High Peak Practice

Could Trent Barton’s future foray with Centrebus benefit Glossop and surrounding area?

A surprise move by Wellglade, owners of Trent Barton and TM Travel, could see a new company hit the streets of Glossop, Marple and New Mills possibly by the end of 2011. Uniting the undertakings of Trent Barton and Bowers Coaches, the new company will be known as ‘High Peak’. Operations will be ran from Trent Barton’s Dove Holes depot and Bowers’ depot in Chapel-en-le-Frith. As well as consolidating a network in the High Peak area, its other aim is improved job security between both depots. The new company will have 50 buses and around 100 employees.

The High Peak area has seen more than its fair share of shifts during deregulation, so any stabilisation to its network is welcome. A similar model to High Peak is already in place with the Huddersfield Bus Company. Following the sale of the Yorkshire Traction Group to Stagecoach Holdings (2005), its Huddersfield operations were offloaded to Arriva Yorkshire. Three years later, Centrebus was formed to purchase the Huddersfield Bus Company with Arriva retaining a 40% stake. Three years on, fast-forwarding to 2011, Centrebus expanded dramatically, winning tenders from First West Yorkshire around the Calderdale area.

Trent Barton in its present form covers three former National Bus Company/BET operators, plus former independent company Barton. The ex-NBC and BET concerns include Midland General and part of the North Western Road Car Company as well as Trent itself. The proposed High Peak operation will cover NWRCC’s Derbyshire portion plus Marple and Stockport.

Almost full circle?

Bowers, like the late North Western Road Car Company, also has a base in Cheshire. As well as the 62 (Marple – New Mills – Chapel-en-le-Frith) service, other routes include the 300 Knutsford Town Service and the 64 from Glossop to Macclesfield (schooldays only). Most of Bowers’ routes are set in former North Western territory, though without a single ex-NWRCC garage to their name. Could Stagecoach Manchester’s former Glossop garage be a future base?

Advantages

The High Peak area is at present on the fringes of several operators’ boundaries lacking cohesion. At Hayfield you’re at Stagecoach’s most easterly extremities (358: Hayfield – Marple – Stockport), likewise Glossop with the 236/237 and 390 routes. At present, Centrebus’ involvement in Glossop is mainly the 61 to Buxton and the 393 Padfield – Shirebrook Park local service. Its position would be ideal for winning future tenders from local rivals or bus owning groups. Furthermore, there is potential for competition between Stagecoach Manchester (236/237/358/390 routes) or Speedwell Bus. Perhaps High Peak could be suitably placed for gaining a foothold in Tameside, if they resurrect the doomed 239 and 397 routes in future months. There is potential for High Peak to raise their game in Hadfield and Gamesley given the resources.

Disadvantages

The name Bowers is held with affection among passengers around the High Peak area. Some may see it as the loss of an independent company – though Bowers’ private hire and coach interests remain family owned. Some, particularly New Mills passengers may fear a distancing from Trent Barton’s high standards. Such as its approach to route branding, its young fleet on the 199 Skyline service, and loss of through-ticketing. The latter may be a problem, particularly in terms of Zig Zag Plus and Frio validity. Perhaps Trent Barton’s tickets may also be honoured on the new High Peak operation, though only time will tell.

A year from now (best case scenario):

Glossop, New Mills and Buxton hums around to a nippy modern fleet thanks to the efforts of High Peak. Its buses are painted in a Centrebus version of the Bowers livery using a two-tone red (the darker red being used for the skirt). New Optare Tempos become a regular part of the 442 service from Ashbourne to Buxton, co-working with the 61 to Glossop. The fleet remains 100% low floor with talk of potential expansion to Stalybridge, Ashton and Hyde. Rumour has it that an incumbent local company (who have hitherto lost subsidised routes) becomes High Peak’s future purchase. With the York Street depot at Glossop still up for sale, Centrebus High Peak have been linked as potential purchasers.

The company gains a foothold in Tameside by means of relaunching the 239 as a route to Hyde (via Stalyhill) with a circular 391 service starting at Mottram (The White Hart) continuing to Charlesworth, Gamesley, Glossop, Hadfield and Hollingworth. Its sister route, the 392, will follow the former route in an anti-clockwise direction with connections guaranteed at Stalybridge Road between the 391/392 and 239 routes. The 199 Skyline route prospers with an extra (Limited Stop) journey per hour between Stockport and Buxton (starting from Manchester), connecting with the TransPeak’s part route journeys at Buxton (Market Place).

