Privatisation of municipal operator sees £3 million investment
Rosso Bus, the present day name for Rossendale Borough Transport’s bus operations, is set to be privatised by the end of this year. Subject to a vote on the 20 December, the municipal operator will be sold to Transdev. By the end of this year, most of Central and East Lancashire’s buses will be operated by Alex Hornby’s company.
In Lancashire, Transdev’s operations include the Blackburn Bus Company, the X43 Witch Way, and its Mainline services. Its branding has won friends with passengers and industry professionals alike. Since taking over Burnley and Pendle from Stagecoach North West in 2001, Blazefield Holdings has grown steadily. Their operations include former municipal operators; particularly Blackburn Transport and, via Stagecoach North West, Hyndburn.
Rossendale Borough Transport is their latest addition. As the Rossendale Joint Transport Committee, it was formed in April 1968 when Rawtenstall Corporation and Haslingden Corporation merged. Ramsbottom Corporation decided to go it alone, but its independence was short lived. By the 01 November 1969 it formed part of SELNEC PTE – as part of its Northern division with Bury.
Rossendale Borough Transport became an arms-length limited company as per the Transport Act 1985. After the start of bus deregulation it expanded beyond its boundaries, with Greater Manchester forming a significant part of its mileage. Besides the 464 route they picked up GMPTE and TfGM tenders in Oldham and Tameside as well as Bury and Rochdale.
For a short time they operated the Summer Sunday and Bank Holiday 473 service from Rochdale to Crich Tramway Village. In Oldham and Tameside, they are noted for their operation of the 408 service. The core service is between Oldham and Buckstones (where Rosso operate its daytime journeys).
In addition to a £3 million investment in new buses, the Haslingden depot will remain in public sector hands. This will form part of Rossendale Borough Council’s commercial investment strategy.
If you compare the present Rosso buses with their future owners’ buses, Rosso’s buses are in need of investment. In spite of this, my experience with Rosso Buses has ranged from very good to excellent. Especially with friendly drivers and clean buses. In the late 1990s I used to catch their 461 service instead of the 469 or 471 from Bury to Rochdale. More recently – in January this year – I discovered the joys of the 244 route from Blackburn to Rawtenstall. The bus was twelve years old, but she didn’t half move between Guide and Haslingden.
Part of the privatisation plan includes a £3 million investment in new buses. These will be seen on trunk routes like the 464 from Rochdale to Accrington. Whether its tendered services will benefit remains to be seen. As reported on the Rossendale Free Press’ website, Transdev aim to retain Rosso Bus’ present management and staff.
Some might argue that Transdev’s purchase of Rosso Bus will be a positive development. With Transdev being well known in Rawtenstall for their Red Express and Witch Way buses, could the 464 be rejuvenated? Will the future of Rosso’s local services be assured? Some critics argue that Transdev have focused on trunk routes and neglected – or withdrawn – local services.
Prior to Transdev’s approach, Rosso Bus’ evening and Sunday services have been cut. For example: the 464’s evening journeys now finish earlier. Departmental cuts forced upon Transport for Greater Manchester has seen the 435’s frequencies cut from half hourly to once hourly.
Perhaps Transdev’s purchase of Rosso could have First Greater Manchester quaking in its boots. Their Rochdale depot isn’t only well placed for TfGM tendered services. It is well placed for commercial services. Where First Greater Manchester has lost passenger goodwill from the closure of Bury depot, there is potential for competition on the Bury – Rochdale corridors. Or a strategic base for franchised operations on the northern side of Greater Manchester.
If agreed, Transdev Rosso passengers will benefit from Transdev’s own app and the company’s novel approach to publicity design. At present, Transdev’s smartphone app works with all its services in Lancashire and Yorkshire, including the new CityZap service from Manchester to Leeds. Before long, Rosso Bus’ own tickets will be added to their system.
Transdev’s operations have won awards for their innovative approach, attractive buses, and route branding. It aims to retain and enhance Rosso Bus’ local identities. Will it do so by retaining or boosting Rosso Bus’ less glamorous yet socially necessary routes? Or will they boost the trunk routes at their expense?
We shall see. Ultimately, it marks the end of 110 years continuous operation of publicly owned bus routes in East Lancashire.
S.V., 15 December 2017.