East of the M60‘s review of the year from a public transport angle
If 2016’s transport scene was to be represented by two pieces of popular music, we opened with The Beatles’ Fixing A Hole and finished with Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out. The former, indicative of the A57(M)’s cavity; the latter, First Greater Manchester’s closure of its Bury and Dukinfield garages.
The biggest stories in the bus world not only involved FirstGroup’s depot changes; the Leigh Guided Busway was the other major one. In the Oldham and Tameside area, changes to leisure facilities dominated the headlines. On the railways, Arriva began their first year of the Northern franchise, taking over from Serco and Abeillo. In other words, the usual overcrowding, delays, and a slight change of livery. And automatic barriers.
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There was little to report on the transport scene apart from this month’s service changes. Many of the changes were due to retiming. Spring would see more fundamental changes to Salford’s buses, with the busway having a significant effect.
It had also been stated in the Manchester Evening News that April 2016’s changes would have seen more cuts. A dozen services including the 407 and 412 would have been affected. Having a more fundamental effect on the people of Tameside was a consultation on changes to leisure facilities in the borough.
The latest strand of The Big Conversation would see the closure of three swimming pools in the borough. Its replacement – site yet to have been confirmed that month – would have replaced the three.
Though of little effect to Tameside’s bus passengers, the demise of one bus operator had some effect on Glossopians. Tate’s Travel ceased operations this month, affecting service in the Barnsley area. Of local interest, they operated the seasonal 951 service from Glossop to Huddersfield via Holmfirth. This summer would see a change of operator: Ladies Only Travel.
The retail scene was fairly busy after its January slumber. Throughout Britain, TESCO’s fortunes made the headlines. This time with Glossop’s branch ceasing to be open 24 hours a day on weekdays. Store closures were proposed with openings dwindling. Close to Stalybridge’s branch came the arrival of Bridge Beers, the town’s first micropub. Its opening weekend was met with a most enthusiastic reception.
The start of this month was a boost for both Tameside MBC and Transport for Greater Manchester. Planning permission for Ashton’s fourth bus station within six decades was approved. Unlike the present facility, passengers will be fully covered within a single terminal. There will be greater connectivity with the Metrolink’s East Manchester Line. As for connectivity with heavy rail and real ale, a backward step some 200 yards away.
After consultation, changes to Tameside’s swimming strategy were made. Ashton-under-Lyne baths (one of three threatened with closure) was reprieved. The people of Dukinfield lost their swimming baths, though the William Andrew building would become a gym. Tameside’s newest swimming baths would be built in Denton, just off the M67 motorway. Tameside Leisure Pool would be upgraded to accommodate lane swimming.
Making its debut on the 01 April was the much-vaunted Leigh Guided Busway. Featuring state-of-the-art Volvo B5LH Wright Gemini bodied double deckers, the luxurious buses made an immediate impact. With free WiFi and leather seats, their initial timetable was upgraded by autumn.
If 2015 saw the Mother of All Service Changes, this was – in Greater Manchester terms – Big Momma. This time, Tameside got off lightly, but more severe changes affected passengers of the 202 and 341 services. Firstly, there would no longer be a 202 service. Apart from the trains, Hydonians were left without a bus option to Glossop on evenings and Sundays. Secondly, the 341 saw a new face in Hyde bus station: High Peak, whose precursor was Bowers’ Bus and Coach and part of Trent Barton.
Cuts were made to the 348 and 350 services’ daytime operations: down from every 10 to every 12 minutes. The 343‘s evening, Sunday, and Bank Holiday journeys saw a change of route and a number: 340.
Shortly after Vantage’s V1 and V2 saw the arrival of new shiny buses, Stagecoach Manchester’s latest additions are worthy of acknowledgement. New arrivals, of the Enviro400 MMC variety, meant more leather style seats and free WiFi. Seen on the 216, 219, and 330 routes, they offer a clean look. Though the leatherette seats might not be of everyone’s taste (using the same shade of blue as a Greggs shop front), they make for a comfortable ride over a 30 to 50 minute long journey.
Sticking with Stagecoach Manchester, their Megariders went digital. Out went the sticky backed plastic and in went the credit card sized smartcards.
In the world of bus operation, most of June was dominated by Lord Ahmad’s Bus Services Bill. With most of Britain’s bus routes subject to the whims of free market economics, this would give control back to local authorities. This by means of franchising all services and awarding contracts to incumbent operators. There was also (though this had been dropped) a barring clause on the creation of new publicly owned bus operators.