A year from now (worst case scenario):

Instead of the promised new buses, High Peak becomes a depository for life-expired low floor and step-entrance buses, inherited from its parent companies. That approach would see a massive waste of potential for the High Peak area, particularly Glossop which has seen cross-boundary routes go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead of expansion, the onus would be rationalisation, by means of reduced frequencies on the 61 and 442 routes. This would have been exacerbated by lost fares income (by dearer fares), reduced concessionary fare subsidies from County Hall, Matlock. The fleet would be unchanged from the previous year, but quality control by means of maintenance schedules deteriorates.

Squabbles over cross-boundary concessionary fare revenues jeopardise the 199 Skyline route with the frequency halved from twice hourly to once hourly. Connections and through-ticketing with other Trent Barton routes is compromised. Much of the blame would lie within the fact Skyline contends with three concessionary fare systems.

Room for improvement

Trent Barton’s marketing kudos could give Centrebus/Bowers a shot in the arm. Both the 442 and 61 routes have potential for route branding and offer valuable links with the Dark Peak and the White Peak areas of the Peak National Park. Compared with Trent Barton’s website, Centrebus’ sites – though informative – are years behind the former company in terms of overall design. There is little scope for interaction between company and customers, not even Facebook or Twitter buttons. Let’s hope Trent Barton’s web designers make the High Peak Web Experience just as good as their parent company’s.

Conclusion:

The High Peak’s bus services over the last 25 years is a litany of fragmentation, promising initiatives which fell flat and savage cuts to cross-boundary routes. Prior to Centrebus’ new approach, only Glossopdale Bus Company came close to building a sustainable network for Glossop and Hadfield passengers in the mid-1990s. Let’s hope Centrebus can help give the High Peak the better bus network it deserves.

Already, Bowers’ services throughout the High Peak have been known for their reliability and young fleet. If Centrebus repeat the success of their operations in West Yorkshire (with a little help from Wellglade), it could become a wake up call for incumbent bus giants and local operators. Its operating area also offers potential for new markets, such as Tameside and Stockport.

Ultimately I prefer bus re-regulation, franchising, Quality Bus Partnerships and public ownership. However, I think we could be on to a repeat of their success in West Yorkshire, so I wish them well and I hope they prosper. Trent Barton’s marketing approach as well as the young fleet of its partner company will benefit the new High Peak company.

S.V., 24 May 2011.

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17 thoughts on “High Peak Practice

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  1. The 199 service provides a link to Manchester Airport (being a SKYLINE service) to areas outside the Greater Manchester boundary such as Disley, Newtown, Furness Vale, Whaley Bridge, Chapel en le Frith, Dove Holes and Buxton. Certain buses divert at Dove Holes to serve the Peak Dale area then continue to Buxton. The great advantage of this service is that it stops at all the bus stops. On Monday to Saturday, the first bus from Buxton departs at 04:30, arriving at Manchester Airport at 05:40. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, first bus from Buxton leaves at 03:30, arriving at Manchester Airport at 04:40.

    One thing springs to mind here, which is the Trent Barton TRANS PEAK service from Buxton to Derby, with certain services being Nottingham to Manchester.
    Has any definate decision been made as to this service?

    A Bowers route not mentioned was the 58 service from Buxton to Macclesfield, via the Cat and Fiddle. Will the new company be running this route?

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    1. Hi Paul,

      According to one comment on the Omnibuses blog, the TransPeak service is operated with drivers from Derby depot. I have heard or read nothing regards the future of the route, so I should imagine it could be ‘business as usual’.

      I would assume that the Manchester Airport link may be retained and operated as a ‘High Peak’ route. At present, the 199 is operated from Dove Holes depot with the bus itself entering the forecourt during crew changes. Then again, it could also be operated from Chapel-en-le-Frith; the existing service passes Bowers’ depot there.

      Given that the Buxton to Macclesfield 58 route falls within High Peak territory, I would say ‘ditto the above’ on its retention. To reduce dead time, this could be operated from Dove Holes depot instead of co-working with another route which would run dead from Chapel-en-le-Frith.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Centre bus have taken over some of First Halifaxs services in the past year so I guess they would be good for Glossop

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    1. Hi Michael,

      My thoughts exactly! The fleet is younger than anything First Halifax put on their 528 route prior to Centrebus’ tender gain. What’s more, their new vehicles have been built locally in Leeds (Optare) and (from my observations at Rochdale bus station) have been well turned out.

