East of the M60 looks at Tameside’s latest bus operator
The Tameside bus scene is in the midst of far-reaching change. With the exception of three routes, FirstGroup are pulling out of the borough. Stagecoach and HCT Group’s MCT Travel will be the borough’s biggest players, followed by Stott’s Tours. The smallest operator of stage carriage vehicles is Nexus Move, who operate two routes in the borough, and a shuttle service from Greenfield railway station.
Nexus Move may be one of Greater Manchester’s smallest bus operators, though they are not really minnows. Their main business activity is private hire minicabs, and they have a sizeable market share in that field in Tameside. To challenge the might of Uber, they acquired existing minicab firms as going concerns.
Formed in 1973, Nexus Move’s formation predates the establishment of Arriva, Go-Ahead, Stagecoach and FirstGroup. Their first foray was Radio Cabs, based in Ashton-under-Lyne since 1973. Another four minicab operators form Nexus Move’s private hire interests: Stalybridge’s Cavalier Radio Cars; Dukinfield’s A1 Private Hire; Nexus Cars; and Newton’s Tameside Taxis. As well as cash, customers can pay by card or a business account.
Prior to acquiring four minicab firms, Nexus Move (then known as Radio Cabs) diversified into shared taxi services. A mode of transport that we call Demand Responsive Transport and other localised names like LocalLink. Tameside’s first DRT service was a replacement for the 222 route in Tame Valley, Dukinfield. This was launched in February 2001 with Radio Cabs its operator. Today it is part of the East Tameside LocalLink scheme, the biggest one in Greater Manchester.
Hattersley has had a Demand Responsive Transport scheme since 2001. It also had a prototype version known as Arranged Passenger Transport, which called at the same stops as today’s 387 route from Hattersley to Hyde. A book ahead bus service with leanings closer to the GMT/Godfrey Abbott Group Dial-a-Ride scheme. This was operated by Point-2-Point.
In 2011, a previous East of the M60 article looked at demand responsive transport operations in Tameside. Back then, Radio Cabs had 80% of the borough’s DRT services – all apart from the Hattersley LocalLink area. These covered the following areas:
- Dane Bank and North Reddish: 317 evening service replacement – now the Dane Bank Evening LocalLink service;
- Mossley and Saddleworth: 353/354/407 replacement;
- Gee Cross, Hyde South, Newton and Backbower: 342/344 replacement – discontinued;
- Tame Valley, Mottram Rise and Broadbottom: 222 replacement – now part of the East Tameside LocalLink service;
- Hattersley: 208 replacement – now part of the East Tameside LocalLink service.
Another spin-off was Shopping Link, which offered demand responsive transport to supermarkets and Ashton and Hyde market halls. Again, Radio Cabs operated the service. Later, Eco Travel – also associated with Nexus Move – took over the Hattersley LocalLink service from Point-2-Point.
By 2017, there had been continued consolidation of TfGM’s LocalLink network. The Gee Cross, Hyde South, Newton and Backbower service was discontinued. This was partially succeeded by the Hattersley and Godley LocalLink service. From the 29 January 2017, this became part of LocalLink’s East Tameside footprint.
In early 2017, Nexus Move was a bus operator in waiting. After working with Transport for Greater Manchester on demand responsive transport contracts, it was ready to tender for existing bus routes.
Introducing the Saddleworth Rambler
Two things favoured Nexus Move’s foray into stage carriage operation. One was a government funded rural bus scheme. Another was FirstGroup’s retreat from tendered services.
Following a TfGM consultation with Saddleworth residents, improved bus services and rail connections topped their list. Thanks to rural bus funding, the people of Saddleworth got their wish, in the form of a bus route from Denshaw to Greenfield. Known as The Saddleworth Rambler, it links Denshaw with Delph, Dobcross, Diggle, Uppermill, and Greenfield railway station. Unlike many TfGM tendered services, smaller minibuses (seating fewer than 20 passengers) were permitted.
Perfectly placed for this was Nexus Move, who have had experience in running small minibuses – via their minicab companies and in DRT operations. At the start of 2018, Nexus Move Ltd won the tender and began operating the 356 Saddleworth Rambler route on the 09 April 2018. To make way for its introduction, First Greater Manchester’s 353 and 354 routes were changed. The terminus of the 353 moved to Dobcross from Carrcote. The 354’s terminus moved from Denshaw to Carrcote.
During its first six weeks, the service offered solid connections with Northern’s trains to Manchester Victoria in the peak hours and Monday to Saturday evenings. Outside the peaks, its terminus was Uppermill Leisure Centre.
Then came the biggest blow to the Saddleworth Rambler’s raison d’etre: its rail connections. Greenfield’s stopping service with Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield was axed. In its place was a stop on a skip-stop service from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly. Worst of all, there was no way of getting to Mossley station in less than ten minutes (without changing at Stalybridge or getting a bus).
To reflect these changes, the Saddleworth Rambler’s timetable was changed to connect with First Transpennine Express’ stopping service. If anything undermined the shuttle bus’ success, it was the appalling punctuality and reliability on the Trans-Pennine line. To make the route easier to use, all journeys terminated at Greenfield railway station.