The views on publicly owned bus operations (held by the creator of East of the M60) are that bus operations are too important to be left to profit motives. They are a natural monopoly like energy sources, broadband, telecommunications, and letter post.
It was also announced at the close of this month that FirstGroup’s bus division were ordered to make efficiency savings. Part of the plan (more in December’s entry) was the closure of one of First Greater Manchester’s depots. A case for taking back control?
Whilst on the subject of taking back control, most of the whole area east of the M60 motorway voted in favour of leaving the European Union in a referendum on the 23 June. Throughout Greater Manchester, the strongest Remainers were in Salford, Manchester, Stockport, and Trafford boroughs. Tameside’s poll was 38% Remain and 62% Leave. Dukinfield was the most Brexit-orientated part of the borough (and probably one of the most in Greater Manchester): 66% voted against Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
With only months to go till the 30th anniversary of bus deregulation, one of Greater Manchester’s longest serving operators ceased operation. Checkmate Coaches (Mossley) Ltd, had been part of the Greater Manchester bus scene since the start of deregulation. Alternately, their bus operations were also known as the T’andy Bus, a play on S.M Tandy (its proprietor) as well as a brand.
With apostrophe, it also read The Handy Bus. Most of their territory covered Tameside, Oldham and Saddleworth. They also had an express service, the C20, which was used to reduce dead time after GMPTE/TfGM tendered journeys on the 220 service.
Today, Jim Stones Coaches is the only private operator to have ran stage carriage services in Greater Manchester, since 26 October 1986, without a break. Apart from a five-year break, Stott’s Tours have been operating since the start of deregulation.
The summertime changes, other than the gamut of Summer Timetables saw cuts to the 409‘s evening service (down from every 20 minutes to every half hour on weekdays and Saturdays). The 346‘s extension to Tameside Hospital was discontinued; on the debit side, Stagecoach’s daytime journeys reverted from every half hour to every 20 minutes. The daytime 10 minute frequency was restored, with the previous timetable undermining both First and Stagecoach journeys.
August was a good month for regular passengers on the 219. Firstly, Stagecoach’s new leatherette seated Enviro400 MMCs entered service. By the end of the month, passengers boarding their service from Piccadilly Gardens benefited from a state-of-the-art bus shelter with real time information, USB ports, and mobile phone charging points. More a work of art than a bus shelter, it has a green roof which keeps the electronics in good working order.
With 2016 seeing the loss of many icons of stage and screen, we also saw the loss of one in the pub scene. That of The Thirteenth Mounted Cheshire Rifleman Inn in Stalybridge which, prior to August, had the longest pub name in the world. Its depubification was marked by its conversion to two terraced houses.
On a happier note, East of the M60 celebrated its tenth birthday.
Stagecoach Manchester’s mobile ticketing system and attendant app was given a proper launch at the Hazel Grove Park and Ride site. Weeks after a record-breaking pub served its last pints, the company also got into the Guinness Book of World Records with an unusual entry. That of the world’s longest tutu – fitted along the skirt of an Enviro400 MMC bus, seen at Piccadilly Gardens.
For Greater Manchester’s rail passengers came the second fares hike of 2016. This affected local fares within the Greater Manchester area. January 2017’s is set to see another rise, of 10% in some cases. Incredulously, bus fare rises will be less generous than those imposed on the city region’s rail commuters.
The Greater Manchester Museum of Transport commemorated the 30th anniversary of bus deregulation with a Big Orange weekend on the 15 and 16 October. Saturday’s event also saw the launch of Martin Arthur’s book, The Long Reach, which focused on cross-boundary bus services from Manchester. Two days earlier, in Moston, Stagecoach Manchester commemorated the relaunch of its 56, 57, and 156 services with an Elvis Presley impersonator.
Seventeen years since its abolition on the 400 service, Ashton-under-Lyne regained a link with Manchester Airport. This saw the extension of two journeys per hour to Ringway, on the 330 route. Which also gave Dukinfield its first ever bus link to Manchester Airport.
East of the M60‘s contribution to the most polarising three decades of bus operation, was the continuation of My Life in the Company of Buses. The previous series began in 2011 and finished that year; 2012’s entry was published on the 27 October. Bringing the series up to date was this year’s entry, published on Hallowe’en.
