MCT Travel to Cease Operations in April

Difficult trading conditions leads to Manchester Community Transport’s demise

Less than a year after FirstGroup’s Tamexit in September 2019, the departure of another company will see more upheaval for Tameside’s bus users.

On their website, MCT Travel, also known as Manchester Community Transport, announced that it is proposing to cease operations in late April. The company, rescued from closure in 2017 by joining the HCT Group, have cited “mounting losses” and “difficult trading conditions” as a factor in their withdrawal.

Manchester Community Transport’s existence predates FirstGroup and Arriva. They started out as Wythenshawe Mobile in 1980, after receiving Urban Aid funding. The company adopted its present name, Manchester Community Transport in 2005.

The Community Interest Company runs a sizeable number of TfGM tendered services in Tameside and Oldham. In all, 38 routes with a fleet of 67 vehicles. Many of which serve areas that would otherwise be bus deserts. The company expanded after the purchase of Maytree Travel’s routes, going beyond their South Manchester roots.

In recent times, they moved from their depots in Rochdale and Heaton Chapel to new premises in Waldron House, Chadderton. The former depot was necessitated by the acquisition of Maytree Travel’s operations.

From the MCT Travel website, Interim Managing Director Phil Stockley said, “It’s a really sad day for all of us. Colleagues from across the Group – and the whole staff team at MCT – have worked tirelessly to put the operation here on a sustainable footing.”

He continued by saying, “We understood the level of difficulty facing MCT when we took on this challenge, but felt strongly it was worth every possible effort to preserve a Community Transport organisation with such a longstanding tradition of service in the area.

“We have done all we can, but the situation does not appear to be recoverable and we can no longer maintain our support.”

We can also reveal that Diamond Bus North West and Stagecoach Greater Manchester have stepped in to take over most of MCT Travel’s routes.

How will this affect Tameside?

Many of MCT Travel’s routes in the Tameside area comprise of evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys. They operate a couple of routes on a full time basis with hourly frequencies on most routes. The only exception to this rule is the Sundays and Bank Holidays Only 355 route, which has a two-hourly frequency.

Full time routes

  • 41: Ashton-under-Lyne – Dukinfield – Tennyson Avenue;
  • 217: (Ashton-under-Lyne) – Droylsden – Clayton – Ancoats – Manchester [Piccadilly Gardens] (Ashton to Droylsden section weekday and Saturday daytime only).

Daytime routes

The following routes have no service on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings:

  • 335: Ashton-under-Lyne – Dukinfield – Audenshaw – Denton [Town Lane];
  • 339: Ashton-under-Lyne – Crowhill Circular;
  • 387: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mottram-in-Longdendale – Hattersley – Hyde;
  • 419: Ashton-under-Lyne – Hathershaw – Chadderton – Mills Hill – Middleton.

Sundays, Bank Holidays and Evenings only routes

The following routes that are operated by MCT Travel after 7pm which may have a different operator (denoted in italicised parenthesis) at other times of the day. Some services may also be run on Sundays and Bank Holidays:

  • 7: Ashton-under-Lyne – Droylsden – Gorton – Dane Bank – Reddish – Stockport (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 232: Ashton-under-Lyne – Smallshaw Circular;
  • 237: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mottram-in-Longdendale – Hollingworth – Tintwistle – Hadfield – Dinting – Glossop (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 336: Ashton-under-Lyne – Hartshead Circular (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 337: Ashton-under-Lyne – Hartshead Circular (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 345: Ashton-under-Lyne – Dukinfield – Audenshaw – Denton [Pendle Road] (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 389: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Dukinfield – Yew Tree (Stagecoach Greater Manchester);
  • 396: Ashton-under-Lyne – Hurst – Limehurst Farm (Limehurst Farm to Newton Heath section on weekday and Saturday daytimes. Full route operated by Stott’s Tours).

Sundays and Bank Holidays only route

  • 355: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mossley – Roaches – Friezland – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Denshaw.

For Tameside, Stagecoach Greater Manchester could be MCT Travel’s successors, presumably with the 419s being operated out of Middleton depot. With the 41s, 389s and the Ashton Circular routes, Ashton depot would be their most obvious base.

By April of this year, two MCT Travel routes could be axed or amalgamated as part of another route. It is proposed that the 387 route which offers an important link between Stalybridge, Hattersley and Hyde would be axed. The 355, along with its Nexus Move stablemates on the 353 and 354, would be absorbed by a super sized Saddleworth Rambler. That would also take in the 356 and 407 routes, from Ashton to Oldham via almost every village in Saddleworth.

How would this affect Oldham?

Well before MCT Travel’s announcement, it was proposed that some of their routes would have been affected by April’s service changes. These will concern the 402, 410 and 411 routes.

Full time routes

  • 408: Oldham – Royal Oldham Hospital – Royton – High Crompton – Shaw – Buckstones;
  • 412: Oldham – Royton – Boarshaw – Middleton.

Daytime routes

The following routes have no service on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings unless stated otherwise:

  • 159: Middleton – New Moston – Failsworth – Hollinwood – Butler Green – Chadderton – Oldham;
  • 355: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mossley – Roaches – Friezland – Greenfield – Uppermill – Dobcross – Delph – Denshaw (Sunday and Bank Holiday daytimes only).
  • 402: Oldham – Royal Oldham Hospital – Royton – Thornham Circular;
  • 410: Oldham – Higginshaw – Waterhead – Roxbury Circular;
  • 411: Oldham – Glodwick – Roxbury – Waterhead Circular;
  • 419: Ashton-under-Lyne – Hathershaw – Chadderton – Mills Hill – Middleton.

