Greater Manchester’s bus priority package

Posted: 17 December 2015 | Peter Boulton, Head of Programme Management, TfGM | No comments yet

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is currently making one of the largest investments in Greater Manchester’s bus network for decades. Over 25 miles of the bus network are being either created or improved as part of a £122 million ‘bus priority package’ to improve bus connections on three key corridors into the city centre. As TfGM’s Head of Programme Management Peter Boulton explains, this major transport scheme has been designed to focus on three key bus corridors and represents a major commitment to ensuring that bus passengers across the conurbation enjoy quicker and more reliable bus journeys for decades to come.

Greater Manchester’s bus priority package

Bus priority in Greater Manchester

Manchester city centre and the surrounding region is growing at a faster rate than ever before and investment in the transport network is keeping pace. A multi-million pound investment is underway to improve and expand the city’s Metrolink light-rail network, and with buses accounting for four in every five local public transport journeys, TfGM is committed to working with partners to invest in better bus services and infrastructure.

We particularly want to make bus travel a better experience by allowing cross city bus services to run directly through the heart of Manchester city centre – free from other traffic – so people won’t need to change buses. Taking in Leigh, Atherton and Salford in the west of the region, Middleton in the north and East Didsbury in the south, the ‘bus priority package’ aims to do just that.

The Leigh to Ellenbrook guided busway Alongside revolutionary changes to one of Manchester city centre’s busiest bus routes, Oxford Road, the flagship project of the package is undoubtedly Greater Manchester’s first guided busway.

This 4.5 mile guided busway will run along a former railway line between Leigh and Ellenbrook (in Salford), in the west of the conurbation. It will ensure a high quality, fast and reliable service which will link up with 15km of new, on-highway bus lanes on the East Lancs Road through Salford to provide improved connections between Leigh, Atherton and Tyldesley and Manchester city centre.

It’s important to note that these services will not simply terminate in the centre and turn back, but will carry on through to the Central Manchester Foundation Hospital site on Oxford Road while passing both the University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University sites. Increased access to these key employment, healthcare, education and recreational areas opens up more possibilities and options for thousands more people.

Working with our partners, Wigan Council, Salford City Council and Manchester City Council, this bus rapid transit scheme will also improve links between local communities along the route. Crucially, it will provide a quick, congestion-free service to and from Manchester and through to the heart of the city centre from areas that currently do not benefit from high quality direct public transport links.

The guided busway itself will be made up of two concrete tracks on which high quality buses – with guide wheels – will run. There will be gaps in the tracks where public footpaths and roads cross the busway.

Work is close to completion with services expected to start operating in early-2016. We want our passengers to experience a smooth ride and this is a primary objective for the construction of the guided busway. As such, we imposed a high specification for the finish of the concrete track. To achieve this, very precise criteria was set in regard to track gauge and alignment for the guideway. This includes a gauge width tolerance of +/-1mm. This is being achieved through a combination of onsite concrete slipforming, and innovative precision post-construction grinding and polishing of the concrete.

A quality service

Other UK BRT systems have rightly set the bar high in terms of quality of service, and in keeping with this we want to establish a high quality brand. The 14 stop busway – seven stops in each direction – will provide a huge step-up for local communities in terms of the service they will eventually enjoy. All stops will be fully accessible, and will include lighting, shelters, CCTV and real-time passenger information.

Integrating the busway with other modes of transport will be crucial. People need the right links to make sure they can make that all important ‘last-mile’. Greater Manchester is currently making multi-million pound investment to become a UK ‘cycle city’. Naturally, there will be covered cycle stands at each stop, along with improvements to adjacent cycling and walking routes – further encouraging more integrated and sustainable transport options.

Key features include a multi-user path which will run alongside the whole length of the busway for pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders. To encourage drivers to consider leaving their cars behind there will also be three free to use Park and Ride sites in key locations chosen for their convenience for drivers, providing a minimum of 440 parking spaces.

Busway services will also link in to the wider transport network, running close to the Metrolink stop at the city centre’s St Peter’s Square and Salford Crescent, Salford Central and Oxford Road train stations.

Passenger experience is key

In late-2014, following a comprehensive procurement process, TfGM was pleased to award the contract to run services on the route between Leigh, Salford and Manchester to First.

First has committed to running a premium commercial service – with no direct public subsidy – at their normal network prices. The service will be run using brand new, high quality double deck, low carbon emission vehicles that will be replaced every five years.

Passengers will be able to enjoy on-board ‘next stop’ audio and visual announcements and CCTV, alongside free Wi-Fi, climate control and high quality seating.

When fully completed, four services per hour will run from Atherton and four from Leigh, meaning that there will be eight services per hour in each direction between Tyldesley and Manchester city centre and crucially, Oxford Road, during the day, six days a week – with a less frequent service on Sundays.

Busway services will be able to run free from congestion so there will be a significant improvement in service reliability and journey time savings. Journey times are expected to improve between 5 and 10 minutes for short distance local journeys and up to around 30 minutes for longer distance journeys into Manchester. 

Working with the local community

At the heart of any successful transport network is the community. From the outset we’ve worked with the local communities to ensure that the final product reflected and catered to their needs and expectations as best we could. The guided busway runs through some rural areas and along a former railway route that is lined, in part, with residences so there has been a huge amount of stakeholder engagement throughout.