The buses kept coming in thick and fast – at least in Stagecoach land when 53 new buses descended on Hyde Road depot. A Top Gun style press launch was used to announce the arrival of Ashton’s airport link.
At around the same time when Tom Cruise’s flick saw a video release, GM Buses launched the Little Gem brand for its high frequency minibus services. Within days of Stagecoach’s publicity stunt, Go Goodwins resurrected the brand in South Manchester and Altrincham.
On the leisure front, Oldham’s ODEON saw its first full month of trading. Opening at the close of October, its arrival was well received. Taking in seven screens and a similar number of food and drink outlets, it is a valuable addition to the town centre. By contrast, work was still under way on Dukinfield Baths’ conversion to the iTrain supergym (it is due to open next year).
The biggest story of November was the flooding that affected most of our area east of the M60 motorway. Worst affected was Stalybridge and Saddleworth where floodwaters overwhelmed Ditchcroft (on Huddersfield Road, Millbrook) and the River Tame. This had an effect on the 340, 343, and 348 routes. After a few days, services were restored, though with the addition of temporary traffic lights over Ditchcroft.
Setting the news agenda for the first part of December was FirstGroup’s plans to change Greater Manchester’s bus network. Not only the consultation events that took place in Oldham. The biggest story was the closure of Bury and Dukinfield garages. Their proposed closure, at this time of writing, will take effect after the 23 April 2017. Tameside routes would be operated from Oldham depot with Bury’s shared between Bolton and Queens Road garages.
This month has also seen the announcement of two more fare rises. The start of 2017 will see the train fares rise as usual. In Greater Manchester, a selection of off-peak fares will rise by 10% – greater than most of the rises proposed by First Greater Manchester. Unless you have a smartphone with the latter company’s buses.
First Greater Manchester’s cash fares will rise, with a single on the 346 from Ashton to Dukinfield being £2.40. If you have a smartphone (Android, Windows Phone, iOS varieties), that’ll be £2.20. (We shall elaborate on the fare rises in a more detailed East of the M60 article).
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With First Greater Manchester’s proposed changes after Easter, and constitutional changes around the corner, our city region is in the midst of challenging times. Whether Article 50 is signed or not, there will long term ramifications for future transport projects. At present, we should be seeing some more action regarding Trans-Pennine electrification. Work on the Ordsall Curve is under way, as well as the extension of Salford Central station.
At a Tameside level, it is FirstGroup’s changes that are likely to have an impact. For the first few weeks after Dukinfield depot’s closure, it should be business as usual for passengers. Operationally, some rejigging of the driver’s rosters. Expect to see some operator revisions to some of their routes in the second half of 2017.
Over in Glossop, proposed funding changes to Derbyshire’s tendered bus services could affect Tameside’s cross-boundary routes. Derbyshire County Council have considered the abolition of subsidised bus routes in October 2017. In Tameside, this would affect the 237 and 341 services (the 236 is operated without subsidy alongside daytime journeys of the 237).
On the trams, the Second City Crossing should be done for February 2017. We should also see some spadework on the proposed Trafford Centre extension and the Tameside Ashton Transport Interchange.
Next year, digital ticketing systems should come of age. By December we could be scanning our smartphones on ticket machines. First have – quite rightly – elected to cater for Windows Phone users as well as people with Android and iOS phones. Especially as the Windows Phone format is a cheaper option for some customers. They are starting to make some impact with rail users, though the long term aim could be fewer ticket offices.
2016 wasn’t the vision of 2015 being turned up to 11. Next year could well be 2015 turned up to 21 though we sincerely hope otherwise. My advice is to wrap up warm and get strapped in for the ride.
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- Leigh Guided Busway;
- Vantage branded Volvos;
- (In Tameside) High Peak buses;
- B&M Homestores in former B&Q units (in Ashton and Hyde);
- Manchester Airport buses from Ashton, Dukinfield and Hyde.
- Tameside Council Offices (TAC, 1981 – 2015);
- The Thirteenth Mounted Cheshire Rifleman Inn and The New Inn public houses;
- Checkmate Coaches;
- The William Andrew Swimming Baths, Dukinfield.
Most importantly, East of the M60 wishes you all a Happy New Year. Whatever you do, support your local bus route, refrain from placing your bag on the next seat during peak hours, and here’s to 2017.
S.V., 26 December 2016.