Unlike the Tameside area, MCT Travel’s absence would have little effect on Oldham’s bus network. The 408 and 412 are Manchester Community Transport’s only full time routes in the borough. The rest have no Sunday, evening and Bank Holiday journeys.

It is proposed that the 410 and 411 circular routes, plus the 402 and 412 routes would form part of a new daytime only 402 route. Like the 343, its Sunday and Bank Holiday daytime journeys will be every two hours. As said in our look at MCT Travel’s Tameside routes, the 355 will also be affected by April’s forthcoming service changes.

Should Stagecoach Greater Manchester step in, there’s every chance that MCT Travel’s Oldham routes will be operated from Middleton depot. The 419 could work from either Middleton or Ashton depots.

Where next for MCT Travel’s routes?

With Andy Burnham set to make a decision on the Doing Buses Differently consultation next month, MCT Travel’s demise could make life a little difficult. Apart from having to fill in gaps left by James Barrington Stones’ retirement with Jim Stones Coaches, TfGM will have several more to fill.

The difficult trading conditions cited by MCT Travel could be due to the recent bad weather and a downturn in retail sales. Furthermore, some of MCT Travel’s routes cover deprived areas, so the price of bus fares may be too prohibitive for casual passengers. For the same price as a middle distance single fare, you could put that towards the delivery costs of an online big shop. Therefore the buses become less profitable, your town centres have emptier High Streets, and your pubs have ‘to let’ signs or tinned windows.

So far in 2020, we have seen the loss of Halton Transport’s operations due to a considerable deficit. MCT Travel’s demise, and Halton Transport’s, may call into question whether or not arms-length local authority companies and third sector operators are viable propositions. Elsewhere in the HCT Group, Derbyshire Community Transport has left the HCT nest as a flourishing independent. In Jersey, LibertyBus (a franchised operation), saw an all time high in patronage, hitting the five million mark.

What went wrong in Greater Manchester? Was it inherited losses following its expansion? Was it the marketing power of Transdev, Go-Ahead, FirstGroup and Stagecoach? The lack of disposable income or the use of Uber and the private car for spontaneous journeys?

Between now and the end of this April, please make the most of Manchester Community Transport’s routes whilst you can. Most importantly, respect the drivers; they could be working for their successors before long.

S.V., 19 February 2020.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Gail Cooney says:

    Will this affect the 335 as this bus is a life line for a lot of the people who use it myself included it would mean not being able to go out at all as the walk to get another bus is just too far .

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  2. mfitchew says:

    Here in the West Midlands, the similar West Midlands Special Needs Transport (WMSNT) with it’s bus service operating subsidiary Igo, went under last year. The services were taken over by other operators, mostly National Express West Midlands, who would latter take over the rest of the company as National Express Accessible Transport.

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  3. scuzzmonster says:

    Shame. Rely a lot on them for the 336/337 routes. Took a while to get used to a new company taking over at different times of the day/ weekends but in my own experience they were very rarely late or missed out services altogether. Unlike First! The only grumble I *did* hear occasionally was from people who might have bought dedicated First weekly passes then found them invalid for travel on MCT.

    Like

  4. KEVLAR says:

    I use the 419 to Chadderton my only gripe is because they are every hour i have to get the 06:57 even though i don’t start work until 08:15 cant risk getting the later one as i would almost certainly be late.
    i also found the buses became very grubby in the last year with litter and food waste left on floor, i was told it was because MCT had let the cleaners go.

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    1. Hi KEVLAR,

      I boarded the 0757 journey from Ashton Bus Station to Chadderton this morning and it departed on time, arriving outside the precinct for 0820. The Enviro200 bus on my journey was fairly clean inside.

      Further to your observations about the grubbiness, I noticed that some of the vinyl on their Solo SR electric hybrid buses have peeled off. On Wednesday, I saw traces of the previous livery on a Dennis Dart SLF, minutes away from doing a journey on the 412 route.

      My experience with MCT Travel buses is usually a positive one in spite of some shortcomings. Due to superior reliability, I sometimes opt for the 1730 Ashton to Uppermill 355 route for Greenfield over First’s 1737 journey on the 350 route (on Sundays).

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

      Like

  5. Leeds says:

    Hello, from when MCT cease, the 237 journeys MCT currently run will be taken over by Stagecoach which will probably mean times will change where close duplication occurs.

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    1. Hi Leeds,

      That would be (almost) back to how it was before April 2015. Stagecoach’s evening journeys will be set to MCT Travel’s timetable. The main difference from pre-April 2015 operations is the omission of the 236’s evening journeys. Apart from that, I wonder if evening patronage would perk up (with passengers using Megariders)? I wonder if the post-7pm £2.00 maximum fare would be retained after late-April?

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

      Like

  6. Luis says:

    💔 I wish I could save them, I don’t know wether the extraordinary transport meeting is going on tomorrow due to the situation we are in now but I haven’t heard anything so there is some hope but does this mean that MCT routes are in danger and that the 375 will be withdrawn? ( like I say hopefully the meeting can go on.

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