Operations could be shared with Oldham and Queens Road depots
On this blog and in Passenger Transport magazine, it was announced in late June that FirstGroup were going to close one Greater Manchester depot. East of the M60 suggested that Dukinfield, Bury, and (to some extent) Oldham garages would have been in the firing line.
In June, East of the M60 said in the last two sentences relating to Dukinfield’s depot:
“On the other hand, Dukinfield could be in the firing line. If so, could this be a future base for an expanded Centrebus High Peak operation (as High Peak and Pennine)?”
At the time, High Peak had recently gained the 341 service from Stagecoach Manchester. East of the M60 regarded this as a springboard for expansion into the Tameside area. For Bury depot:
“Furthermore, FirstGroup has seen some of its local services taken over by other operators like Rosso. Closing Bury could also have an affect on the prompt running of the 471 service, which is one of the company’s key routes out of Rochdale.”
Bolton is the main depot for the 471 service, though yours truly has seen the odd driver changeover at Bury. It is also of particular importance to the prompt running of the 135 service.
Instead of one depot, First Greater Manchester will propose the closure of two depots: Bury and Dukinfield. Bury has 320 employees, with Dukinfield having 92 employees. If, after a 45-day consultation period we see the closure of both depots, Bury’s operations will be moved to Queens Road in Cheetham. Dukinfield’s buses will be moved to Oldham garage.
In the proposals, it is suggested that of 328 of the 412 affected employees will be moved to Queens Road or Oldham. All of which being bus drivers. For the remaining 84 employees – route allocators, mechanics, traffic managers, and ancillary staff – a most uncertain future. The date for their proposed transfer could be the 23 April 2017, a week after Easter Sunday and the likely date of Greater Manchester’s Spring 2017 bus service changes.
Bury depot was opened in 1983. It isn’t only First Greater Manchester’s sole surviving purpose-built former GMT depot. It was also the last depot to be purpose built for Greater Manchester Transport. On opening, there was some criticism at the time, as it was felt that 1979’s Bolton depot had ample capacity for Bury’s buses. (At the time, there was also a garage on Mellor Street in Rochdale).
It is home to First Greater Manchester’s bendibus fleet and some of its older vehicles. With 320 employees, it has 112 buses with Volvo B9TLs and B7RLEs the most dominant variety. Thirteen of the 112 buses are Mercedes Citaro single deckers.
Rothesay Garage has been in use by FirstGroup since 1998. Prior to then, it was Stuart’s Bus and Coach’s base. Before moving to Broadway, First Pennine’s depot was at Great Central House, inherited from Pennine Blue. This was an open site close to the former Great Central Carriage and Wagon Works. Since Pennine Blue was taken over by Badgerline (in the pre-FirstBus era), it has been a low cost operating unit with lower wages.
Some of Tameside’s FirstGroup operations are provided by Oldham’s buses, on the 350 and 409 services. Dukinfield’s garage has 33 buses, most of which being Wright StreetLite single deckers introduced in 2014.
From Badgerline to FirstGroup
The first part of Greater Manchester to see FirstGroup (or FirstBus) operations are the Tameside and Stockport areas, primarily via Potteries Motor Traction’s interests. In Tameside, the story begins in 1990 when former Greater Manchester Transport employees set up Pennine Blue.
Like Tame Valley Motor Services, JP Executive Travel, and Checkmate Coaches, they were a newly created local company that made a great impact. Their fleet comprised of smartly painted secondhand buses in blue and cream. In 1992, they filled in a lot of the gaps left by GM Buses’ closure of the Tameside Garage in November 1991.
For Tameside, 1994 was an eventful year for bus operation. December 1993 saw the split of GM Buses, with the northern section known as GM Buses North, and the southern section as GMS Buses. Pennine Blue became a subsidiary of Badgerline, with operations ran from Potteries Motor Traction’s offices in Newcastle-under-Lyne. Out went the former GMT-standards and Chesterfield Transport Daimler Fleetlines. In came A-reg Eastern Coach Works bodied Leyland Olympians. The blue and cream gave way to yellow and red, and a cute badger on the sides of the rear engine.
In 1995, the Grampian Regional Transport Group and Badgerline merged to form FirstBus. As a new giant in bus operations, they grew by acquisition. GM Buses North couldn’t escape their clutches in March 1996, becoming First Manchester. For the most part of its twenty years in operation, they [FirstBus – later FirstGroup] had a lot of the northern portion’s mileage. Dukinfield’s operation would move from Great Central House to Rothesay Garage in 1998, taking over premises hitherto owned by Stuart’s Bus and Coach.
