First Manchester - History


See also: Timeline of public passenger transport operations in Manchester

Before bus deregulation in 1986, buses in the Greater Manchester area were publicly funded and went under the name of Greater Manchester Transport. In 1986, with de-regulation, Greater Manchester Transport became known as GM Buses, which were effectively owned by the metropolitan borough and city councils of Greater Manchester, but were at arms' length from the local town halls. During the mid-1990s GM Buses was divided into two compaines: GMN (GM Buses (North)) and GMS (GM South Buses). British Bus looked set to acquire GM North, but eventually both were bought out by their management and employees. Within a year, however, GM South Buses were bought by the Stagecoach Group and rebranded as Stagecoach Manchester.

When GM Buses North were eventually bought by First the whole GMN fleet was rebranded as Greater Manchester. This was just a trade name as legal name of the company remained GMBuses North however in 1998 the company was renamed First Manchester Ltd and likewise the trading name also changed to First Manchester.

After a period of experimentation with the livery, a lighter shade of orange was adopted and all other colours were dropped, leaving a fleet of plain light orange buses.

First Manchester soon ended up managing two other First subsidiaries: First Potteries and its sister First Pennine. That even included many GM Standard Atlanteans making their way to those two fleets. Eventually the First Pennine and Manchester subsidiaries were merged, adding a number of routes in the Tameside area to First Manchester. A new management team was put in place and First Manchester was relieved of its responsibility for the Potteries subsidiary.

Several years on and many of the old orange fleet have been replaced by new vehicles in the white, magenta and blue livery featured on most other First Bus fleets.

The fleet over the previous years has been of interest and initially consisted on First's takeover of Dodge S56, Mercedes-Benz 709D and 811D and Iveco 59.12 minibuses, Dennis Dart, Volvo B6 and a solitary Volvo B6LE midibus, Leyland National, Leyland National 2, Leyland Lynx and Volvo B10B single-deck vehicles and Leyland Fleetline, Leyland Atlantean, Leyland Olympian, MCW Metrobus and Volvo Citybus double-deck vehicles. Most of the double-deckers were to the standard GMPTE body design with Northern Counties coachwork.

Over the course of the early years the fleet had new vehicles introduced in the form of further Dennis Darts, Volvo B6-50s, Volvo B6LEs and new types consisting of the Mercedes-Benz Citaro O530, Optare Solo, Volvo B6BLE, Volvo B10L, Volvo B10BLE, Volvo B7L, Volvo B10LA and Scania L94UA. The policy was to swing away from buying any more new double-deck vehicles at this stage however second-hand vehicles came mainly from other FirstGroup subsidiaries or via takeovers, these consisted of further Mercedes-Benz minibuses; Volvo B10B, Scania L113CRL and L94UB, Volvo B10L, Volvo B10BLE and Mercedes-Benz O405 single-deckers; MCW Metrobus MKII, Leyland Olympian, Leyland Olympian tri-axle, Volvo Olympian, Volvo Citybus, Dennis Dominator, and Scania N112DRB and N113DRB double-deckers. Many of these vehicles have subsequently moved away including all Volvo B10Ls, most Scania L94UBs, all Volvo Citybuses, all Leyland Olympians and tri-Axle Leyland Olympians, all Dennis Dominators, all Scania double-deckers, some Volvo B10BLEs (some of these even came back again), all Volvo B7Ls (most of which had been purchased for use during the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and were never used in normal service) and all Mercedes-Benz minibuses. Withdrawals of Mercedes-Benz 0405s recently commenced as have withdrawals of Volvo B10Bs. All non-low-floor Dennis Dart and Volvo B6 midis have also been withdrawn and scrapped.

In 2005 a start was made on renewing the fleet. Phase 1 involved the purchase of 256 Wright Eclipse Urban bodied Volvo B7RLE saloons and 18 Scania CN94UA OmniCity articulated buses. These were delivered throughout 2005 and 2006. In 2007 a fleet of 36 Volvo B9TLs with Wright Eclipse Gemini bodywork followed. These were the first new double-deckers for some years. In 2008 a new Phase commenced of replacing Volvo B7RLEs bought in 2005 and 2006 along with about 100 older saloons with 110 Volvo B9TLs with Wright Eclipse Gemini bodywork over a two-year period of 2008 and 2009, expected in 2011/2 are a fleet of 14 Hybrid Vehicles of an unknown type for New Cross City Routes.

Over the years several fleets have been taken over; these have included Timeline Travel (Leigh) (North GM Area Bus Operations), Pioneer (Rochdale) (Bus Operations), Coachmasters (Rochdale) (Bus Operations) as well as the transfer of First PMT's Dukinfield fleet to First Manchester control.

Various depots have been closed over the past 12 years including Atherton (1998), Bolton Crook Street (2004) (replaced by a new depot at Weston Street), Knowsley (2008), Rochdale (2004) and Trafford Park (2005) sites at Lowton, Bolton and Manchester Piccadilly have also been used temporarily for either acquired fleet (Lowton/Bolton) in 1998 or for the Commonwealth Games in 2002 (Manchester Piccadilly).

As of September 2010 First Manchesterhas taken over the management of the Cheshire and Merseyside depots of First Potteries with the Staffordshire depots transferring to the management of the new First Midlands division. The Cheshire and Merseyside depots fell to a First Manchester license.

In February 2012, the company came under fire from Department for Transport North West's traffic commissioner Beverley Bell after a performance survey found an average of 26% of First Manchester services were not running on time. The company were fined £285,000 in March 2012 for their poor reliability.

In Spring 2012 First Manchester revised its name to First Greater Manchester.

In June 2012, it was announced that First Group were looking at selling off some of its operations, which included First Manchester's Wigan depot. On 31 October 2012, an agreement was reached by First Manchester Ltd and Stagecoach Group for Stagecoach Manchester to acquire the Wigan operations, including the depot and buses, for £12m. The deal will see the 300 employees and 120 vehicles (although 20 are owned by Transport for Greater Manchester) to Stagecoach's Greater Manchester East Buses Ltd subsidiary, which was also used for Stagecoach's takeover of Mayne in 2008. The transfer of operations from First to Stagecoach took place on 2 December 2012.

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