Bus operator First has been successful in winning the contract to operate services on a new flagship bus priority route between Leigh, Salford and Manchester – including the region’s first guided busway.
Following a comprehensive procurement process, First has been selected by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to run the high frequency busway services, which will start later this year.
The 14-mile route will link communities in Leigh, Atherton, Tyldesley and Salford to Manchester city centre and through to the universities, Central Manchester Hospital site and businesses along Oxford Road.
It includes a 4.5-mile guided busway currently under construction between Leigh and Ellenbrook. Regular, reliable bus services will continue along new and existing bus lanes on the East Lancashire Road and dedicated bus routes into Manchester city centre – ultimately cutting the overall journey time between Leigh and central Manchester to around 50 minutes.
First has committed to running a premium commercial service – with no direct public subsidy – at their normal network prices. All TfGM concessionary passes and permits will be valid for travel.
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 benefit from on-board “next stop” audio and visual announcements and CCTV, alongside free wi-fi, climate control and high quality seating.
Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGM Committee, said: “This is great news not only for bus passengers – but also for the communities along the route who will have a high quality, reliable and affordable alternative to the car right on their doorstep.
“The process we’ve followed and standards we’ve set mean quality is built into the busway services contract. First has a strong presence across the wider bus network and are well placed to bring this fantastic new corridor into service.
“We will work closely with them and other operators to ensure that the very best bus services are in place for residents and businesses.
“This is a flagship transport scheme and I very much look forward to seeing it coming into service.”
Teresa Broxton, MD for First in Manchester, said: “We’re delighted to have been chosen to run the busway services.
“First has a great track record of delivering high quality, reliable services and we look forward to working in partnership with TfGM and local councils to provide innovative travel solutions for our new and existing customers.”
Lord Peter Smith, Leader of Wigan Council and Chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said: “This is a landmark moment for the bus priority project and I look forward to people being able to enjoy the benefits this new service will bring.
“It will offer shorter journey times for buses between destinations in both Wigan borough and Salford, and a punctual, reliable bus service directly into Manchester city centre and south Manchester where the universities and hospitals are located.
“It will open up new opportunities for our residents and bring people and businesses into Wigan borough. Investing in our infrastructure is key to unlocking economic growth and developing a comprehensive and sustainable public transport system that benefits all.”
Andy Burnham MP said: “People across the Leigh and Tyldesley areas have had to put up with poor public transport links for far too long. The busway will give people quality services, that are more frequent than trains, at half the price.
“It will give commuters in Leigh a genuine alternative to running a car and open up job opportunities for young people. And, given that anyone with a concessionary permit will be able to travel on the busway for free in the off-peak, I have no doubt that it will bring more shoppers into Leigh town centre and continue the regeneration of our town.”
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 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.
There will be around 30 pairs of bus stops along the busway route with dedicated terminal stops in Atherton centre, Leigh Bus Station and within the Central Manchester Foundation Trust hospital site. All stops will be fully accessible and many of the stops will be upgraded or new. The guided section will have seven stops in each direction, which will have shelters, CCTV, real time electronic information displays and cycle parking.
The guided busway will also benefit from a new 4.5 metre wide pathway which will run alongside the 4.5mile route for pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders.
There will also be three free to use park and ride sites to serve the busway providing over 400 spaces in Leigh, on Astley Street in Tyldesley, and on the A580 East Lancashire Road near to the M60/61 junction. All park and ride site locations have been chosen for their convenience for drivers.
Busway services will also link in to the wider transport network, running close to the Metrolink stop at St Peter’s Square and the Salford Crescent, Salford Central and Oxford Road train stations.
The busway is part of a much wider priority package that will significantly improve the quality, punctuality and reliability of bus services on 25 miles of key routes in Greater Manchester and across Manchester city centre.
The bus priority package aims to encourage more people to use bus services that are able to travel more freely through the city centre and also includes improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.