Welcome upgrade for local Ashton and Hyde routes
For regular readers used to seeing a separate Oldham and Saddleworth bulletin, this edition covers the Oldham, Tameside and Glossop areas due to fewer service changes in Oldham.
- Sunday journeys added to 335, 342 and 387 routes;
- 41As partially replaced by Sunday and Bank Holiday 335s;
- 394 route suspended, cutting Chisworth off bus network;
- 182 curtailed to terminate at Shaw with Rochdale section served by 408.
As we have mentioned in previous bulletins on Tameside service changes, plans to bolster some local routes have come to fruition. Some might think this is foolish in the middle of a lockdown. That is due in part to the recent extension of the Notice Period that English bus operators have to give to the DVLA if they need to vary, improve or withdraw a bus route.
Lockdown or otherwise, the small but significant improvement to some local routes is worthy of acknowledgement. For the first time ever, Fitton Hill will be getting a Sunday and Bank Holiday service with Ashton-under-Lyne and Middleton. As we stated in the last bulletin, we stated how the 419 was withdrawn, rerouted and renumbered 396. Just about missing the cut was the introduction of Go-Goodwins’ 397 route to Newton Heath, maintaining the link severed by the 396’s changes.
On the 396 route, evening, Bank Holiday and Sunday journeys will be introduced along the entire route. Though every two hours, it is one more bus every two hours on a Sunday than there is at this time of writing. Certainly more frequent than the original 419 route on the Sabbath day (neither Citibus nor successors ran Sunday journeys on that route). The operator of its daytime service remains Stott’s Tours, whereas Stagecoach Greater Manchester will be running the new journeys as of the 31 January. Presumably from Middleton depot.
For the first time since the mid-1990s, Mottram Old Road in Stalybridge will be seeing buses on Sundays and Bank Holidays. This time by means of the 387. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors from Chesterfield (latterly as Stagecoach East Midlands), Stagecoach Greater Manchester will be taking on these journeys. This time from Ashton depot.
The rest of Tameside’s newly introduced evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys will also be operated by Stagecoach Greater Manchester. This will apply to the 339 service from Ashton-under-Lyne to Crowhill. At present, it has no evening journeys, but the 31 January 2021 will see their reinstatement. These will be every two hours, and its Sunday and Bank Holiday daytime journeys will be cut to that frequency.
Getting its first ever Sunday and Bank Holiday service will be the 342 (Hyde to Backbower Circular). This route will run every two hours with four journeys during shopping hours. These will leave Hyde bus station at 1029, 1229, 1429 and 1629, getting to Hyde Hospital six minutes later.
Further changes will be made to the two Ashton to Dukinfield and Denton bus routes, known individually as the 335 and the 345. Firstly, the 335 will have its first Sunday, Bank Holiday and evening journeys: at a modest two-hourly frequency. Secondly, the 345’s Sunday, Bank Holiday and evening frequency will be slashed to every two hours. This despite the maintenance of hourly buses between Ashton-under-Lyne and the bottom end of King Street, and Ashton Street between Globe Square and Cemetery Road.
If Astley Street passengers think they are going to lose out with a bus every two hours, spare a thought for passengers who want to travel from Tennyson Avenue to Thorncliffe Avenue. As we said in the previous bulletin, you would be looking at three buses for a 1.5 mile journey, with walking or taking a taxi the only options. The 41A would be no more, strengthening a case for restoring the 221’s off-peak journeys, seven days a week. Its partial successor in the 335 route will be operated by Stagecoach Greater Manchester. Whereas the weekday and Saturday daytime journeys of the 335 will terminate at Dane Bank, its newly introduced journeys will terminate at Ruskin Avenue – its original pre-September 2020 terminus.
For travelling from Lyne Edge Road to Morrisons, HM Government’s Stay At Home message cannot be more starker. At least the 389 is still half hourly for now with the option of ALDI in Stalybridge. As of Wednesday, the people of Chisworth will have a bus service vastly inferior to those enjoyed by passengers on remote Hebridean islands.
Till further notice, the already bricked-beyond-the-point-of-usefulness 394 route will be suspended. Sure, you can get a taxi on the Isle of Eigg as you can in Chisworth, but there will be considerably more buses to the Callanish Stones than between Stepping Hill and Glossop. (We have checked: there are seven journeys on the W2 route from the Callanish Stones visitor centre, three of which to Stornoway). Heaven Help Us Next-The-Sea if you live in Gamesley and need to go to Stepping Hill!
As well as the 41A, we will also be saying goodbye to the 232 Ashton-under-Lyne to Broadoak Circular, with the incumbent 231 being its replacement. Part-route journeys will be introduced between Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside Hospital and Waterloo (Wilshaw Lane). Also in Ashton, some changes have been made to the evening timetables of the 336 and 337 Hazelhurst Circular routes.
Minor changes in the Tameside area
Due to the lighter lockdown traffic conditions, some routes will be running to times more akin to Saturday operations. Stagecoach Greater Manchester’s 237 route will be seeing such tweaks, as will the 330 to Stockport. The former route will be running to Saturday journey times, presumably to reflect reduced traffic levels between Back Moor and Shirebrook Park.
The 346 will see some retimings on its AM peak and AM shoulder-peak hour journeys. At present, more running time is allowed on Northbound journeys from 0600 to 1030. From the 01 February, five minutes will be shaved off journeys from Hyde to Newton, whilst maintaining its clock face departure from Hyde bus station at 05 and 25 minutes past and quarter to the hour. At The Albion Hotel, the usual frequency of 02 and 22 minutes past and 18 minutes to the hour will kick in after the third journey of the day (departing at 0702).
