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My Day on the Leigh Guided Busway

Contributed by Emma Charlotte Richards on 10.05.2016

An Article about the Leigh Guided Busway. Written by Emma Charlotte Richards 

On Sunday 3rd April 2016, the Leigh Guided Busway opened to the public, the first of its kind for the North West of England. It came about as part of Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM) Bus Priority Works, in which they are either creating or improving over 25 miles of the bus network. The Leigh Guided Busway is part of a £122 million, 14-mile stretch of bus lanes, which spans Leigh and Atherton, across the A580 East Lancs Road and into Manchester city centre.

The aim of the Guided Busway is to improve service reliability whilst reducing journey times. Specifically between Leigh and Ellenbrook, where the services are able to run freely on a 4.5 mile guided section of converted rail tracks, unencumbered by the surrounding congested roads. With eight busses per hour, the prospect of the busway is promising.

One month on from opening, I found myself presented with the opportunity to take a trip on the new busway. The trip allowed me to see how the service was running, and superficially assess whether it was making an impact on travel within the region.

I hopped on the V1 service at Stevenson Square, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, at 12pm. Other than those I was traveling with, the bus seemed largely empty; only three other passengers by my count. However, as the service is a ‘park and ride,’ and primarily designed to ease commuter journeys, it being quiet at midday, on a weekday, gave me no real cause for concern. Why should it, when the bus itself was everything as promised?

We were welcomed by plush leather seats, each branded with ‘Vantage’, which were incredibly comfortable; nothing like the usual gaudy designs found on buses to hide the dirt. In fact, the whole bus has an overwhelming sense of cleanliness about it.

For the eager commuter, those that can’t wait to start work until they reach the office, the upper deck of the bus was well equipped with tables and USB charging points, with Wi-Fi available throughout. On reflection, it has a remarkably similar feel to that of being in a first class carriage on a train.

The service is undoubtedly suited to the professional. It also has an air of high-tech superiority to its non-guided counterparts, featuring audible and visual stop announcements. The on-board climate control system, another standout feature, worked spectacularly what with the sudden heat that had fallen over Manchester. There was no doubting that ‘Vantage’ has created a “unique” and “premium quality” service.

This seemed quite the contrast to the then odd and rather long journey the bus took through the city centre. Presumably, this is to capture the highest occupancy to the service. With hindsight, I would have got on the bus at a later stop. As traffic within the centre of Manchester remains practically gridlocked, still having to move its way around and between the major works taking place.

Once out of the city centre, the ride became much smoother. Traffic flowed well out of Salford, and with a seamless connection to the guided sections of track, it was as if the busway itself was merely a private road. Once on this section you could visibly see the ease at which the bus was traveling, not having to wait at traffic lights, or at road junctions, did make the journey go by at a faster rate; reaching our destination in 55 minutes. The Busway appears well designed and efficient, albeit in wanting of some final touches in the form of landscaping.

One observation I had was that the car parks along the route, intended for the park and ride customers, seemed remarkably sparse of cars. Later that evening this was confirmed by the M.E.N, publishing an article titled ‘The Leigh Guided Busway park and ride with 265 spaces - and just THREE drivers using it’. One month into use, it would be hoped that a larger uptake to the scheme had already happened. In total, three park and ride sites serve the busway, specifically chosen for their convenient location to drivers and providing over 400 spaces. Despite the current, low uptake, a TfGM spokesperson has said:

“It offers people travelling from further afield the opportunity to make or continue their journey by bus on a dedicated traffic-free route.
We’re confident that over time it will prove to be as well-used as our other, long-standing park and ride sites are now.
Like all of TfGM’s park and ride sites, it’s free to use, so we’d urge people to give it a go and experience the benefits for themselves.” (M.E.N, 2016)

Taking what I have seen into account, I believe this statement will show itself correct over the coming months. Improved publicity of the Leigh Guided Busway, including testimonials such as this, and continued use by current commenters, should provide the evidence necessary to spur this change in people’s commuter habits. As the busway continues to ‘prove’ itself, so should its uptake continue to grow.

Once in Leigh, we had intended on remaining on the bus and going straight into the return journey, however we were kindly asked to disembark the vehicle. Unsure of why this was we asked the driver, to which we found out that the busses are cleaned between journeys, explaining my previous observation that there was an “overwhelming sense of cleanliness”.

On the way back into the city the journey seemed much faster. However, a definite and valuable link between the communities, along the route, has indeed been created. It will, at a minimum, improve connectivity of these previously isolated communities. Moreover, it has high reaching aims of helping to reduce car traffic and air pollution. The FirstGroup service boasts ‘twenty, new, high quality low-emission hybrid buses’, fitting into the cities climate action plan, Manchester: A Certain Future, aiming: 
 

‘To reduce the city of Manchester’s emissions of CO²by 41% by 2020, from 2005 levels. This equates to a reduction from current levels of 3.2 million tonnes per annum to less than two million; it also equates to a reduction in per capita emissions from 7.3 tonnes to 4.3 tonnes per head.’ (M:ACF, 2015)

Transport makes up 24% of Manchester’s direct emissions, meaning that investment in public transport could be paramount to achieving the city’s ambitious goal. Infrastructure alone, however, will not be enough to meet the targets set out. Cultural change - embedding ‘low-carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city, by engaging all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations - in Manchester, is needed to move people out of their carbon intensive personal vehicles and onto the incredible public transport system that is being created for them.

Overall, my day on the Leigh Guided Busway ended up being quite an enjoyable way to spend such a lovely afternoon out the office. Those considering using the route may not get such a luxury as this, but it will make the commute a more relaxing, environmentally friendly experience, in the most comfortable surroundings of any public transport I have ever personally experienced.

For a picture of the Map click here - www.tfgm.com/buspriority/Pages/website/guided-busway/index.html