On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

More than a colour connection

Posted on May 5, 2010

Reading time: 5 minutes.

Over the past bank holiday weekend, I spent some time on the Isle of Man and that meant sampling its public transport system as I explored some of the island’s many delights. Steam trains and electric trams were in operation but it was buses that I was using with journeys taking to me to the likes of Port Erin and Peel. In a way, it’s surprising but I was on double-decker vehicles for all of this, something that helps when it comes to enjoying the scenery as you pass through it. Bus Vannin, the Manx government-owned bus company is the sole operator on the island and there are signs of that public ownership in the operation and the upkeep of the vehicles. It has single deckers too, Dennis Darts by the appearance of things, but these seem to be kept for shorter route and are the full length item and not the stubby short wheelbase counterparts that are so commonplace on the British mainland.

It cannot be said that all Manx roads are smooth but they’re not in bad nick at all and the driving of the buses that I used was stately and sedate rather than hurried, even are a short delay at some roadworks. I suppose that it helps that the island is not overrun with other motor traffic so stop-start driving condition are rare though I do wonder what things are like when the TT is in full swing, not that I am desperate to find out; quieter times will more than do me, thank you very much.

Some of those roads are narrow though and I’d advise against trying to get about the town of Peel with no map; I ended up walking in a circle while trying to get my bearings after a strenuous day’s walking. Seeing the way that tight corners are negotiated by double-decker buses is an eye-opening spectacle and cars use the same streets too. It helps to be unhurried…

The title arises from the colour scheme applied to the mixture of Dennis Darts, Dennis Tridents and, latterly, Wright Eclipse Geminis. The latter have gained a mix of maroon (madder?) and cream as have a few of the Tridents. Otherwise, it’s a combination of bright red and cream and it’s not as garish as it sounds. The newer buses get the Bus Vannin logo while older vehicles bear the arms of the Isle of Man, complete with triskelion and motto. It’s refreshing to see two liveries used side bt side without the pressure that many private sector operators feel when it comes to their brand identity.

Services are regular too with the backbone routes connecting Douglas with Port St. Mary, serving the island’s airport along with Castletown (the old capital) and Port Erin, Ramsey, via Peel or Laxey. Douglas has copious local services as well and these are but a selection of what is operated. Sunday services are more limited but are largely hourly on the main routes so they are more than usable. Interestingly, a Saturday service was offered on the bank holiday itself (the Isle of Man has a Mayday holiday too) when so many places on the British mainland are subject to Sunday service (Macclesfield is but one example).

My experience of the Manx bus system was a positive one and reminded me of another municipal operation: Lothian Buses. Apart from the use of marron or madder in their liveries and their public ownership, it is the driving that really sticks out in my mind as a similarity. While on my way to Port Erin, I was reminded of a journey downhill from Bruntsfield towards Tollcross when any bumpiness resulted in any easy off of the accelerator and I suppose that the way that they were glided around corners might have reminded me of the 42 up and around the Mound.

Where this mental meandering is taking me is the resurgence of madder on Lothian’s buses. I have to admit that the harlequin livery was never to my tastes and often wondered at the cost of its maintenance. It seemed like change for the sake of change when the madder and white livery that bedecked so many Olympians (Leyland and Volvo) looked just right. Was it all the idea of a chief executive who was parachuted in from Stagecoach and who wanted low floor buses to be made more distinctive? He’s retired now so it’s intriguing that the madder and white is coming back in a new form. The curves in the new scheme may leave me unsure but it’s good to have the more traditional colours on the way back. We are facing more financially constrained time so the new scheme might be easier and cheaper to keep, no bad thing at all. There was a consultation ongoing on Lothian’s website, something that I don’t remember from ten years ago but I had other things on my mind back then; starting a career after university was the biggest of them and that involved a move south to Cheshire, a good distance away.

In a way, it’s odd that an island excursion that took me out into quiet countryside went and reminded me of a bustling city but that’s what can happen at times. Now that I come to think of it, I haven’t been in Edinburgh so it might be a good time to think of fitting in a return visit.