FirstGroup to Quit Greater Manchester Bus Operations

Got a spare £20m? First Greater Manchester are selling its bus operations to rival operators in the conurbation

First Greater Manchester is set to quit Greater Manchester, as the transport conglomerate reviews its operations across the UK. The fourth largest part of the FirstGroup bus empire has recorded sharp losses in the last year. Its Greater Manchester bus operations made a £5.7 million loss making it their worst performing constituent of the Aberdeen-based company.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the business was originally valued at £100m. FirstGroup are offering the business for £20m – with the option to sell each of its depots to separate operators. The company has four depots – Bolton, Oldham, Queens Road, and the closed Bury depot – which has been mothballed.

In the last month, it has closed the former Finglands’ depot in Rusholme with its services transferring to Queens Road. In 2017, it made further economies by closing the Dukinfield garage and the Bury depot.

In the last five years, FirstGroup’s financial situation has been well documented. As well as its problems with the buses, its Transpennine Express franchise hasn’t performed as well as expected.

In Greater Manchester, its problems are more deep-seated. They go back as far as the split of GM Buses by the Conservative government. During the split, GM Buses North was more profitable than GMS Buses. This changed when the two companies were sold to FirstBus and Stagecoach.

By March 1997 – a year after GMS Buses’ sale to Stagecoach Holdings, the tables had turned. GM Buses North under First became the poor relation. Ruthless cost cutting made for a shabby appearance with few new buses. FirstBus – in the eyes of the average Greater Mancunian – became a byword for missing buses, high fares and ancient vehicles.

Even with the arrival of new vehicles in 1999, 2005, and 2012 – 2014, that image stuck. It still sticks today. So much so that the average Greater Mancunian who has waited an hour for a bus service with a ten-minute frequency would be jumping for joy.

Besides unreliable buses, the internet has also provided a coffin nail for First’s Greater Manchester operations. Some passengers might be thinking to themselves: “Why wait for that 17 bus if I could save myself this misery by logging on to my favourite tax-dodging online retailer?”

From the Transport for Greater Manchester point of view, FirstGroup’s departure might be a blessing and a curse. In the former, there may be far fewer complaints to deal with. In the latter, goodness knows how many emergency tenders to grapple with before the next set of service changes. If they are pulling out of Greater Manchester, would FirstGroup entertain bidding for a franchise should Andy Burnham introduce a London-style franchising system?

So, where do we go from here? If you’re a bus driver, you might be hoping the next operator retains your position via TUPE. As a long-suffering passenger, there may be cause for celebration – supposing its successor delivers a better service.

So to quote the Chinese proverb, “we live in interesting times”. I know of one person who may be torn between jubilation or relief. He’s the gentlemen that could be changing Greater Manchester’s buses for the better.

S.V., 05 February 2019.

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Leeds says:

    Hello, I can see this leading to the end of the 184 cross Pennine service, I can’t see any buyer taking this on as it’s only popular and profitable because it ties in with services on the Marsden to Huddersfield and Uppermill to Manchester ends. The bit in the middle is used, for some part through and through journeys, e.g. Oldham to Marsden or Manchester to Huddersfield, but with this route now no longer part of one bus company on the end sections, I can’t see it making a profit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michael Tinker says:

      unless Huddersfield would reinstate the 365 Huddersfield to Oldham service if this did happen

      Like

    2. Roughtown22 says:

      Additionally Leeds –
      You do know that First Greater Manchester run the whole 184 service? The operator at the Yorkshire end is a different operator, First West Yorkshire.

      So in the future whoever takes over the 184, all they will have to do is carry on the same system – the operator on the Huddersfield side is on the whole irreverent

      Like

      1. Leeds says:

        Sorry to disagree but First West Yorkshire tickets ARE valid on the First Manchester 184, however when the new operator comes in they won’t be. This will mean two major constraints, locals between Huddersfield and Marsden won’t be able to use First tickets on the new 184 operators service, unlike at present where they can. The current 184 combines with the 181, 183, 185 and single journey 186 to form the high frequency (if you can call it that) network between Huddersfield and Marsden, First West Yorkshire will no doubt replace 184 journeys with additional short workings on the 185 or 183 to continue to provide the current frequency and keep custom. The second constraint is that currently you can get a day ticket anywhere in the First West Yorkshire area and it can be used for cross boundary travel on the 184, say from Bradford to Oldham or Halifax to Oldham for example, two journeys that I bet many people take bearing in mind family links between people in Bradford and Oldham, the fairly recent historical transport connection between Halifax communities and Oldham etc. I’ve personally known a few people from Bradford use the X63 and 184 to visit family in Oldham. That’s going to be a lot of lost custom.

        Like

  2. scuzzmonster says:

    Got a feeling they won’t be rushing to take the franchise up my way. Late buses are better than *no* buses, I suppose. Be careful what you wish for. #FirstManchester #HurstCross

    Like

  3. Leeds says:

    Further to my comment about the 184, should the new buyer pull it’s plug, I wonder if South Pennine Community Transport will step in, even if it were to only provide peak time and Saturday journeys? They have a track record of providing successful previously lost Pennine links, as well as creating new ones.

    Like

    1. Roughtown22 says:

      Leeds –
      I wouldn’t jump so quickly to these types of conclusions just yet.
      I’d be surprised to see it scrapped as it just seems silly and stupid not to have a bus service from at least Oldham to Huddersfield – they are essentially two nearby towns that fully deserve to have a bus service between the two as there has been for decades and decades. Just because there’s a huge 500m+ asl moors between them doesn’t mean it’s not profitable, nor do you have any figures to back this up.

