Why Andy Burnham has moved one step closer to bus franchising and how this affects Tameside
Greater Manchester is one step closer to seeing off Nicholas Ridley’s free market experiment. A free market experiment that has seen a 45% drop in bus patronage in Greater Manchester. An experiment which has seen swingeing cuts to the city region’s bus routes and the shotgun divorce of GM Buses in 1994.
As a consequence, train and tram patronage has risen, though these figures are far outnumbered by the rise in private car ownership. Besides government policy, the lure of internet shopping has made waiting for parcels a cheaper option than paying bus fares to and from the nearest town centre.
Yesterday, Andy Burnham gave us all a vision of Greater Manchester’s transport network in 2029 with a map akin to the Star Wars Death Star. Cool enough to be seen on a T-Shirt, the first map showed the TfGM boundary in circular form. This was followed by maps displaying the present-day Metrolink system and future extensions.
Complementing the Metrolink yellow are the green lines of a tentative orbital bus network with sky blue lines for new cycle lanes. Completing the picture are the red railway lines. Broken red/yellow lines are used to display the tram-train network.
His speech reiterated the need for an integrated ‘London style transport system’. A vision of new east-west orbital bus routes, trams to Port Salford and Stalybridge, and tram-trains along the Hadfield line.
With the bus being Greater Manchester’s most popular mode of public transport, bus franchising a la Transport for London has won great support. Better Buses GM, alongside We Own It and the Association of British Commuters are among the key supporters of this policy.
Unlike London’s bus passengers, Manchester’s bus passengers are faced with a network that shifts faster than a smartphone app’s cacophony of updates. Whether it’s the quarterly service changes or timetable changes caused by traffic, there is no consistency. Some operators do a better job of one service than another; some operators run a better service than the other one along the same route.
In Greater Manchester, you need to remember more than one fare stage unless you buy an all-systems Any Bus Day Saver (or an Any Bus/GetMeThere season ticket). In London, TfL regulate the fares. Like TfGM’s tendered services, TfL can set a maximum age for its buses. On all routes, compared with only tendered services which make up 15% of Greater Manchester’s bus routes.
Key to London’s successful public transport network, besides funding, is its multimodal Oyster Card. A smart card which enables passengers to go from A to B by bus, tube, suburban rail services and the Croydon Tramlink light rail system. Greater Manchester’s own attempts at creating an Oyster-style card (GetMeThere) have been stymied by trying to contact the city region’s 30+ bus operators.
With Transport for Greater Manchester taking back control of the fares, single fares will be standardised. The days of Tameside residents paying more for a 2 mile journey than their peers in Fallowfield are numbered.
Tameside’s Future Transport Network
In the last ten years, Tameside’s bus routes have been affected by the rise of FirstGroup and Stagecoach and swingeing cuts made to its tendered services. The latter has been caused by departmental cuts imposed upon TfGM in the last eight years.
This has seen the loss of off-peak services from Dukinfield to Manchester, and the discontinuation of the 343’s evening journeys (plus a cut to a two-hour frequency on Sundays). Moreover, with Dukinfield having had no railway station since 1959, the latter changes undermine bus/rail connections with Manchester and Yorkshire trains. There are now no buses to Glossop from Hyde after 6pm. There are some parts of Tameside that haven’t seen a bus since January 2001.
It is hoped that Andy Burnham’s powers under the 2017 Bus Services Act would fill these gaps. Hopefully enough for a System Restore back to 2006 service levels. Or even 1986. Plus we need some buses to use the new-fangled Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange, this time next year or whereabouts.
Further to the extra powers, Greater Manchester’s Future Transport Network includes a system of new orbital bus routes. In Tameside, this could mean a boost to the Ashton – Stalybridge corridor along Stamford Street and Beaufort Road. Also a boost to Stalybridge and Saddleworth bound services which implies an upgrade to the 353/354 services.
Also considered is a boost to the Gee Cross – Limehurst corridor, covered by the 330 and 409 routes. Both routes offer a ten-minute daytime frequency and half-hourly frequencies after 7pm. To ease the pressure of the two services, perhaps a new service from Oldham to Gee Cross (via Ashton and Dukinfield) ought to be considered. Bus priority measures along that corridor could be added.
Other parts of the Tameside segment include a link from Dukinfield to Hattersley – severed since the withdrawal of the 398 and 399 services. Perhaps the new-look successor could be a direct Ashton – Hattersley – Glossop via King Street, Dewsnap Lane, Newton and Godley. There it could continue to Glossop via Mottram and Broadbottom.
The Hyde Road corridor has been singled out for bus improvements too. At present the 201 and 206 combine to create a decent daytime frequency. Between Belle Vue and Hyde this is bolstered by Stagecoach Manchester’s 150 service to the intu Trafford Centre. One glaring omission at present are Glossop’s bus links with Hyde. Its only link is a once-hourly circuitous 341 service via Hattersley and Broadbottom. The 125 and 215 services are sorely missed. Could they be due another airing?
