Fares Unfair 2017: Priced Out of the Powerhouse?

East of the M60 draws comparisons between last year’s rail fares and this year’s price rises

Class 185 DMU, Manchester Piccadilly station
Greater Manchester’s rail scene has come on in the last seven years since this picture was taken. East of the M60 dreads to think how much an off-peak fare to Stalybridge has gone up since 2010.

First the spin: that rail fares have risen by an average of 2.2%. In reality, many casual train travellers do not believe this for one second. Especially if they make a local journey; at least with some long distance trips, you have the option of Advance Purchase tickets.

The regulated fare rise may be nearly half that of 2013’s 4.2% increase. If you are travelling from Stalybridge to Manchester, well have a nice 11.2% rise courtesy of Uncle Christopher Grayling. If you decided to travel between the two points (on the 30 December 2016) – off-peak of course – it will set you back £4.00. Which compares well with Stagecoach’s Day Rider ticket. If you attempt the same journey a week later, it will be £4.50.

In spite of the slow journey time (and having to change buses in Ashton), Stagecoach’s Day Rider is 50p cheaper. For a fiver, you could take a child. The 236 or 237, and a 216, 219 or 231, become a cheaper (though slower) option. What’s more, you could travel before 9.30 am; travel during the evening peak; and – here’s the big hitter – travel anywhere in Greater Manchester and parts of Derbyshire and Cheshire on Stagecoach Manchester buses. Glossop to Leigh for £4.00 is a real bargain. Or Stalybridge to Leigh for a fiver (with a child) is pretty good too.

FirstGroup are also changing their fares too with a maximum hike of 10% for cash passengers. But, if you have a smartphone, you can still pay last year’s fares if you download their app.

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2016 and 2017 Train Fares Compared

For the purpose of this section, I will cover four journeys within the Huddersfield line. Apart from the fact it’s a route I am most familiar with, it is also one of the busiest routes into Manchester. Class 142 Pacer units remain an ever-present fixture, even in the peak hours. Therefore, the following journeys I have chosen are:

  • A short distance cross-boundary journey: Marsden – Greenfield;
  • A short distance journey within the TfGM boundary: Ashton-under-Lyne – Manchester;
  • A medium distance cross-boundary journey: Huddersfield – Stalybridge;
  • A medium distance journey within the TfGM boundary: Manchester – Wigan (North Western or Wallgate).

1. Marsden – Greenfield:

  • Off Peak Return (before 03 January 2017): £6.00;
  • Off Peak Return (after 03 January 2017): £6.00;
  • Anytime Return (before 03 January 2017): £7.10;
  • Anytime Return (after 03 January 2017): £7.10.

Thanks to the cash cow that is Standedge tunnel, this journey has also created some interesting results. What is interesting is the fact that both peak and off-peak fares will be the same in 2017 as they were for most of 2016.

The bus alternative is the 184 from Manchester [Piccadilly Gardens] and Uppermill to Marsden and Huddersfield. This has an hourly frequency between Greenfield and Marsden but no evening service. On Sundays, it is only every two hours. Whether you pay £4.20 or £4.50 (after 02 January 2017) for a Greater Manchester FirstDay ticket, the bus is an attractive option if you prefer economy over speed. Plus you get fantastic views over Marsden Moor. Worth getting the bus over the train for that alone.

Should you take a taxi, the standard fare from The Railway Inn (opposite Greenfield station) and The Railway in Marsden is £16.45 (or £32.90). If you’re in a hurry, the train is a more attractive option.

2. Ashton-under-Lyne – Manchester:

  • Off Peak Return (before 03 January 2017): £4.00;
  • Off Peak Return (after 03 January 2017): £4.50;
  • Anytime Return (before 03 January 2017): £5.90;
  • Anytime Return (after 03 January 2017): £5.90.

As with the Anytime return from Marsden to Greenfield, there has been no change in the price. Ashtonians travelling outside the peaks will see an 11.2% rise. For another 90p, you can travel into Bolton, Wigan, or Altrincham on a GM Rail Ranger ticket. If you’re travelling in the weekend, this is a better option for exploring Greater Manchester by train.

For £4.00, you can make the same journey on the 216 or the 219 buses – 12 journeys an hour to play with. Add the 231, that’ll be fourteen journeys an hour using a Stagecoach Manchester Day Rider. If you prefer speed over convenience, 10 to 15 minutes on a train compared with 30 to 50 minutes on a bus is a no-brainer.

If you can’t stomach the overcrowding and prefer a rail alternative, the East Manchester Line of the Metrolink is worth a try. The peak hour fare to Piccadilly Gardens is £5.60: slightly cheaper than the train (30p less), and five trams per hour instead of two trains per hour. As for the price of an off-peak return, a superb £3.80 (a saving of 70p), and (best of all) no evening peak restrictions.

Bus Alternatives:
  • Any Bus Day Saver (before 0930): £5.60 – all buses in Greater Manchester, including MCT Travel’s 217 to Manchester, as well as the 216, 219, and 231;
  • Any Bus Day Saver (after 0930, and all day weekends and Bank Holidays): £5.00 – validity as above;
  • Stagecoach Manchester Day Rider: £4.00 – all Stagecoach Manchester and Stagecoach Wigan buses.