      I’ve yet to do the Centrebus Experience along the 528 route, so as to get an idea of how things could materialise for Glossop, Buxton and Ashbourne.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  3. As a trent (dove holes) driver, and former stagecoach (glossop, among others) driver, i find the speculation on this site rather interesting! The merger is wellglade-centrebus 50-50, but centrebus will be in charge of operations. I didnt know about centrebus’ expansion in huddersfield until i read about it here. There is a huge amount of possibility now.

    During a meeting the other day, trent’s MD made a point that centrebus are not intending to just sustain the current bowers/trent dove holes network with this merger, but create a strong company with the potential to expand.

    That got me wondering about glossop (where i live, coincidently). Bowers are obviously familiar with the area, as are trent (once-upon-a-time having a depot at the old Dinting railyard and at Reliance garage on Primrose Lane). If Speedwell’s operations go tits-up, which, lets face it, is likely, could HighPeakBusCo (as i call it) be in a position to take over DCC tenders around glossop?

    The point of York St. depot still being vacant is very interesting! this would be an ideal location operationally, but would a company take on a new base solely for contracted work? Competition on routes, in my opinion, is unlikely. The only routes likely worth competing on are the 236/7, and we all know how stagecoach treat competitors!

    The possible “spanner-in-the-works” of all this growth and expansion is transpeak. i know from experience that this can be a horrendously busy route, particularly on sunny weekends and holidays. however, transpeak suffers with severe unreliability and, therefore, borderline profitability. the problem is the shear number of concessionary pass users. I have had to turn away 10-15 fare paying passengers at busy times because the bus has been full of free pass holders. Now, im not concessionary pass-bashing, but on a route like transpeak the system just does not work.

    Personally i believe transpeak should be given express status (like, but not, national express) half-price travel for c-pass holders. the buxton-manchester stretch should be dropped and replaced by another hourly 199 limited stop (as mentioned here).

    More Optare Excel mk2’s have been confirmed to be coming to transpeak permanently, replacing the coaches. again, in my opinion this is no bad thing. fitted with dual-purpose style seats the excels are plenty comfortable. add to this plenty of terminus time at either end and 20 mins in matlock as a toilet stop, helping to increase reliabilty, and transpeak could really prosper.

    interesting times ahead, to say the least!

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    1. Hi MH,

      I’ve been watching Centrebus’ operations in Huddersfield and Halifax with great interest, not least the fact I know a driver at Huddersfield Bus Company who hitherto worked for First Leeds. Furthermore, this interest has been spurred on by me wanting to revisit the 528 – which I think is the more scenic way to Halifax from Rochdale.

      It is interesting to find that the future plans for High Peak seem to complement my thoughts on the subject. Glossop hasn’t really had a local operator to call their own since Glossop Tramways was absorbed by the North Western Road Car Company in 1927. Only Glossopdale Bus Company – predecessors of today’s Speedwell Bus – came close, trying to expand the network (such as an extended 394 route, starting at Hollingworth) by means of winning tenders and short distance shoppers’ services.

      York Street depot, as far as I know, was pencilled in for sale as a potential site for housing development. However, the static property market has seen York Street unsold, so I wonder if the depot’s been mothballed, inviting speculation for the new High Peak company to take over, or another Stagecoach acquisition. York Street would be a good base for High Peak to build upon if it wishes to gain market share in Glossop and, possibly Tameside.

      I love the TransPeak route myself because of the amount of Peak District places it covers. Due to the loss of rail services between Buxton and Matlock, I consider it a most important spine route of national importance. Therefore I place the TransPeak on a similar pedestal to the X43 Witch Way (Manchester – Burnley – Nelson), the Yorkshire Coastliner services and the 36 (Leeds – Harrogate – Ripon) routes as an important regional express route.

      With the EU drivers’ hours regarding stage carriage routes (and the traffic along the A6), I can imagine TransPeak being a frequent hourly route from Buxton to Nottingham (as at present), this time starting at Buxton railway station where 199s can become feeder buses for the TransPeak at the railway station and/or the Market Place.

