iGo with TfGM’s Subsidised Routes at Greater Expense to Glossop Than I Did Two Years Ago
For me and the bus network, 2011 is proving to be a difficult year, with Greater Manchester’s councils, the newly formed TfGM and myself strapped for cash. Myself through redundancy, the first two by savage cuts imposed on the North of England by the ConDems.
Other than that, I have tried to keep my bus miles to a maximum, partly to keep in touch with the vagaries of Greater Manchester’s bus network. This has had the dual effect of getting myself out of the house and enabling me to hone my photography skills.
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Faced with a black hole in its finances due to the Comprehensive Spending Review last June, the outgoing GMPTE/GMPTA was left with a dilemma. One was to keep the standard flat concessionary fare rate and drastically cut subsidised services. The other was to review the concessionary fare rate to ensure retention of socially necessary routes. They chose the latter, much to the ire of Labour members at GMPTA. With Manchester having the highest child poverty rates in Britain, there were a great many unable to afford 80p, let alone half the adult fare. With Greater Manchester having the highest adult bus fares in the UK, this touched a raw nerve.
Outside the PTE areas, most parts of the UK have offered half fare or two-thirds adult fares for concessionary travel long before June 2010. What made Greater Manchester’s scheme seem unfair in comparison with the previous scheme were the facts that:
- Passengers on cross-boundary journeys paying concessionary rates would pay half fare within Greater Manchester then full fare for the section of the route outside the GMPTE/TfGM boundary (or full adult fare for the whole route if cheaper);
- Aged persons would be forced to pay full fare before 9.30 am on weekdays other than Bank Holidays (with free travel after 9.30 am and all day weekends);
- Disabled persons would pay half fare in peak hours (ditto the above with off-peak validity);
- Half fare concessions to senior school pupils would only be available with an ‘under 16’ identity card (in this instance, iGo).
Prior to April 2011, young passengers from Tameside heading to Glossop have paid GMPTE’s flat rate fare then Derbyshire County Council’s half fare. The post April arrangements see the same journey undertaken with the passenger paying two-thirds adult fare for the whole journey or thereabouts. Given that parts of Glossop are within the travel to work areas of Ashton and Stockport, this had a profound effect on concessions travelling from Tintwistle to Stalybridge, or – perversely – Marple to Hayfield (which would trigger Cheshire East’s concessionary rate for a small section between Strines and New Mills).
Though a phenomenon outside London and the PTE areas prior to the 2007 Concessionary Bus Travel Act, Greater Manchester was hit by a case of the ‘twirlies’; aged persons boarding the first bus after 9.30 am to avoid peak hour adult fares. Therefore, this led to longer boarding times on such journeys and empty buses in the later part of the morning peaks.
Just to confuse things more, Derbyshire County Council changed the standard concessionary rate from half fare to two-thirds fare. Not to be content with pricing out youngsters travelling from Hadfield to Ashton, Tameside was at the sharp end of County Hall’s service cuts. This particularly upset SpeedwellBus who have built up a local following on two cross-boundary routes: the 239 and the 397. The latter became the subject of a website entitled ‘Save the 397′.
After funding by Derbyshire County Council ceased last year, the 239 was operated on a commercial basis by SpeedwellBus to a minimal service of four return journeys. Derbyshire’s decision was blinkered, not taking into account the needs of Tameside passengers. Therefore, the commercially operated 239 was withdrawn this June, replaced by a LocalLink service connecting residents with other more frequent bus and rail connections.
The end of this month shall see the withdrawal of Speedwell’s 397 service – also subsidised by the Conservative controlled Derbyshire County Council. Though more unwieldy alternatives between Hyde and Mottram exist (bus to Godley or Hattersley then train to Hadfield and another bus or taxi for the last mile or so to Tintwistle), plans are mooted for a replacement within the High Peak area. Fingers crossed.
Unfortunately for Speedwell, this came at a bad time as rising fuel costs put paid to the SpeedwellValue concept. Within the spring of this year, commercial services S48, S49 and S50 were withdrawn. Equally bad for them was the loss of their daytime 353 and 354 services to First Pioneer – their nemesis on the S48 and S50 routes! To compensate, special low fares between Stalybridge and Carrbrook were available on the 343 route till September.
