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?
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.
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.
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.