3. Huddersfield – Stalybridge

  • Off Peak Return (before 03 January 2017): £11.30;
  • Off Peak Return (after 03 January 2017): £11.50 (or £13.10);
  • Anytime Return (before 03 January 2017): £15.80;
  • Anytime Return (after 03 January 2017): £16.10.

The Huddersfield to Stalybridge return fare has always been on the high side in spite of its modest distance. Another reason is the lack of competition between other modes of public transport. Attempting the same journey by bus entails catching a 353 or 354 to Uppermill (Commercial Hotel) followed by the 184 to Huddersfield. On weekdays and Saturdays, a FirstDay ticket would suffice. On Bank Holidays and Sundays, the train offers a less complex solution.

With three trains per hour to Huddersfield, the train is a no brainer. Plus, there’s the buffet bar on the Yorkshire platform. Compared with the rises ‘enjoyed’ by casual Greater Manchester train travellers, the off-peak day return will rise by 20p. For non-smartphone wielding First passengers, that is the same price rise ‘enjoyed’ by passengers on the 346 from Ashton to Dukinfield (£2.30 single – up from £2.20). Therefore, if you travel from Stalybridge to Huddersfield instead of Manchester Piccadilly, the hit in your pocket isn’t as great.

There is also a second off-peak fare which will be £13.10. Before you vent your frustration, this is a period return fare. If you’re staying in Huddersfield for the weekend, and travelling outside the peaks, this your best option. The Anytime fare will see a rise of 30p: from £15.80 to £16.10.

There is a reason why the Stalybridge to Huddersfield fares have modest rises. They come under the bracket of Regulated Fares. Fare increases are pegged to August’s rate of inflation +1%. The off-peak fares within Greater Manchester are Unregulated Fares. Franchisees are free to increase or (though they seldom do) reduce fares in accordance to market conditions. Or levels of subsidy towards the fares by local authorities.

Oh, and if you wanted to get a taxi from Stalybridge to Huddersfield, don’t bother. It’s an wallet pounding £40.40 (or £80.80 for two journeys).

4. Manchester – Wigan (any stations):

  • Off Peak Return (before 03 January 2017): £4.90;
  • Off Peak Return (after 03 January 2017): £5.40;
  • Anytime Return (before 03 January 2017): £9.30;
  • Anytime Return (after 03 January 2017): £9.30.

As with peak hour fares from Ashton-under-Lyne to Manchester, no change on 2016 figures. Travelling outside the peaks? Your fare will rise from £4.90 to £5.40 – a 9.3% increase. Plus, the differential between the Off Peak fare and the Anytime fare is a staggering £4.00. If you choose to travel by train, go for the posh one from Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley (Wigan North Western) instead of a poxy Pacer (Wigan Wallgate)

If you’re looking for alternatives, you are stuffed. Unless you are happy to pay through the nose or don’t mind changing buses. For direct public transport to Piccadilly Gardens, the train has a monopoly. This has been since the withdrawal of the 32 bus, a limited stop route to central Manchester. (Perhaps the V2 should be extended to Wigan from Tyldesley).

The taxi fare (via M6, M62, and M602 motorways) is £51.90 (£103.80 for two journeys). The cheapest way of travelling to and from Manchester on public transport in all hours is by bus. System One’s Any Bus Day Saver at £5.60 (or £5.00 after 0930) offers better value for money. This is great if you don’t mind changing at Leigh (598 route) for the Vantage V1 bus to Piccadilly Gardens or Stevenson Square. If you decide to take the bus option, please remember to take a good book or read The Guardian or The Daily Telegraph. The tables aboard the V1 are also good for doing crossword puzzles, or for using the free WiFi.

If you travel by train from Wigan, we at East of the M60 recommend consulting your Bank Manager. Or investing in a CountyCard if you make regular journeys to and from work.

Cheaper alternatives to being stung by the evening peak from leaving Greater Manchester:

Imagine it’s the 06 January 2017. In our scenario, Ms. Allday wanted to plan a day out to Manchester. She needed to be back in Wigan fairly soon as her local bus route finished at 7pm. She wanted to get to the city centre pretty quickly. Though the off-peak return is £5.40, travelling at 5pm meant an extra £4.00.

Instead of making the whole journey by bus (the cheapest, yet slowest option), she could get at post-6.30pm train and use the £4.00 saved for a taxi home. On the other hand, she could go the following places without being stung by Manchester’s peak hour penalty:

  • Southport: £8.70 (60p saving);
  • Liverpool Lime Street: £8.30 (£1.00 saving);
  • Preston: £6.50 (£2.80 saving);
  • Warrington Bank Quay: £6.00 (£3.30 saving);
  • St. Helens Central: £5.10 (£4.20 saving).

In this case, travelling outside of the Greater Manchester boundary, and a little further away, could be more cost-effective.