Almost a year on, TfGM’s contract with Nexus Move was renewed. Shortly after that announcement, another two Saddleworth routes came their way.
The 353 and 354 routes
The 353 and 354 routes have previously been operated by the likes of FirstGroup (via its Dukinfield garage), Stagecoach (after acquiring Universal Buses’ operations) and local operators like Dennis’ Coaches. Apart from the addition of Stalybridge bus station, its routes between Uppermill and Ashton have changed little since bus deregulation.
Since 2004, both routes have had their fair share of cuts. Most notably the loss of its sections north of Uppermill after 7pm in April 2008. Then the loss of its evening service in April 2015, followed by the loss of its Sunday and Bank Holiday service in favour of the two-hourly 355 route. In the last year after the establishment of the Saddleworth Rambler, the Waterton Lane section of the 353 route was withdrawn.
In April 2019, First Greater Manchester lost the tender to Nexus Move. During that month, First had pulled out of tendered work in Tameside, which saw the end of the 340’s evening journeys. The 350 route’s evening journeys saw a change of operator from First to Stagecoach Manchester.
Nexus Move’s arrival on the 353 and 354 routes weren’t prompted by shiny silver Volkswagen minibuses. Secondhand Optare Solos were drafted in as a stopgap solution. In its early days, their bargain buys didn’t instil confidence for wannabe passengers. Some observers noticed the slightly modified Stagecoach livery and the down-to-heel interior. One noted how one of the secondhand Solos broke down at Stalybridge bus station.
As the weeks progressed, Nexus Move settled into their niche on the 353 and 354 routes. Just in time for Whitsuntide, the gaffer tape gave way to patent leather. Immediately replacing the Optare Solos came a pair of Mellor Strata bodied Mercedes minibuses, LO19 YYE and LO19 YYF. Though lacking the capacity of their predecessors, they offer a real improvement in terms of comfort.
Making a Nexus Move
Days after starting operations on the 353 and 354 routes, I had been meaning to board any of Nexus Move’s bus routes. I had yet to have boarded a single journey on the Saddleworth Rambler. I broke that duck in April, boarding a 354 to Stalybridge.
My vehicle at the time was an ex-Stagecoach Optare Solo; what was lacking in image was more than made up for in friendliness. It almost harked back to the early years of bus deregulation with small, friendly operators nipping at ex-NBC/former PTE operators. The driver was polite and friendly.
Two months later, I was pleased to find one of Nexus Move’s shiny new Mercedes minibuses on the 354 route. This was Whit Friday. Having had my hands burnt by First’s efforts at running a service on the day of The Greatest Free Show on Earth, my father and I caught the 0955 journey to Uppermill. Plus it worked well with a Twirly Friendly journey of the 346 beforehand.
Even with the crotchety nature of Whit Friday bus operations, it was a joyous experience. The ride was agreeable and the seats were more comfortable than some buses (and trains) I had travelled on over the last year. Its interior was airy with good sized windows. A good thing if you wish to venture into Saddleworth, especially on the 353 between Top Mossley and Uppermill.
After being held up by Greenfield’s Whit Walks, the bus made light work of Queensway and Carr Lane. Due to the Mercs being narrower than the Solos, the bus negotiated its way past the parked cars with ease.
Throughout the journey, the driver was friendly and kept a level head whilst the bus was held up outside The Clarence Hotel. Prior to joining Nexus Move, he had worked for Stagecoach Manchester. Given the choice of Longsight or Lydgate, he probably made a better move.
On the way back, with the buses being skew whiff, we knew for sure the 350s would have been knackered timekeeping wise. With this shortcoming, we elected to board a 356 Saddleworth Rambler bus to Greenfield. The driver asked us if we were going to Boarshurst Band Club, and knew us from that venerable institution. Ten minutes after alighting at Chapel Road, our 350 bus came.
Our next experience on the 356 route came the Saturday after: this time, after struggling to find reasonably priced food in Delph. At about 2015 hours, we gained a fuller picture of the Saddleworth Rambler‘s merits. Besides being a shuttle bus for the station, it came into its own as a community bus. For journeys from Delph to Diggle or Dobcross to Uppermill.
A fair few passengers boarded our journey. At Dobcross, one passenger boarded and spoke to a friend from Diggle about the shortcomings of his beloved Latics.
Throughout all our journeys over Whit Weekend, Nexus Move had found their feet. The Volkswagen minibus on the Saddleworth Rambler was comfortable, but the Mellor Strata bodied Mercedes vehicles have a better seating layout. All the drivers were friendly and have, by that point, started to know their regular customers. If the weather was a bit better this month, I could have found another excuse to board their buses.
We hope the 353, 354 and 356 routes continue to flourish under their tutelage. Would Nexus Move’s bus market share be boosted under a franchised system? Could Nexus Move refresh more parts that other bus routes cannot reach?
S.V., 16 August 2019.