Much appreciated in the Death Star diagram is the possibility of a Denton – Droylsden – Failsworth service. We think the route might reach Droylsden from Denton via Corporation Road, Audenshaw Road and Ashton Hill Lane. Thereafter we think it may reach Failsworth via Edge Lane, Clayton Bridge and Newton Heath. According to the diagram, it is likely to reach Failsworth via Daisy Nook. Still, a direct Denton – Droylsden service is much appreciated and long overdue.
Our Cycleways and footways
The compact nature of Tameside offers unrealised potential for walking and cycling. For some pedestrians, the Huddersfield Narrow, Peak Forest, and Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne canals offer a direct walking route between some of its towns.
In Tameside, it is the Ashton – Stalybridge corridor that will benefit from extra investment in cycleways. Both towns already have bike sheds but changing facilities and showers would be another welcome addition. Some pictures have shown a pedestrianised Stamford Street with temporary market stalls along Old Square.
In relation to pedestrian access in Ashton-under-Lyne, there could be a more cycle friendly and pedestrian friendly way of getting from Ashton railway station to The Station public house. A moot point with the new bus/tram interchange being further away from the railway station. Also considered is a new cycling and walking bridge over Manchester Road and Ashton-under-Lyne’s Metrolink line. This aims to improve cycle and pedestrian access with the Ashton West retail park.
Over the last six months, Ashton-under-Lyne, Audenshaw and Droylsden tram passengers have benefited from improved Metrolink services. The end of January saw the doubling of frequencies from every 12 minutes to every 6 minutes between Ashton and Harbour City. Every 12 minutes, trams continue to Eccles. On weekday and Saturday daytimes, another service continues every 12 minutes to MediaCityUK.
By 2029 we could be looking at having trams in Stalybridge. What hasn’t yet been suggested is the possible frequency and its route. We think the route is most likely to be via Beaufort Road and Stamford Street. The attractiveness of the extension could be enhanced by the addition of two intermediate stations. Our choice would be outside Tameside College’s main campus and Stamford Park.
According to the map, trams will also play a part in Greater Manchester’s future rail network. Enter the tram-train.
Falling somewhere between an electric train and a tram, Manchester’s tram-trains could be dual voltage. On heavy rail lines, they could take up Network Rail’s 25kV system. At Piccadilly Gardens, the 750V system used on today’s Metrolink trams. TfGM and the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester aims to see the first tram-trains on Network Rail metals in three years time.
South of Dukinfield, tram-trains may be seen on the Rose Hill Marple line and the Hadfield line. This may allow for Metrolink style frequencies at Hyde North (a vast improvement on the present once hourly frequency there). Tram-trains on the Hadfield line – if running every 12 minutes – would dramatically improve connections with Glossop from Tameside and Manchester.
Key to the tram-train’s success would be infrastructure improvements. Particularly at Hattersley where plans have been made for a second entrance to its railway station. At present, Hattersley station only has one entrance: a realigned section of Hattersley Road West. The second entrance will be closer to the Manchester line and part of the new Godley Green village development.
In the last 20 years, our fellows on the other side of the Pennines have been adept at building new railway stations (Kirkstall Forge, Low Moor and Apperley Bridge to name a few). On our side, Greater Manchester’s last new railway station was Horwich Parkway (1998). After years of speculation, Dukinfield could be getting a new station. Dewsnap station may be situated off White Bridge, taking the name from Dewsnap Lane.
With Dukinfield only having a derisory direct bus service to Manchester, this may be a welcome boost. Faring much worse than Dukinfield in terms of Manchester connections is Gamesley. They too could be getting a new station; a long time coming we think.
Though much of rail based sheen has focused on the tram-train, it also supports the case for upgrading Trans-Pennine routes. We would like to see the return of trains from Stalybridge to Liverpool Lime Street and York. For campaigners yearning for a decent Stockport – Stalybridge services, their wishes have been granted. Perhaps we could see hourly trains again.
Tameside’s small size and position between Manchester and Leeds makes for one hell of a traffic clogged borough. This has been exacerbated by out of town development, low density housing estates (which make bus routes unsustainable) and associated development along the M60 motorway.
Traffic light phasing is one other issue, whereas the design of the borough’s motorway junctions is another one. Particularly Denton Island and the M67’s ‘ski jump’. Some critics lay the blame on there being only one trans-Pennine motorway (the M67 was expected to be our second one in the 1970s).
After much protraction and procrastination, the Mottram Moor and A57 (T) link roads could become a reality. The new link road will begin at the end of the M67 motorway with a junction at Roe Cross Road before continuing to Tintwistle. Another roundabout between Roe Cross and Tintwistle at Hollingworth would connect with the Glossop Spur road.
