The buses that whiz along the Leigh Guided Busway will transform from purple to yellow when the new contract holders take over the service in September 2023.

This comes after the announcement that all buses in Greater Manchester will be under public control by January 5, 2025.

From September 24, 2023, all buses in Wigan and Bolton will be run by Go North West and Diamond, who are the first to win contracts under the new franchising system. These buses will be coloured yellow to signify being part of the ‘Bee Network’ – the name of this new public-owned franchise.

First Bus, who currently run the Leigh Guided Busway service that runs from Leigh and Atherton to Manchester Royal Infirmary, said they are ‘disappointed’ not to have won the contract to continue operating the route. 

The guided section of the route, that runs between Leigh and Ellenbrook, requires a bus to have a guide wheel that steer the bus via the kerb. Only a small portion of these buses were leased from Transport for Greater Manchester by First and will be given back to TfGM – it remains unknown what will happen to the remainder of the fleet owned by the bus company.

A spokesperson for First Bus in Manchester said: “First Bus is disappointed not to have been chosen as the preferred operator for the opening round of franchise bids in the Greater Manchester area. We wish the successful operators, the Mayor and Transport for Greater Manchester well and will support our colleagues in the transition of services into the Bee Network to ensure a successful beginning to a franchised system.

“We remain focused on continuing to deliver excellent and reliable services to customers in other parts of the region. These will continue to operate from our Oldham depot, where we have a highly experienced team of drivers and colleagues in engineering, operations and network support.”

The ‘Vantage’ buses on LGB were touted as luxury due to their padded e-leather seats, tables upstairs and wi-fi – but now they are under new management like the rest of Wigan and Bolton. All of these buses will be yellow and at least 50 will be new electric vehicles with improved disability access, audio-visual announcements and the full branding of the Bee Network – the name of the new public transport system. 

There will be no changes to bus routes at first to avoid the ‘chaos’ that would come with sudden changes, but services could be altered later down the line. By 2025, when all services across the city-region are under public control, buses, trams and rental bikes will use the same ticket system with a daily cap. 

Bus fares across Greater Manchester have already been capped at £2 for single journeys and £5 for day tickets with weeklies to cost £21 in January, a press conference was told. However, these caps will be reviewed in the summer which means that fares could increase by the time the first franchised buses are rolled out next year.

Speaking after the press conference, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, one of the orchestrators of the Leigh Guided Busway launch in 2016, said: “Locally controlled bus services are fundamental to our Bee Network vision for a better public transport network for all, and as the first area to do this outside London, Greater Manchester is once again blazing a trail. Franchising will enable us to better integrate services as part of a joined-up network, with simpler fares and ticketing, a price cap so no one pays more than they need to, a better customer service offer and a single look for the whole network.     

“Passengers are at the very core of our Bee Network vision and when we talk about local accountability, we really mean it – that is why at the heart of our contracts with operators will be a performance regime that will influence operator payments based on those factors that we know are of most importance to customers, including punctuality, reliability and customer complaints. The move to franchising is the biggest change to public transport for almost 40 years and today is a significant step on our journey as we appoint operators to run the very first franchised services from September next year and I am especially pleased that both operators provided strong social value plans, with commitments around recruitment and pay in line with the city-region’s Good Employment Charter.”



The new electric Bee Network buses ordered by Transport for Greater Manchester. Credit: Alexander Dennis. Caption: Joseph Timan. Permission for use for all LDRS partners.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and transport commissioner Vernon Everitt unveil the Bee Network branding. Credit: LDRS. Caption: Joseph Timan. Permission for use for all LDRS partners.

The guided busway in Leigh (Wigan council)