The 389 will also see a few timing tweaks to its evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys. This will also include the loss of its 2210 journey on Sundays, meaning the last 389s will depart at 2110. Diamond Bus North West’s 217 route will see a slight change to its route, albeit in Sharston. Instead of Roundwood Road, Rotala’s nippy little minibuses will be using Princess Parkway.
Also subject to less permanent retiming changes will be the 201, 205, 216 and 219 routes. Like the 237, 330 and 346 routes, this is thanks to reduced traffic levels in the peak hours.
Oldham service changes
As we said at the start of this bulletin, Fitton Hill will benefit from a new Sunday and Bank Holiday, and evening extension of the 396 route. Though every two hours, it broadens the estate’s travel options beyond a shuttle bus to Oldham, or walking down Fir Tree Avenue for a 409 to Ashton or Rochdale.
The 408, a bus route that we thought was due for the chop two years ago, will be extended northwards. From the 31 January, the hourly service between Oldham and Shaw will be extended to Rochdale (via Newhey and Milnrow). How will this happen? First Greater Manchester, its present operator will be curtailing its 182 service to terminate at Shaw in line with its stablemate, the 181.
As well as a change of terminus for the 182, the 181 will be retimed. For the 408 route, this isn’t the first time it had a northbound extension to Rochdale. In 2002, the 408 – back when it used to terminate in Stalybridge Bus Station – took over part of the 56 route between Buckstones and Rochdale. At that time, it took in Sycamore Avenue and Cedar Lane, which is now served by Burnley Bus Company’s R5 route. For the long journey, Optare Solos were the norm.
The only other change affecting Oldham’s bus users will be a minor one, and this will affect passengers on the 76 route. Stagecoach Greater Manchester’s route into Oldham via Failsworth will also see timing tweaks – again with running times more akin to Saturday operation.
Since our last set of service changes, Tameside and Oldham has moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 before entering into nationwide lockdown on New Year’s Eve 2020. At this moment, non-essential shops are closed, which has an effect on passenger loadings and serendipitous shopping trips. COVID-19 hospital admissions and cases have risen since then.
As seen here, the minor retiming changes aren’t quite as severe as those in the first lockdown. Back then, social distancing had begun to enter our vocabulary and passengers didn’t have to wear a face covering on the 343. Though we have social distancing and compulsory face coverings on our buses in our third lockdown, non-essential travel remains a no-no. People who cannot drive still need to get buses to the shops, to work, or to access public services.
Pandemic or not, an effective bus network should be key to levelling up our economy. Despite goodness knows how much has been spent on furlough schemes, dodgy test and trace apps, irresponsible diners’ discount schemes, local government still has to make efficiency savings. Departmental cuts are still going ahead – at least till the end of this parliament, which should be December 2024.
The next round of service changes, pencilled in for April this year, may see further cuts for Oldham’s and Tameside’s tendered routes. Since FirstGroup’s Tamexit in 2019, the 389 has been run by Stagecoach Greater Manchester. By April, there are plans to cut its frequency from half hourly to once hourly. The whole of the route will be a TfGM tendered service. Only fifteen years ago, six buses an hour on weekday and Saturday daytimes used to call outside The Forester on Gorse Hall Road. (Four per hour on the 389s and two per hour on the 41s).
A similar fate will affect the 336 and 337 Hazelhurst Circulars. The present routes were derived from the 331, 332 and 333 Ashton Circulars, the 38, 39, and 393 routes. Each route apart from the 332 had a half hourly frequency, and this was only two years ago. With the direction of travel in some parts of Tameside, it makes you wonder if the car and online shop has won hands down. If you favour the Proposed Franchising Scheme in GMCA’s revised consultation (closing on the 29 January), you may well argue that The Free Market Experiment has failed Tameside.
Also slated for April’s changes will be Diamond Bus North West’s 217 route. It is expected to be severed at Piccadilly Gardens, with the Manchester to Wythenshawe Hospital section spun off into a new 44 route. The 217 will revert being an Ashton – Manchester bus route, with only a deviation in Beswick being a marginal difference on the original 1984 version (which spun off from a part route working of the 216).
With forthcoming changes to the 336 and 337 routes, there is a clear case for one more alteration that should be considered: an extension to Tameside Hospital. Tameside’s bus links with Greater Manchester hospitals are strong between Tameside Hospital and Royal Oldham Hospital from Ashton-under-Lyne. A journey to Stepping Hill could be a challenging proposition, needing a change of bus in Stockport. Many of the South Manchester hospitals (Wythenshawe Hospital excepted till April) require a change of bus in central Manchester.
Of the changes we may be about to receive in April, there is one change that could be seen as a bad one if you see the glass as half empty. The 397, Go-Goodwins’ route to Newton Heath will be replaced by an extended version of the 151. At present, the 151 pootles around North Manchester from Newton Heath to Cheetham Hill and North Manchester General Hospital. Stott’s Tours is the present-day operator of the hourly service.
The newly extended service will cover the present 397 route, with a slight change in Failsworth, and take on the present 151 route. Instead of being every 90 minutes, Ashton-under-Lyne will regain its hourly link with Newton Heath – and a new link with another hospital. One that doesn’t require a cross-city journey.
For the bus enthusiast, this also means Ashton-under-Lyne’s first ever direct bus link with the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport. Now that’s worth looking forward to if we give COVID-19 the middle finger it deserves. (You know the drill: social distancing, wearing PPE, sanitising your hands regularly).
By the time we do our next service changes bulletins, we might find out a bit more about GMCA’s Proposed Franchising Scheme (post-COVID update) consultation. For now, sit back, relax, and scour your favourite streaming service for bus-based comedy films till it all blows over. Whilst keeping one eye on the transport scene in Greater Manchester of course.
S.V., 25 January 2021.