First/Diamond/Go North West ticketing agreement ends in New Year
For Greater Mancunian bus, train, and tram passengers, there is nothing peculiar about the 02 January 2020. As it is the first working day of 2020, it is at that point of the year when our bus, train and tram fares go up.
Next year will be slightly different. Firstly, the 08 January 2020 is the deadline for GMCA’s Bus Franchising consultation. Secondly, the FirstDay ticket, as we know it, will offer less value for money than in, say 2018.
As a result of FirstGroup’s sale of Bolton depot to Rotala and Queen’s Road depot to the Go-Ahead Group, a bus journey from Bolton to Chadderton may entail three different operators. That is supposing you caught Diamond Bus North West’s 471 to Bury. Then a 163 to Middleton (Go North West), and a 59 to Chadderton (First Greater Manchester).
Before the start of this year, the 471, 163 and 59 routes were all operated by First Greater Manchester. From 1985 to 2004, you could have caught one bus from Bolton to Chadderton: the 401 Trans-Lancs Express route from Oldham to Wigan (later Bolton to Stockport alongside the 400 via Rochdale).
Bolton to Chadderton might not be a solid commuter flow like Oldham to Manchester, or Bolton to Manchester, but a fair few passengers used to take the 401 to Bury. From Oldham and Chadderton; Ashton-under-Lyne too on the 400 and 401 routes.
…And Then There Was Three
Until the 01 January 2020, you can buy any of FirstGroup’s, Go-Ahead’s or Rotala’s single operator tickets, and use that on any present-day and former First routes. You can – till New Year’s Eve – buy a Go North West day saver ticket from Warrington (on the 100) and use it on the 180 to Greenfield. In the New Year, a journey from Bolton to Chadderton means purchasing a System One Any Bus Saver.
What about journeys outside Greater Manchester? The loss of the North Manchester Bus Operator Ticketing Agreement may have little impact on your usual journey. Unless you travel from Bolton to Slaithwaite (via Bury, Middleton and Oldham), you will need more than one pass. A FirstDay or any of First Greater Manchester’s season tickets on top of your System One Buscard or Any Bus Day Saver.
What can be more problematic is if (for example) Diamond Bus North West runs the evening journeys of a route that is operated by First or Go North West in the daytime. A System One or GetMeThere pass is an absolute must, especially if you catch buses on a daily basis. As for the casual passenger, this is where an Any Bus Day Saver comes to the fore. Given the expense compared with single operator day rover tickets, a costly proposition if you need to make a simple journey.
A journey from Sudden to Kirkholt could be complicated with two operators from Sudden to Rochdale (Go North West’s 17 route or Diamond Bus North West’s 471 route). Then a 6 from Rochdale to Kirkholt – a First Greater Manchester route by day, though a MCT Travel one by night. Before 7pm, a FirstDay could – until New Year’s Eve at about 6pm-ish – suffice.
Should bus franchising come to fruition in 2024, our journey from Sudden to Kirkholt may only need a single day rover ticket. In Greater Manchester, day saver tickets and season tickets will cover the whole of the TfGM boundary. The proposed price will mirror the lowest price single operator ticket. Operators of cross-boundary services – such as Yorkshire Tiger on the X58 or Stagecoach Manchester’s 236 and 237 routes – may retain some cross-boundary season tickets and day rovers.
Under Transport for London, casual bus users aren’t stung in the same way as their Greater Mancunian counterparts. A casual passenger could check in and check out with their Oyster Card with the fare added to their account statement. For an hour’s bus travel, you can catch as many buses as you like for £1.50.
In Greater Manchester, £1.50 would only cover three stops if you are lucky. A one hour ticket would cover a journey from Kirkholt to Sudden TESCO quite comfortably. Even at £2.00, that would be a bargain compared with present fares (it is nearly four quid from Ashton to Hey Farm Estate on the 350!).
If your two-bus or three-bus journey takes half an hour or three hours, you need a photographic memory to remember the fares of each operator (hence, thank goodness, System One’s Any Bus Day Saver). A franchised network would see standard fare levels across most of Greater Manchester’s bus routes. Cross-boundary fares may differ; operators of cross-boundary routes would have to apply for a licence from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Had I lived in North Manchester, I would have recommended the System One or GetMeThere pass for regular bus users. Not only to mitigate the three way split with First, Diamond and Go North West; also for covering other operator like Stagecoach, MCT Travel, Stott’s Tours and Arriva North West.
For North Manchester bus users, the three way split is quite a seismic shift. Having lived in Tameside all my life, I have been used to this and worse since the start of bus deregulation. Especially from November 1991 onwards when GM Buses closed their Tameside depot when Pennine Blue, Mayne of Manchester, Glossopdale and Dennis’s added to the mix. Especially as my local bus routes have historically had more than one operator depending on the time of day.
Presently on my patch, only the 343 and 389 routes fall into that category (Stott’s Tours/Stagecoach on the 343; Stagecoach/MCT Travel on the 389). Many of the smaller operators have been absorbed by First and Stagecoach. Greater Manchester’s smallest bus operator is also Tameside’s biggest private hire cab company.
The biggest issue, alongside the fragmentation of North Manchester’s bus network, is how the casual user is being priced out of a hitherto simple bus journey. Under a franchised system, simplified fares and coordinated timetables will improve matters within Greater Manchester.
To participate in Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s bus franchising consultation (entitled Doing Buses Differently), click this link to the GM Consult website. You can either do the shorter consultation questionnaire (recommended) or the longer questionnaire (great for enthusiasts and bus industry types). The deadline is the 08 January 2020.
S.V., 05 November 2019.