High fuel prices and rapid expansion also put paid to The Coachmasters’ bus operations in Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside. Shortly after relinquishing the 346 service, they went into liquidation. First Pioneer stepped in on July, regaining its evening journeys for the first time since 2001. As a bonus, Bank Holiday evening journeys were back after a similar hiatus.
This year has seen the 346 pick up the title as Most Changed Bus Route in Dukinfield. Apart from First’s success in July, they nabbed the Sunday and Bank Holiday service from Stagecoach in April, and extended their route to Gee Cross the following month. Rothesay Garage didn’t have the champagne to themselves as Stagecoach’s Ashton garage saw the arrival of fifteen new Enviro 200 single deckers. These became regular fare for its upgraded 346 service (daytime frequency from every half hour to every 20 minutes) and the already frequent 347 route. They have since been seen on other workings from Ashton depot, such as evening journeys on the 330, the 217 and 218 circulars, and the 236 and 237 routes.
This time, Stalybridge rather than Dukinfield (which came a close second) was at the sharpest end of May’s service changes. Stagecoach ceased operations on the 389 service, leaving First Pioneer with a virtual monopoly on Yew Tree estate. More controversial was their decision to omit Stalybridge bus station from the 236 and 237 routes. The town had already been beleaguered by road works for the first six months of this year without this snub to its 50 year old bus station. Furthermore, Stagecoach’s 220 route saw further contraction with the cessation of all but one journey of its peak hour route. The 221 covered peak hour journeys, leaving the peak hour 236 and 237 routes as Stalybridge’s fastest bus to Manchester. September of this year saw minor retiming of the 221 service following customer comments.
A New Name and a New Logo
The 01 April saw Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive dissolved in favour of a similar body with slightly more powers. Now known as Transport for Greater Manchester (or TfGM for short), it supersedes GMPTE’s original function, though with additional responsibilities for controlling traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. GMPTA, then GMITA, was renamed the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee which oversaw activities from a political rather than professional angle (its role with the borough councils and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority).
The new body made an immediate impact by attacking fare rises by the Big Three operators – which coincided with TfGM’s own concessionary fare revisions. Due to its changed legal status, something else had to go – the M-blem!
The M-blem, designed by London industrial designer Ken Hollick is the UK’s third most recognisable transport symbol (the others being the London Underground logo and the British Rail double arrows). Keeping costs to a minimum, a revised version of the M-blem was designed in-house in black and white forms.
Local elections in May saw a change of leadership at GMITA/TfGM circles. Following his party’s drubbing at local level (and the loss of a referendum on electoral reform), Keith Whitmore left the hot seat at 2, Piccadilly Place. His replacement was Labour councillor (and critical opponent of the half fares system) Andrew Fender. With the forthcoming cut in the Bus Service Operators’ Grant and tinkering to the concessionary fares system from central government, he faces an unenviable task in keeping Greater Manchester’s buses, trains and trams running.
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Bus Deregulation and its Effects on Dukinfield
The general consensus on bus deregulation is that it has created private monopolies with considerable influence over local needs. Any competition by smaller companies against the Big Three (Stagecoach, FirstGroup and Arriva) has been seized upon by their bigger brethren. In Manchester, several companies have tried and failed to beat GM Buses South and Stagecoach Manchester in South Manchester. Those which have survived have offered a niche, such as cheaper student fares. Or, the smaller companies may thrive in areas unremunerative to the big three. In North Manchester, JPT Travel, Maytree Travel and Bluebird have flourished, most of which through tendered services and local support.
In Dukinfield, smaller companies have had less influence over FirstGroup and Stagecoach. Presently, most of them operate TfGM subsidised routes. For example, Checkmate Coaches’ two journeys on the 220; JPT’s monopoly on the 335 and their Sunday service on the 217/218; Stott’s weekday service on the 41; and SpeedwellBus sharing the 343 with JPT Travel. Dennis’s have tried and failed with commercial services against the Perth giant.
