A look at the more lasting changes that will affect Oldham and Saddleworth bus passengers
Earlier on, we said there were no service changes affecting Oldham and Saddleworth bus passengers this autumn. At the time, we only knew about the withdrawal of South Pennine Community Transport’s 359 route and placed this in our Tameside and Glossop changes.
Perhaps there was a reason for the late announcement to the service changes for Oldham and Saddleworth passengers on the First Greater Manchester website. They made for such grim reading to a point where it wouldn’t be suitable for passengers with heart conditions, sensitive stomachs, hiatus hernia, or haemorrhoids. If you live in Greenfield, get County Cars on speed dial or find your nearest driving school, if you want to get to Oldham without going through the rest of Saddleworth.
Though First Greater Manchester have made some positive changes, the general consensus is confusion. With some local routes, the message is almost as muddled as the government’s messages on our lockdown. A journey from Watersheddings to Hollinwood will require a change of bus in Oldham town centre before 7pm.
COVID-19 cuts made permanent
As of this Sunday, there will be no 58 route any more, following its temporary suspension due to the pandemic. Between Rushcroft and Oldham, there will be no 59s, leaving Shaw’s Manchester link to the trams. In its place will be a new 57 route between Oldham and Rushcroft, providing an half hourly link on weekday and Saturday daytimes. On Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings, an hourly one. It is clear that part of the original 59 route has been trimmed to allow another operator to take on the 57 in future months or years.
Nevertheless, Shaw will retain a full time Manchester bus link in the 182 (which is more than what the people of Dukinfield, Ramsbottom and Norden presently enjoy). This will be an hourly service all day long. The 181, Shaw’s other sister Manchester route, will be curtailed to operate between Royton and Manchester. For Chadderton passengers, the peak service has been slashed from every 15 minutes to every half hour in less than a year. Before Sunday, 181s and 182s combined to create a 20 minute peak hour service.
The 59, in its guise as an Oldham to Manchester (via Middleton) route will see an improved Saturday frequency. In line with its weekday daytime service, buses will be every ten minutes. Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys will be every 20 minutes and hourly after 7pm.
For Sholver passengers, changes to the 83 route will see the windswept estate almost cut off from Manchester. Most journeys will operate between Oldham and Manchester city centre apart from a smattering of evening journeys to Sholver. The new-look 83 will operate every ten minutes along the A62 via Hollinwood and Newton Heath on Monday to Saturday daytimes (hourly after 7pm and half hourly on Sunday and Bank Holiday daytimes).
In lieu of its curtailment will be the 82 route. This service will have a pretty reasonable 15 minute daytime frequency, and a half hourly one on Sunday and Bank Holiday daytimes. After 7pm, this will be served by the 83 route.
Saddleworth service changes
The 84 – now Saddleworth’s main route to Manchester city centre – will see a ten minute daytime frequency between Manchester and Grotton. Buses will operate every half hour to Uppermill. The third bus per hour between Oldham and Uppermill will be the 184. The Huddersfield to Oldham route will be rerouted via Greenacres Cemetery giving the people of Uppermill and Grotton a direct link with Springhead. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, this will be covered by a two-hourly extension of the 84 route via Lees Road.
On the flip side of these changes is the withdrawal of First Greater Manchester’s journeys on the 80 route from Oldham to Holts Estate (via Greenacres and Springhead). This change would leave an annoying gap between Lees and Holts Estate, which would only be navigable on foot if you can manage the hilly terrain. This change will not affect Stagecoach’s evening journeys.
In the last year, the 180 has become our unanimous winner of The Most Bricked to Uselessness Bus Route. Last year, it enjoyed a half hourly frequency and an hourly evening service to Piccadilly Gardens. By the start of this year, curtailed to run between Oldham and Greenfield [Clarence Hotel]; once hourly on weekdays and every two hours on Saturdays. Oh, and no Sunday and Bank Holiday service.
Thanks to COVID-19, the 180 route was suspended. This Sunday’s changes would see the route being as good as suspended. This time with only four return journeys a day on weekdays and an extra return journey on Saturdays. If there was ever an advert for the speedy delivery of a Bus Franchising Scheme or Public Ownership, the bricking of the 180’s service level is a classic case in point. The sooner another operator takes on that route and restores its pre-2019 frequencies, the better.
Thankfully, the 350 – now Greenfield’s most frequent bus route – won’t be seeing any changes in the Saddleworth area on weekdays and Saturdays. Well, at least in Saddleworth that wouldn’t be the case. As we said in the Tameside and Glossop Service Changes bulletin, its Saturday service between Micklehurst and Ashton-under-Lyne will be slashed from every 15 minutes to every half hour. As for its Sunday service, the lockdown era changes will be made permanent. The 350’s Sunday frequency will revert to October 2004 levels, which was once an hour. Stagecoach’s evening journeys remain unchanged.
As the Prime Minister has been trying to chivvy the masses towards our offices and sandwich shops, he might be happy to see the return of the X84 express route. Then again, there’s every chance he could miss it, with the service being ten buses per week. Its outward journey leaves Carrcote at 0710 with the return journey leaving Piccadilly Gardens at 1710. If Boris Johnson is that keen on getting the people of Saddleworth back to work, the latest set of changes are a good advert for working from home.
There will be an improved Saturday service on the 425 route from Holts Estate to Abbeyhills Road. This will be in line with the present weekday frequency of every fifteen minutes. The 426 from Fitton Hill will be retimed with buses every half hour – a far cry from being every 12 minutes in 2015 as part of the 425 route.
Then again, the 426 is probably overshadowed by the 409, which will see an earlier start for its Sunday and Bank Holiday service. Frequencies on these journeys are every 20 minutes and half hourly after 7pm. A far cry from 2014 Sunday service levels with a 15 minute daytime frequency leaving Ashton-under-Lyne bus station (Mark 3) at clock face intervals.
South Pennine Community Transport’s 359 route from Oldham to Holmfirth has also been withdrawn. This was following its temporary suspension due to the pandemic.
Well, we expected the September changes to be pretty brutal after the lockdown. Shaw and Royton passengers have come off worst with the latest set of changes. If there is one consolation, there are no changes to the 81 and 408 routes for once.
Perhaps this latest set of service changes have more to do with First Greater Manchester’s slow withdrawal from Oldham. It is clear they want to focus on the trunk routes, so long as most of them terminate at Mumps Bridge. The splitting of localised sections could also be due to improving reliability as well as creating an oven ready parcel of local routes for eventual sale. (Or future TfGM tenders).
The bigger picture points to a change in shopping habits. Instead of waiting minutes or hours for a bus into Oldham, you can let the internet do the rest. Though white collar workers can work from home, there still needs to be a sufficient network for employees who cannot work from home (i.e.: nurses, welders, veterinary surgeons, librarians, bus drivers). One that would be attractive for us to use outside of working hours for the pub, theatre or sports centre.
The next set of changes will make for interesting reading – even more so as school buses will be back in operation. For Oldham’s bus users, The New Normal does not exist: it is a tougher version of the Old Normal with service cuts. One where Facebook could be populated with “Do You Remember… Catching The Bus To Work?” memes, five years from now.
S.V., 28 August 2020.