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Endword: Some You Win, Some You Lose

If you travel by train on journeys throughout Greater Manchester, the effect on your off-peak fare would be greater than that of a cross-boundary journey. A journey from Wigan to Manchester would be a dear do if you left at 11am and returned home from Manchester in the evening peak. Therefore, your trip would cost £9.30, if you chose to leave at 5pm on a weekday.

For £8.70 – 60p less than the Anytime return – you could travel to Southport. No evening peak restrictions here. Plus there’s Arriva’s bus route to the Lancashire town, and their Day Saver tickets are cheaper still (but you’re looking at two hours on a bus via Skelmersdale and Ormskirk).

A journey to Liverpool Lime Street will set you back £8.30 – £1.00 less than the anytime return to Piccadilly or Victoria from Wigan stations. Plus you can leave Lime Street at 6pm with impunity. The Wigan scenario is even worse given the lack of competition: in other words, Motorway Service Area levels of captive market forces.

With Ashton-under-Lyne to Manchester you have sufficient alternatives. Casual users should consider the tram if making a simple journey to Manchester city centre. For added flexibility, fifteen buses an hour during the daytime is a considerably better option than two trains an hour. The only trade off with the two methods is in speed. For the Arndale Centre, the train option is a no-brainer. If you’re going to the Bridgewater Hall, HOME and the Palace or Opera House theatres, it is the tram all the way.

For our two cross-boundary journeys, the bus alternative is barely adequate. Especially after 6pm where Northern’s and Transpennine Express’ trains come into their own. For travel between Greenfield and Marsden, it is a lifeline. The bus can play a part: imagine if the 350’s journeys offered improved connections between Dobcross, Delph, and Uppermill with Greenfield. Thankfully, fare rises for the two cross-boundary journeys we have looked at are minimal.

Casual users on local train journeys within Greater Manchester should be aggrieved by the rises. Ultimately, we need to stop this idea of transferring the burden to its users rather than adding it to our tax take. Imagine if we did this with the National Health Service: less fit people would be paying more, ending the ‘free at the point of delivery’ ethos. We pay for the NHS through taxation and National Insurance contributions.

If it’s a common good, we should all share in the development of our infrastructure. We used to do this very well. Are we too mean spirited to do this with more of our public services? Have we gone so far down the neoliberal trench that the mere mention of public good is a taboo? Are we happier with social goodness or the pay-as-you-go non-pluralist model? Oh, I thought I was talking about train fares. Time to move along the two-car Sprinter unit on the 1757 to Huddersfield.


  • Bus Fares: First Greater Manchester, Stagecoach Manchester, and System One Travelcards;
  • Train Fares: National Rail website;
  • Taxi Fares: www.yourtaximeter.com.

S.V., 29 December 2016.


One thought on “Fares Unfair 2017: Priced Out of the Powerhouse?

Add yours

  1. Sorry Stuart, but I have to totally disagree with you. The NHS is available to all, and the vast majority of the population depend on it – often literally to survive. To put Trains in the same bracket – AND in an article comparing examples with buses is, well, Elitist. As of course, you and all readers will know, ‘Bus is short for Omnibus. Now, I didn’t do Latin at school, but even I know that Omni means “every”. Notwithstanding medical circumstances, buses are accessible in geographical terms to virtually everyone. In GM over 90% of people live within a 400 metre walk of a bus stop. However, the majority of people live a considerable distance from a rail/tram stop (national average 2.5km), and so need PRIVATE transport to access PUBLIC transport. What you are defending is in effect the heavy subsidisation of a form of transport only available to the superfit, or those that can afford and can be licenced to drive. In other words, the poor are subsidising the rich, by paying for a “service” they cannot use! Further, in many cases, this subsidy (£200 million a year in the case of ATN) is being used to compete with totally commercial bus services, whose adult passengers effectively pay the bus companies tax bill. OK, in the case of Glossop to Wigan, bus might not be viable, but in the case of Reddish North or Newton Heath to Manchester, it is very relevant. OTOH, why has the 32, and virtually all Limited Stop service in GM died a death?
    Indeed, to give you some of the background to these rises; a couple of years ago the DfT consulted the public about Future Rail services in the North. In that document, they noted that fares for relatively short journeys into Manchester and Leeds were very low compared to Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and doubtless all other large cities – thus attracting high levels of public subsidy, whilst abstracting revenue from the commercial bus industry. Hence, these 12% increases are really just catching up with where fares should have been for decades.
    Additionally, you are conveniently forgetting that rail users get free cross-city transport on Metrolink, whilst bus users have to pay (iirc) £1.60 return. Remembering also that the City Council threw Hyde Road & Ashton New Road corridor services out of the city centre at the behest of Metrolink (that is now an “open secret”). Thus, even with these increases, a peak hour return by train from Reddish North into the city will be a £1 cheaper than the 203 + tram, and off-peak £2 cheaper. The fares can also be justified on straight supply & demand, because evening peak hour Hope Valley trains are busier than ever, despite this period losing the off-peak concession just 16 months ago – probably because tickets are never checked on the busiest journeys, so most will risk getting on with off-peak tickets.
    So, sorry, but there is nothing more unfair than the poor & weak subsidising the rich & strong.

    Liked by 1 person

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