Transport bosses have officially launched the flagship multi-million pound guided busway ahead of this weekend’s first passenger services.
Wigan Council hailed the project, which it is hoped will slash journey times between Leigh and Manchester city centre, as politicians were invited to see the completed busway and take a ride along the route yesterday.
The busway involves state-of-the-art vehicles travelling between Leigh and Ellenbrook along a special concrete guided track before joining priority bus lanes along the East Lancs Road to complete the journey into the city.
Despite the construction process being dogged by criticism and public protests Wigan Council joined bosses at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) in hoping the busway will flourish once it opens on Sunday.
Wigan Council leader Lord Smith said: “The opening of the guided busway signals a new chapter for transport in Wigan borough.
“The busway will bring a huge economic boost to the borough and means thousands of residents now have a convenient and low-cost transport connection on their doorstep.
“Our residents living in the east side of Wigan borough will now be able to access new employment and training opportunities more effectively and efficiently.
“The busway also enhances Wigan Council’s economic strategy for growth in the next 10 years and will enhance Wigan borough as a place where people want to live, work, invest in and visit.”
Leigh MP Andy Burnham was among the first to get a ride on the new Vantage hybrid buses which will be run by route operator First Manchester.
Eight buses an hour will run between Tyldesley and Manchester, with four of the vehicles starting in Leigh and four in Atherton.
Three new park-and-ride facilities have been built along the route and there is a surfaced shared path along the guided track for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
TfGM is now putting togethe the final parts of the regional bus priority package with work along Oxford Road to the south of Manchester city centre.
TfGM committee chair Coun Andrew Fender said: “Being able to finally welcome passengers aboard is a marvellous milestone in our commitment to make travel easier for everyone.
“By prioritising buses we not only make journey times quicker, more reliable and more attractive for passengers, we also help to tackle congestion and reduce emissions.
“Completion of the busway is a major technical achievement and our investment promises a significant boost for all the communities it serves, helping people reach key employment, healthcare, and retail and leisure facilities more easily than ever.
“I am grateful to those communities for their patience while the scheme was being completed.”
TfGM hopes the busway will reduce journey times between Leigh and Manchester by up to half an hour and First Manchester is offering special discount rates for the first six months after opening to tempt passengers on board.
For more information including timetables, visit www.firstgroup.com/vantage