Cuts Scene Investigation: To Hell With Heyrod, in a Minicab

How service changes see early nights for Heyrodians

The village of Heyrod looks out to a stunning backdrop with the Pennine foothills in good view. From Wakefield Road, the views of Buckton Castle and Alphin Pike makes for a desirable place to live. By bus it makes for an enjoyable ride, one which is greatly enhanced if he or she chooses the 353 via Roughtown and Haddens.

Unfortunately, from the 12 April 2015, the joys of seeing Saddleworth and the Brushes Valley in the sunset will be stymied for some passengers. Particularly regular users of the 353 and 354 services. Which for some is Heyrod’s only connection with the outside world.

The 2014 Autumn Statement, which saw a £1billion worth of departmental cuts, is behind the demise of Heyrod’s evening services. Given that the departmental cuts affected Integrated Transport Authorities including Transport for Greater Manchester, this meant cuts to tendered services. In many cases, daytime services cut from half hourly to hourly; tendered services changing operators; and, in a small number of cases, the withdrawal of whole services.

At the sharpest end of the cuts is Stalybridge and Dukinfield. This month sees the end of the 220 service (which of late is four return journeys on Monday to Saturday evenings from Dukinfield and a solitary Manchester journey) and cuts to ten journeys on the 408 service. The five off-peak return journeys will only run from Buckstones to Oldham. This is in addition to the loss of its link with Droylsden, Audenshaw and Dukinfield, subsidised by TfGM in the last year.

Heyrodian bus users have good reason to be angry. The village’s only shop closes early; its nearest Post Offices are in Bottom Mossley, Stalybridge town centre, or a short walk to Millbrook. As for having an evening pint, you can forget that: the last five years have seen the loss of The Grapes public house and Heyrod Conservative Club. Cost conscious drinkers, unless content with the off licence or superstore’s offerings, could get a 353 or 354 to The Traveller’s Call or The Commercial. At least till the 11 April 2015. After that date, taxi or shank’s pony, if you’re willing to walk a mile and a half to either Mossley or Stalybridge. Or towards Millbrook via the dimly lit Spring Bank Lane and Grove Road for a 343 or 348. The loss of its evening service leaves a 2.4 mile service gap after 6pm.

The present day 353 and 354 services are descended from the former SHMD Joint Board/North Western Road Car Company 154 and 154A services. The 20 July 1980 would see them running along today’s route: Roughtown for the 353, Roaches for the 354. By the 26 October 1986, the 354 became a minor route with three return journeys on weekdays and Saturdays to Denshaw. Both the 353 and 354 saw numerous operator changes with the former service losing its evening journeys in 1997.

Its loss of evening journeys was short lived, as Rural Bus Initiative funding in 1999 saw their reinstatement. The 354 gained evening journeys, extended to Diggle (Old Station Turning). Before this month, its most significant revision came in April 2009: the 354’s irregular evening journeys to Diggle were discontinued and curtailed to Uppermill. In its place came a regular hourly connection between Ashton, Stalybridge and Uppermill. Seven days a week, full time. In the last three years, all operated by the same company.

As well as the inconvenience of an early curfew on the 353 and 354 service, operator revisions are set to make a simple trip to Stalybridge town centre a bit messier. Not only in Heyrod. First Greater Manchester, who operates (till the 11 April 2015) the Heyrod services lost a considerable number of tendered services. A trip from Carrbrook to Stalybridge town centre means a change of operator for evening and Sunday journeys on the 343 and 348 services. The 408 will see two different operators for its evening and Sunday journeys. Making its first foray into Stalybridge on its weekday evening journeys – and the 353 and 354 services – is Manchester Community Transport, or MCT Travel.

Where MCT varies from the likes of FirstGroup and Stagecoach is its ownership. They are a Community Interest Company whose roots lie in community minibus hire in the South Manchester area. They were formed in 1980 under the Urban Aid Funding Scheme. Over the last five years they have expanded dramatically thanks to TfGM tenders. Following SpeedwellBus’ demise in January 2012, they made inroads into the Tameside area on the 395 (Limehurst Farm) and 396 (Newton Heath via Fitton Hill) routes to Ashton-under-Lyne. They have operated the services ever since. Expansion has seen the opening of a second depot in Rochdale and a modern fleet with many buses less than five years old.

Most obviously, the change of operators means another set of fares and season tickets to remember. Thankfully, the System One season tickets cover all operators in the Greater Manchester area. Though their tickets can be purchased online, Heyrodians unable to use a computer need to visit the TfGM Travelshop on Ashton-under-Lyne bus station. Or they could use the PayPoint service at Millbrook Mini Market – their nearest outlet, a 15 minute walk away.