In 1999 and 2000 respectively, Pioneer (in Rochdale) and Pennine were integrated into First Manchester’s management structure. Since September 2000, Dukinfield depot has fallen under what is now First Greater Manchester. From 1994, the depot has had a degree of autonomy with buses now part of the Pioneer Depot Team.
Pioneer formed part of Dukinfield’s operation since 2005. Faced with a reduction in O-licence allocations, First Manchester, rather than risking the goodwill and loss of services for its Tameside passengers, registered them under the Pioneer name. Hence the particulars of ownership on Dukinfield’s buses reading First Pioneer rather than First Greater Manchester.
From April 2017, the Pioneer Depot Team could be history. Gone to the great bus depot in the sky alongside the good and the great. Unless we know otherwise, Oldham Depot Team stickers will be seen on the side of many a 348 bound for Carrbrook.
What’s happening now, and what happens next?
How are passengers being informed?
Throughout the Oldham Council boundary, First Greater Manchester has held a number of public consultation events. They have been asking for passengers’ input on how to shape their future network. Throughout this month, they have been hosted in public libraries and at Oldham bus station.
How will this affect my bus service?
Unless any changes are made to your local First Greater Manchester route between now and the 23 April 2017, you will see no changes prior to closure. At least in the short to medium term after that date, your present services may be unchanged. What will change is the depot location; therefore, your 346 could be ran from Oldham depot, or your 474 could be run from Queens Road depot.
In the medium term, some services could change depots or operators. To reduce dead time, the 474 could run from Bolton depot after doing a 524 via Radcliffe.
How will dead time affect my usual route?
When a bus displays the three zeroes (followed by Sorry Not in Service) on its front indicator, it is in what is known as dead time. Dead time is the time taken for the driver’s journey from the depot to the start of the route’s journey. For example, after doing the last 350 from Oldham to Ashton-under-Lyne, it continues to Dukinfield garage in dead time.
With the depot being further away from the starting position of your journey, your driver could be sat in traffic longer. As a consequence, reliability may suffer because his or her nearest depot is seven miles away instead of 1.7 miles from its starting point. This could also mean greater use of positioning journeys.
What about the employees?
At this moment, 412 jobs lie in the balance. Though drivers may be redeployed at Queens Road or Oldham depots, some might seek employment elsewhere. They might find the other depots less conducive to work-life balance and consider working for rival companies. For example, a Dukinfield driver could send their C.V. off to Stagecoach Manchester’s Ashton depot; a Bury one to Rosso’s Rochdale depot.
Facing the rawest of deals would be the non-driving employees which number eighty-four in all. Some might struggle to find employment with incumbent operators. On the other hand, there may be enough of a skills base to form a rival company but only time will tell.
What about the depots?
It is speculated that Bury could offer some rich pickings for edge of town retail or leisure space. Given its proximity to The Rock shopping centre, the odds of there being an indoor leisure or shopping development could be favourable.
With Dukinfield garage, its small size may have been a barrier to First Greater Manchester. Its site on Broadway has scope for continued use as a depot for future bus operators (almost full circle from its original use) or other industrial uses.
How will I know if my service has changed?
Apart from checking any of East of the M60‘s bus service changes bulletins for Tameside, Transport for Greater Manchester’s Changes To Your Bus Service link gives you the lowdown on future service changes. Alternatively, check posters at Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde and Oldham bus stations, and at Bury and Rochdale Interchanges.
FirstGroup’s retreat has been part of a cost-cutting strategy throughout all its bus operations. As well as Newcastle-under-Lyme’s depot (mentioned in June’s article), Rotherham depot is also closing. It would be churlish to say “this is a Greater Manchester based issue”.
For the forthcoming Mayor of Greater Manchester, this could give him or her something to chew on. A franchising structure could help to maintain existing services or permit the creation of new routes. If there are few franchisees, will he or she have the power to create a Mini-GMT as a stopgap? In the same way the East Coast rail franchise was prior to its reprivatisation?
If the status quo is retained beyond 2017, we could see more fragmentation of bus routes in the northern part of Greater Manchester. In urban areas it could be pretty messy with the original monopolies challenged; in rural areas, community transport operators could have a greater role. The next set of service changes, and April’s will be very interesting indeed.
First Greater Manchester’s proposed depot closures may have come as no surprise to those in the know. For passengers, the reality will begin to hit home in the coming weeks, after Bury and Dukinfield depots wave goodbye to their Volvo B9s and Wright StreetLites. Yes, there will still be FirstGroup buses in Hyde and Radcliffe. The only difference is your next 346 could have been the 409 you alighted from in the new Tameside Interchange.
S.V., 07 December 2016.