock's Coaches with hybrid double-deckers. The operator has treated the buses to "personalised" registration marks, such as BU11OCS (right) and BU11OKK (below).
Metroshuttle - Manchester's free shuttle buses
Three free bus routes operate around Manchester city centre, linking railway stations, shopping centres, museums and other attractions.
The services are branded as Metroshuttle. The services are operated by First, using hybrid-powered buses supplied by TfGM.
Buses on Metroshuttle 1 can usually be identified by their orange branding.
Green is the colour used for Metroshuttle 2.
The buses used on Metroshuttle 2 are smaller than those on routes 1 and 3.
Metroshuttle 3 is branded purple.
Not all Metroshuttle vehicles carry the route-specific colours.
This allows the operator some flexibility to cover for buses which are undergoing repair or maintenance.
The Metroshuttle services operate from early morning until early evening.
Routes 1 and 2 operate seven days a week, however route 3 does not operate on Sundays.
Limited stop services from towns beyond the Greater Manchester area are provided by several operators.
The Witch Way links Manchester with the towns of Rawtenstall, Burnley and Nelson to the north. Buses generally run every 15 minutes to Rawtenstall and Burnley, and half-hourly to Nelson. Evening and Sunday services are less frequent.
High-specification double-deckers with leather seating and free wi-fi are operated. The buses carry distinctive branding.
In Manchester, buses terminate opposite the long-distance coach station.
The Witch Way is one of two services into Manchester which is operated by Transdev.
Transdev's second service, linking Manchester with Accrington and Blackburn, is branded as The Lancashire Way.
High-specification double-deckers with free wi-fi are operated.
From the coach station itself, the TransPeak service runs 4-5 times per day south eastwards, into the Peak District National Park, linking Manchester with Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock and Derby.
Fares and ticketing
There is no unified fare structure for bus and tram travel in Manchester. Each operator sets its own fare scales. Single fares generally vary according to the distance travelled. Some operators may offer return tickets (valid only on their own services), others may not. One-day, weekly and longer period tickets, again valid only on the services of one operator (or sometimes only on specific services), are generally also available.
There is little integration between Metrolink and the bus services. Bus routes are not designed to feed into the Metrolink system, and single tickets allowing interchange from bus to tram (or vice versa) are not available.
One-day tickets allowing travel on any bus irrespective of operator, and on Metrolink and local rail services, are promoted by TfGM under the System One brand. A one-day ticket valid all day is available for buses only. There are also off-peak versions, which are not valid before 09:30 on Mondays to Fridays. The off-peak tickets vary in price depending on which mode(s) of travel are used - they are available for bus-only, bus-and-tram, bus-and-train, tram-and-train or, the most expensive version, on all three modes.
Weekly, monthly and annual tickets are also available for bus-only or bus-and-train, but they only permit travel by tram within the centre of Manchester. As far as I can tell, period tickets combining travel over the wider tram network with bus and/or train are not available.
This post and the images it contains reflect what I found in Manchester in April 2014. The regulatory regime covering public transport in Manchester may be about to change.
Greater Manchester is set to receive greater powers devolved from the UK Government, including powers over transport. This may see the introduction of a more regulated, more co-ordinated transport network in place of the deregulated regime under which buses in the city have operated since 1986.
All of the trams and buses I noted during my visit to Manchester were fully wheelchair-accessible, with one exception.
Vintage buses are a popular choice for wedding parties with a number of organisations earning income from hiring them out. I stumbled across this vehicle, built in 1959, waiting to transport wedding guests.