For the M60, junction improvements have been suggested for the M60/M67 interchange known as Denton Island. Could we see the ski jump being completed over the M60, taking us to Hyde Road without clogging the roundabout? Having ramifications beyond Tameside will be the conversion of the whole M60 motorway to Smart Motorway status.
Whereas Andy Burnham’s plan to franchise our buses have been well received, one operator was most displeased. A Stagecoach Manchester spokesperson said:
“The Mayor has provided no evidence to support his claim that franchising is better than a partnership approach and he is keeping Greater Manchester’s taxpayers in the dark about the massive bill they would have to pay for a London-style bus system. The capital’s franchised network is also currently losing passengers at a faster rate than the rest of England due to rising congestion, seeing many routes cut, and is £700m in the red.
”Stagecoach has delivered £90m investment in greener buses for Manchester since 2010, provides unlimited weekly travel for around £2 a day, offers contactless and integrated multi-operator ticketing, with nine in 10 customers satisfied with their bus service. But this is not a choice between franchising and the status quo.
“The Mayor has had on his desk for months a compelling £100m blueprint from bus operators which could further transform the region’s bus network right now. It would deliver better services, new greener buses, better value fares and a way forward to address car congestion and air quality, which everyone agrees are two of the biggest challenges facing the region.
“People in Manchester and districts across the region must be asking why Transport for Greater Manchester has needlessly spent £23m of taxpayers money on consultants reports assessing franchising, when practical improvements have been delayed and the partnership solutions are already staring politicians in the face.”
When NEXUS PTE tried to deliver a franchising based system, Stagecoach North East took legal action and succeeded.
Since the Bus Services Act was granted Royal Assent in 2017, Stagecoach Manchester along with First Greater Manchester have favoured a Quality Partnership approach. With this approach, operators reserve the right to set their own fares.
Thoughts on the Future Transport Network
(On the Future Transport Network Map) “Though I can’t help thinking Andy has discovered the plans for the Death Star!”
– Andrew Gwynne M.P., Denton and Reddish
“People’s patience has run out here and they want affordable buses linked to the train system, serving communities.”
– Mark Ellis, Daily Mirror
“The assessment has come back with a very clear recommendation that bus franchising, if you like a London-style bus system, is the best way to achieve the kind of transport system we want to see”
– Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
“Just like First did at Rusholme, bus companies will do whatever they can to cut costs, and maximise profits. Shocking. Time for public control.”
– Better Buses for Greater Manchester
East of the M60 Comment: the hard work begins now
After 33 years of the free market experiment, a significant step has been made towards taking back control of Greater Manchester’s transport network. Whereas the train, tram-train, tram, and cycling related announcements had been mentioned in January, the biggest game changer concerns our buses.
Over 190 million journeys are made by bus in Greater Manchester. This is five times the number of rail passengers. Five times the number of tram passengers too. In 1986, 350 million journeys were made by bus in Greater Manchester – up from 342 million in 1982. Outside London, the bus seems to be treated like the embarrassing uncle in a wedding party. Or the doddering old bloke who talks about the good times of his childhood.
On Monday, the bus moved from being an embarrassing uncle to being some cool form of communal transport. The Death Star map during Andy Burnham’s announcement was high on the transport geek factor. To Andy, the Dark Side means Nicholas Ridley’s free market model under the 1985 Transport Act. Ten years from now, the bus could be a sleek form of transport, whisking us to a micropub far far away.
The biggest part of the sales pitch favouring a franchised system is control. Taking back control of Greater Manchester’s bus routes. A move which entails standardised fares, a young fleet, a sensible route renumbering exercise, and improved service information.
Part of the hard work includes a 12-week consultation period. This may entail franchising policy (areas or route corridors for example), information dissemination (digital and analogue forms), and service provision. Even a chance to choose the standard livery.
Under the Greater Manchester model, incumbent private sector operators will bid for a franchise. This may cover the whole of Tameside or the entire Ashton Old Road corridor. Like the London scheme, this may have a fixed term with fares and timetables set by TfGM.
With public control, buses are operated by private sector and third sector operators on behalf of TfGM. With public ownership, the buses are directly operated by the public sector. Like Greater Manchester Transport before deregulation, or an arms-length municipal operator like Blackpool Transport. The formation of new public sector operators is illegal under the 2017 Bus Services Act.
In the next few months, expect to hear more rumblings from Greater Manchester’s incumbent operators. Expect to hear some anti-bus sentiment from some people on social media forums. Possibly the odd “oh no, not another Metrolink expansion” whinge. Possibly the odd “not another cycle lane” gripe.
We hope the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester succeed in expanding and improving our bus links. Though long overdue, we hope it isn’t too late to the stem the decline.
S.V., 25 June 2019.