      At the very least, as Michael says, it’d be an Oldham-Huddersfield service or have its journeys cut to every 120 minutes – but it’s a bit odd to just simply assume and jump to the conclusion that it will definitely be scrapped.

      Last few times I’ve seen it through Diggle it’s been 30%+ full, on occasions 60%+.

      Like

      1. Leeds says:

        But it’s the much stronger use between Uppermill and Manchester, and Marsden to Huddersfield that keeps it profitable. With those passenger percentages, it would be very borderline as a stand alone service and with ever rising fuel, pension, insurance, tax and wage costs it will only become more borderline. You also have to consider if people will be willing to risk the reliability of a 2 hourly service bearing in mind the current service can run late. Don’t forget, services that carry passengers for short periods over a lengthy journey make a lot more money than one which has passengers on board for the full lengthy journey.

        Like

  4. Michael Tinker says:

    i use to use the Oldham to Halifax service a lot in the 1990s when Halifax ran it brill service i wonder if any new owner of Oldham depot would do this service

    Like

    1. Roughtown22 says:

      There’s less of a demand for that than Oldham-Huddersfield.

      Yes okay Rishworth and Ripponden are nice places but being a Saddleworth born and bred, I just feel Saddleworth still has strong links with the Marsden/Slaithwaite/Huddersfield areas, nearly 50 years on from being separated from them.

      Like

  5. Philip Longdon says:

    I’m surprised to see the suggestion that GMN was more profitable then GMS at the time of the sale. If true, I suspect it was a temporary blip. As for Replacement tenders, I think this might be another argument – noting no mention of staff getting 90 days notice – that this isn’t imminent. First run a very small proportion of tenders and I believe a lot of these expire in April or July anyway. As for commercial ops, especially at knock down prices for the company as a whole, surely the vast majority will be registered and run unchanged until the new owners decide what the most profitable course of action would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Leeds says:

    Just a thought, should South Pennine take on an abandoned 184, it could be truncated and interworked with their current 352 and the Marsden locals making it work better. Should the 184 be scrapped, some custom will be lost to the train, but the train option won’t be for everyone. Local people not close to Greenfield station needing to get between Marsden and Diggle/Uppermill to access either location, or for onward travel to Oldham/Huddersfield will still use it, and a 16 seat bus operating hourly could work well. Yes the 352 doesn’t operate Monday to Friday, however one additional bus is all that’s needed for interworking with Marsden locals, with the same extra bus needed for interworking with the 352 on a Saturday as well, it’s only a short 15 minute trip between Marsden and Uppermill in a transit making a small number of stops.

    Despite some on here being too hopeful the 184 continues as now, the reality is who ever takes over First’s Oldham operations really won’t continue the 184 despite reasonable numbers using it between Uppermill and Huddersfield. The 184 being part of the high frequency corridor between Manchester and Uppermill and between Marsden and Huddersfield makes all the difference between marginal and safely profitable, the new company taking this on already looses custom on the Marsden to Huddersfield section as who’s seriously going to wait for an hourly service operated by a separate operator (meaning First ticket’s aren’t valid) compared to waiting a lot less for a 183/5 that your day, weekly or monthly pass is valid on?

    Like

  7. andy holmes says:

    If, i repeat if First in Manchester sell up i am convinced 184 will be transferred to Huddersfield depot before completion of sale.
    Along with the Littleborough corridor services to Todmorden 454/7.
    And possibly one or two more, would First really give up Vantage its only really roaring success of recent times ? And only recently the Metrolink contracts have being re secured, interesting times indeed.

    Like

    1. Leeds says:

      But as I’ve explained, it won’t be as profitable, and in fact more marginal due to losing custom to the new owner on the stretch between Uppermill and Manchester. I can’t see First keeping routes between Greenfield/Uppermill and Manchester as where would they operate out of? If they don’t have those routes, then the 184 won’t have the custom it currently has as nobody in their right mind will wait 1 hour for a First 184 when they have more frequent alternatives by the new operator. Through custom from Huddersfield and the Colne Valley to Saddleworth/Oldham/Manchester simply isn’t enough in these days of high operating costs to make the service viable. A smaller operator with much lower operating costs however could make the route work better.

      Like

  8. Michael Tinker says:

    who ever takes over Oldham will take the routes and bus fleet and then deicde what they will do with the routes

    Like

  9. andy holmes says:

    FIRST WILL TRANSFER ROUTES OUT OF THE SAID DEPOTS BEFORE SELLING!!!!

    Like

  10. andy holmes says:

    First will transfer whatever services their want out of OLDHAM or BOLTON OR QUEENS BEFORE Selling ,their are not obligated to sell as it is now, significant fleet movement/exchange involving other FIRST OPCOs would also take place before selling!

    Like

  11. Leeds says:

    Well, I’m not sure how the following rumour came about but it does seem a bit far fetched. The sale of Oldham depot is to be put on hold with control of Oldham coming under First West Yorkshire! Now I know First in York comes under West Yorkshire control but I can’t see this happening.

    Like

    1. Michael Tinker says:

      Leeds i read that on dartslf thread but some of the postings on there are duff info i was in Oldham today and saw a Stagecoach training bus go into Oldham main bus stn with a few drivers on i have quit a couple of firstbus facebook pages aswell

      Like

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