We made our environmental commitment clear from the outset, and a key feature of the scheme was the multi-user path. The 4.5m-wide path will be appropriately surfaced so that it can be used throughout the year by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, and separated from the busway tracks by a fence and hedgerow – in keeping with the area’s rural aspect. It was important to us that the busway retained the aesthetic identity of the area it passes through – not only does this ensure that the busway blends in with its surroundings, but it also provides passengers with a scenic journey.

Before we began construction we commissioned ecological experts to assess wildlife in the area and a great deal of work has been done, particularly to protect a population of Great Crested Newts and also to construct the scheme in a sustainable manner. We have also delivered on a commitment to recycle and re-use as much of the existing soil within the site and on the adjacent Forestry Commission site at Higher Folds as possible. This has meant that approximately 300,000m3 of soil has been redistributed within the confines of the project. If this soil had been disposed off-site it would have resulted in approximately 10,000 vehicle movements on the public highway. This approach has greatly reduced our carbon footprint and the number of heavy plant vehicles coming in and out of a largely residential area. Similarly, a key aspect of the slipforming process is the track grinding. In order to grind to such precision a large quantity of water is required. Rather than pump water in we recycled the water, again reducing the impact of the local habitat.

In partnership with the Forestry Commission, we are creating a new community woodland with around 35,000 trees in the Higher Folds area, adjacent to the route. Alongside local meadows, the woodland will greatly increase biodiversity and wildlife habitats in the area and create a real legacy for generations to come. We’ve committed to replanting two trees for every one tree removed as part of the works, and have been able to go well beyond that commitment.

Through this work we’ve been able to engage with over 20 local schools to educate young people about the benefits of the busway, public transport and the environment. Projects such as planting fruit orchards – and wildlife benches made for schools from local timber – have all fostered good-will and raised the local profile of both our dedicated stakeholder engagement team and the busway.

Gauging success

The Cambridgeshire guided busway has clearly transformed and invigorated the surrounding areas, both socially and economically. We look forward to seeing a similar impact in the communities living along Greater Manchester’s first guided busway, and expect the improved transport links to attract inward investment to areas along the route.

The busway will certainly open up sustainable access to employment, education and healthcare facilities to more people. Services will run past Salford University, and onwards direct to the city centre and Oxford Road corridor just south of the city. This is home to the Central Manchester Hospital site and both Manchester University and Metropolitan University in the south of Manchester – and a trip currently impossible to make in one journey.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s primary metric for success was whether the scheme would encourage people to shift from car to bus and results show that the scheme has done this and that passenger numbers are well above those originally predicted. This reflects the success experienced on many other similar Bus Rapid Transit projects in the UK and globally.

We want riders to make a conscious decision to use public transport and the key driver for that will be establishing a strong brand – that conveys the reliability, comfort and ride quality of the service. In particular, we hope this will attract drivers to leave their cars behind and make their journey into the city by bus.

Oxford Road corridor and the city centre

Manchester’s Oxford Road is not only a key route from suburbs in the south into the city, it is also one of the busiest bus routes in Europe, with over 100 buses per hour on the busiest sections. It is also one of the largest areas of employment in Greater Manchester, making it a very popular destination, which is continuing to experience significant growth. We want to make sure that we make this area easily accessible to as many people as possible for years to come. Whilst there are many bus services running along Oxford Road – these aren’t always punctual and reliable.

Oxford Road will be a major bus priority corridor – featuring Greater Manchester’s first ever Dutch-style cycle lanes. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and Manchester City Council have developed the plans for Oxford Road, which go hand-in-hand with a scheme developed for the city centre.

A major consultation exercise took place in summer 2013, where we heard from over a 1,000 respondents.

Cycling is a key element of this scheme. We know that lots of people already use Oxford Road for cycling and we want to make this a more appealing option for people who don’t currently cycle as much as they would like to, particularly those who don’t currently feel it is safe to.

At all 13 bus stops on Oxford Road, the cycle lanes will be physically separated from the main carriageway. These ‘Dutch-style’ cycle lanes at the bus stops along Oxford Road will make it much safer for people to cycle as the cycle lane runs behind the bus stop, so that cyclists and buses do not have to cross in front of each other at bus stops.

Pedestrians and cyclists will also be separated to ensure safety for everyone along this route. Footpaths will be higher than the cycle lanes and there will be clearly marked crossing points too. At each point where the cycle bypass lane passes directly behind a bus stop platform, there will be a zebra crossing point meaning that cyclists will need to stop to allow pedestrians to cross from bus stop to pavement and vice versa.

People can take a virtual journey along Oxford Road on a new 3D fly-through video shared on Eurotransport’s website1 plus see what improvements are planned for bus users, cyclists, pedestrians and other road users online2.

Make no mistake; the bus priority package is a major investment into Greater Manchester’s bus network. At its heart is the desire to provide people with a greater level of choice in the way they travel, all the while providing better connectivity to areas of employment, education and health facilities and hopefully, enticing more people to make the shift from private motor vehicle to public transport.




Peter Boulton has been Transport for Greater Manchester’s Head of Programme Management Services since 2009. Peter has a wealth of experience in developing and delivering a wide range of transport infrastructure projects including transport interchanges, highways, light-rail and heavy-rail schemes. Peter is currently responsible for managing the smooth delivery of over £300 million transport spend on transport projects across Greater Manchester, including the bus priority package.

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