Within a free market environment, big fish are swallowed by bigger fish and so on; bus operations post-1985 Transport Act are no exception to this rule. Hence competition on every route being impossible; the invisible hand of the market governs service levels unless the route is under contract to TfGM, TfL or County Council chambers. So long as they tell VOSA whether they wish to change, create or withdraw the service.
After a burst of competition in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, service levels are similar to pre-deregulation levels, if you go off the timetables. What the timetable often masks is the type of bus used on the route: an hourly service operated by a minibus (compared with the same route 30 years ago using double decker buses) is actually a service cut. A service cut in the sense that capacity per hour has gone down from 75 to 25 seats per hour – an equivalent of one double decker every three hours.
At a more tangible level, cutbacks made to Dukinfield’s buses in the last 15 years have included the thinning of early morning and evening services on less profitable routes. The closure of big employers in the wider Tameside area (which would attract heavy bus usage such as Senior Service, Davies and Metcalfe) has resulted in quieter peak hour loadings among full fare paying passengers. In recent times, school run traffic has led to wider frequency gaps.
The latter part of the noughties saw greater instability to Dukinfield’s bus network, on a level similar to the mid 1990s. In the mid 1990s, the main issue was whether the company would be a suitable alternative to GM Buses. By 2010, the main issue was whether the service – never mind the operator – would be around in five months time.
To calm the storm, Dukinfield needs a planned network with a degree of stability, more new vehicles and subsidised fares. With transport fares and petrol prices rising faster than earnings, there is a real need to make public transport more affordable and accessible. The problem is the wherewithal is either lacking or impossible given the budget cuts imposed on local government.
In small towns like Dukinfield and Stalybridge, competitive bus services have seen some gains or less fluctuation of service in densely populated areas like Carrbrook. Less densely populated housing estates like Stalyhill have suffered, not only due to their meandering bus-unfriendly design, but also higher car ownership from more comfortably off persons. When they get older, are unable to drive for health reasons or off to a party, this is where an integrated public transport system could step in and provide an alternative. Not only for these occasional journeys, but convincing enough to make the bus, train or tram their first choice in the long term.
We have a long way to go there, but the free market cannot be depended upon to offer the solution on its own bat. A pro-public transport government at local and national level is needed. So far, we are still waiting for the latter option, at least in Greater Manchester and Dukinfield, who could offer us more than a few carriages and a light rail network.
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My Most Memorable Bus Journeys of 2011:
One away from the TfGM boundary, another crossing the boundary.
- Inverness to Dingwall – this time on a luxurious Stagecoach in the Highlands dual purpose coach;
- My first journey on Centrebus’ 528 service from Rochdale to Halifax – last boarded the route as a First Calderline service.
And that’s your lot from this 26 part series.
Research sources (books and websites other than this blog and personal website):
- Transport for Greater Manchester;
- Saddleworth Buses;
- My Manchester (driver’s photo blog);
- Manchester Transport (unofficial transport blog);
- Greater Manchester Buses, Stewart J. Brown (Capital Publishing, 1995);
- Oldham Corporation Transport Buses, David Wayman (1996);
- Selected issues of Buses Magazine (Ian Allan Publishing, 2000 to date).
- Taylor’s of Harrogate’s Yorkshire Tea;
- Kenco Really Smooth coffee;
- ASDA’s own brand cream soda.
Other external influences (music, people, animals for instance):
- My Jack Russell Terrier for putting up with countless person hours in the compilation of this epic work. Thank you for your patience Sammy;
- ‘The River’, King Trigger;
- ‘Aua’, Stereo Total;
- ‘A Warm Place’, Nine Inch Nails;
- Half Man Half Biscuit’s back catalogue;
- GOLD’s rerun season of ‘Only Fools and Horses’;
- ‘Donovan Quick’, BBC One (one-off feature length drama, 1996).
But most of all…
A big Thank You to everyone who has followed this series on East of the M60. You deserve a medal for the metal rears developed from reading this at your PC, or Android/iPhone/iPad/Blackberry thumb from read this on your smartphone or tablet.
A Stuart Vallantine Production, MMXI.
S.V., 26 October 2011.