So, what does the loss of Heyrod’s evening services tell us about? Many commentators would be quick to blame Transport for Greater Manchester, though it was central government which inflicted the departmental cuts on TfGM and the like. In spite of this, we will still have 353s and 354s on Sundays and Bank Holidays (though only on daytimes of course). From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, there was swathes of Greater Manchester without Bank Holiday bus services. For a time, even busy routes like the 219 lacked regular buses on Bank Holidays, finishing at 7pm. By 2005 this changed, with many full time bus services gaining a constant Bank Holiday service based on Sunday frequencies. Sometimes, in the case of busy routes, more akin to Saturday workings.

Another issue is the lack of suitable alternatives to private motoring and minicabs. Whereas the loss of the 220 and 408 services between Dukinfield, Droylsden and Manchester will be compensated by a Local Link extension, Heyrod is left out to dry. The 23 January 2015 minutes of the Bus Networks and TfGM Services Sub Committee meeting suggests Local Link’s partial replacement of the 353’s and 354’s evening journeys in Mossley and Saddleworth. Meanwhile in Heyrod, no such clemency, though there is scope for the extension of the Tame Valley (Dukinfield) Local Link service. Though the 389 and 343 services are a short walk from Heyrod village, this means a walk along badly lit paths.

Since the 353 lost its evening service for a two year period in 1997, we have seen the Mossley and Saddleworth areas come up in leaps and bounds as a place for work, rest and play. This has been helped by the reopening of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in 2001, its scenery, and traditional public houses. Some may assume the loss of its evening journeys on the 353 and 354 demonstrates a lack of foresight for the Pennine Fringe area.

Had buses been given the same focus as rail in transport spending, Heyrod and several other parts of Stalybridge may have retained their links with Saddleworth and Droylsden. TfGM may have kept the 353’s and 354’s night time journeys for instance. But, in the eyes of central government, buses lack the same ‘sex appeal’ as trains despite being Britain’s most popular form of public transport. Any bus passenger 30 years of age is still seen as a loser in life by our present government. Hence service cuts throughout the UK on tendered services which form 20% of the UK’s bus network, yet provide a lifeline to carless people.

In Heyrod, tendered services form 100% of its bus network. The loss of its evening buses amounts to an estimated 30% drop in the number of journeys on the 353 and 354 services. For the time being, we hope Manchester Community Transport do a good job of its revised timetable. In the long term we hope the people of Heyrod and its fellows in other parts of Stalybridge work towards securing a good evening alternative. Whether that’s fighting for the reinstatement of its evening buses, or launching a demand responsive successor.

*                               *                              *

Appendices:

1. 353 journeys 

1.1: 2006 and 2014 journeys (latter year in brackets):

  • Monday – Saturday:
    • Ashton – Carrcote: four return journeys (4 return);
    • Ashton – Uppermill: six journeys southbound, seven journeys northbound (8 return);
    • Ashton – Bottom Mossley: nine journeys northbound, eight southbound (9 return);
    • Uppermill – Stamford Park: one journey (none).
  • Sundays and Bank Holidays:
    • Ashton – Uppermill: seven northbound, six southbound (7 return);
    • Uppermill – Stamford Park: one journey (none).

1.2: Journeys after 12 April 2015:

  • Monday – Saturday:
    • Ashton – Carrcote: four return journeys;
    • Ashton – Uppermill: five return journeys;
    • Ashton – Bottom Mossley: six return journeys.
  • Sundays and Bank Holidays:
    • Ashton – Uppermill: four return journeys.

2. 354 journeys 

2.1: 2006 and 2014 journeys (latter year in brackets):

  • Monday – Saturday:
    • Ashton – Denshaw: five return journeys (4 return);
    • Ashton – Diggle: two evening return journeys (curtailed to Uppermill since April 2009);
    • Ashton – Bottom Mossley: six southbound, seven northbound – 7 S-bound, 8 N-bound on weekdays; (7 return journeys – 8 southbound on weekdays)
    • Ashton – Uppermill: six southbound, seven northbound (7 return journeys).
  • Sundays and Bank Holidays:
    • Ashton – Diggle: two evening return journeys (curtailed to Uppermill since April 2009);
    • Ashton – Uppermill: seven return journeys (7 return journeys).

2.2: Journeys after 12 April 2015:

  • Monday – Saturday:
    • Ashton – Carrcote: four return journeys;
    • Ashton – Uppermill: five return journeys (six northbound on weekdays);
    • Ashton – Bottom Mossley: six return journeys (5 return journeys on Saturdays).
  • Sundays and Bank Holidays:
    • Ashton – Uppermill: five return journeys.

*                               *                              *

References:

  • GMPTE and TfGM 353 and 354 timetables: 24 April 2006 and 28 October 2013;
  • Item 6: Forthcoming Changes to the Bus Network: Transport for Greater Manchester, 23 January 2015.

S.V., 02 April 2015 (Maundy Thursday)

A version of this article will also be published in the Stalybridge Gazette.

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