      Therefore (as you have stated yourself) the Manchester – Buxton section could be abolished, compensated by 199 Skylines from Ringway via Stockport, and another Limited Stop service from Manchester (Chorlton Street or Piccadilly Gardens) to Buxton which would connect with TP. The Manchester bus would take the present TP route with similar stopping places.

      I suppose one issue with the coaches was accessibility as well as fuel economy (hence the Optare Excels). Some of today’s new buses have individual seating more akin to – or surpass – older dual purpose counterparts. I had the joy of seeing one of your company’s Indigo buses at the Trans-Lancs Vehicle Rally last year, which is a great example of what can be done.

      We are in for an interesting few weeks. Time to hold tight!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  4. the 528 when run by Halifax use to interwork the 560/62 services and the buses on where mainly Leyland Tiger coaches and 2 where in GOLD RIDER livery and also Leyland lepoard coaches but the best 1529/1549/1551/1610/1616/1619 the last 2 being the gold rider ones

    seen photos of the centre bus buses on and they look good

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    1. Hi Michael,

      From my recollections, ageing Volvo B6s were used in the twilight years of First’s 528 route. Sometimes you would also get the low floor Wright bodied Volvos.

      I do remember the Gold Rider livery, and the 562 (a route which I miss a great deal, as much as the 400 Trans-Lancs Express), along with the co-working between 528/562 routes. The Leyland Leopard dual purpose coaches were also seen on the 365 route from Manchester to Huddersfield.

      As said before I would like to do the Centrebus Experience on the 528. Their buses alone have ‘sealed the deal’ for me as well as the scenery and the descent of Blackstone Edge – absolutely priceless!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  5. I only ever saw the Lepoard coaches on the Halifax routes there where 4 Gold rider coaches at Huddersfield used for the 365, x36/37 and school services this is when Huddersfield had the Exact fare system on nealy all routes

    I still have old type photos of Gold rider coaches

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    1. Brilliant! Feel free to post them on your Flickr page. Or set up a Flickr account if you don’t already have one. Straying from the topic a little, could you remember the bus wars on the 365 route with Blue Bus?

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  6. they where ones developed in shop o the bus wars of 365 blue bus had 2 leyland Tigers A73 VTX and B25 ADW which where used a lot also GLS 267/75 S Lepoard coaches with high back seating

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    1. Yeeesss! I remember that period, around 1995-96. The Blue Bus services left a few minutes before the Kingfisher/Yorkshire Rider buses did. They were charging pensioners 20p to cross the Pennines from Oldham to Huddersfield. No wonder Metro West Yorkshire introduced half fares last year!

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  7. stuart, i dint know any trent barton buses attended the trans lancs rally, but those indigo’s (B7BLE’s i believe) are very nice. The Merc Citaro’s used on the calverton connection take some beating though for outright looks and comfort.

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    1. Hi MH,

      It seemed a surprise to me! A fellow from Trent Barton was dishing out leaflets on the Indigo service and opened the bus so that visitors could look at its plush interior, or ask questions.

      I like the looks of the Mercedes Citaro myself, but they seem to be tarnished by its inflammability. I also need to do some serious Trent Barton Bus Bashing in the near future and treat myself to a Zig Zag Plus!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  8. My wife and I were in Stockport yesterday and my wife drew my attention to a strange looking bus at the traffic lights with a card saying TP in the window. I just hope that HIGH PEAK will not be using such buses normally as I first though that it was a Speedwellbus vehicle!!!!!

    Larer on in the day at Stepping Hill Lospital, a Speedwellbus single decker of doubtful parentage came in to run the 394 service to Glossop.

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    1. Hi Paul,

      No wonder you were confused by the TP vehicle. Firstly, the norm for the Transpeak service these days are Optare Excels, which according to one observer deemed surprisingly comfy over such a long journey. Secondly, Trent Barton’s standard typeface is similar to the one used by SpeedwellBus (and to some extent Northern Rail). Thirdly, SpeedwellBus has (or had) a few Optare Excels at Hyde, which were hitherto used on airport transfer services (hence the odd 1+2 seating layout to allow for more standees). Fourthly, Transpeak vehicles have had a green livery since 2005.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the new High Peak company used a shade of green for their services. However, this may be a shade different to the Transpeak green, or similar to Speedwell’s green. Could the single decker in question be one of the Marshall bodied vehicles previously seen on the S48/S50 routes. Or one of the Caetano Nimbus bodied ones?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      P.S., Loved the typo! LOL.

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