With the possibility of bus franchising in Greater Manchester and improved local networks, has the government fallen in love with our buses?

There are four things that the creator of this blog shares with Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, otherwise known as Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP. One of them is a lackadaisical approach to haircare, plus we share the same horoscope (both myself and the PM are Geminis). We also have impeccable taste in doggies with Jack Russell Terriers. The fourth one is a love of buses.

Buses? A love of buses? I thought his story about making model buses was a convenient distraction from the release of a more innocuous Tory policy that was being discussed in the Houses of Parliament. Why hasn’t the Daily Mirror been bombarding us with stories over expense claims for Buses magazine subscriptions, scale models of Bristol VRs or £2,000 worth of Greater Manchester Transport Bus Guides? Did he get a job as The Spectator’s motoring correspondent by knowing the difference between a Bristol car and a Bristol RE?

The relationship between buses and Conservative party policies has been an awkward one in the last forty years. The late Nicholas Ridley gave us the 1985 Transport Act, known popularly by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham as “The Free Trade Experiment”. Its aim was to improve entrepreneurism and bring about cheaper fares. What actually happened to a business model more accustomed to partnership and public monopoly status was the creation of private monopolies. And the fares went up, dramatically.

Local choice quickly made way for bus owning groups like Stagecoach, FirstGroup, Arriva and Go-Ahead. In John Major’s Government, GM Buses was split into North and South divisions to improve competition. It was claimed back then that the very size of GM Buses inhibited competition and choice in Greater Manchester. Within two years of the split, GMS Buses and GM Buses North sold to Stagecoach and FirstBus. Both operators also had unsuccessful and costly ventures in Merseyside (GMS Buses with Birkenhead and District, GM Buses North with their own Liverpool operations).

25 years on, The Company Formerly Known As GM Buses North was split four ways. In 2019, Bolton depot transferred to Rotala North West, trading as Diamond Bus North West; Queens Road’s buses were sold to The Go-Ahead Group. What’s left of First Greater Manchester is a small scale operation centred around Oldham and two routes in Rochdale. Before the 2020 split, First Greater Manchester’s Tamexit policy saw the company only running three bus routes from Ashton-under-Lyne: the 348, 350 and 409. Wigan depot was also sold to Stagecoach.

On the other hand, Stagecoach Manchester expanded by means of acquisition, especially smaller operators like Glossopdale, Bluebird Bus and Coach, JPT Travel and the bus operations of Mayne of Manchester. Despite their increased market share – some of which through TfGM tenders – economies have been made. From 1996 onwards, they became the City Region’s leading operator. Yet their presence in Greater Manchester goes as far as March 1989 when they bought Ribble Motor Services from its ex-NBC management team.

The Tories’ volte face in relationship to bus operations came as a surprise. As recently as 2018, the then Transport Minister Chris Grayling relished the prospect of Greater Mancunian bus franchising with the face of a slapped backside. The same sort of face I would have had if I found that Stalybridge Celtic had to play Workington on an August Bank Holiday Monday. With Grant Shapps in the driving seat, there seems to be a change of stance.

Bus Back Better

If Bus Back Better succeeds at doing one thing, it is the notion that buses have been given a fairer hearing. Instead of being seen as the transport choice for life’s losers by a previous Prime Minister, it is billed in the 84-page report as “the country’s favourite mode of public transport”. It is seen as a lifeline and an instrument of liberation. A statement which is valid in London’s franchised operations, though one that wouldn’t butter any parsnips from Ethel Lodge on 23 Gorse Hall Road who wants to see Arnold Lane on 47 Thorncliffe Avenue. (The 339, 340 and 41 routes are sorely missed in Dukinfield).

To best perform the buses’ role as “lifelines” and “liberators”, Bus Back Better realises that the Free Trade Experiment alone isn’t working. It claims that entrepreneurial flair could be backed up by partnerships or franchised systems, depending on the needs of each locality.

The key to this is the National Bus Strategy, a £3billion scheme which aims to level up English bus routes to London standards. That of multimodal ticketing which has been the norm in low-tech and medium-tech forms within our Integrated Transport Authorities, across our City Regions. While this may be chicken feed compared with the monies spent on Test and Trace, it is a step in the right direction. Even if it does need a little more work in the funding department.

The aims of Bus Back Better can be summed up in this paragraph on Page 8:

“We want the same fully integrated service, the same simple, multi-modal tickets, the
same increases in bus priority measures, the same high-quality information for passengers
and, in larger places, the same turn-up-and-go frequencies. We want services that keep
running into the evenings and at weekends.”

Sounds familiar? If you have done the Doing Buses Differently consultations (I did both the Mensa Version and the Bog-Standard Version in the first and second ones myself), the language is similar to that of Andy Burnham’s tones. One could suspect that the Tories might take the credit for his hard work in ending The Free Trade Experiment in Greater Manchester, should there be a resurgence in bus patronage.

The Fully Integrated service notion is an open book: do we want multimodal integration at County, City Region or Unitary Authority level? Do we want multimodal ticketing at regional level (the 40% cuts to Transport for the North seems to suggest we don’t want that)?

Bus Priorities is something I have wanted for years on our bus routes. The amount of times I have missed connections because of a set of traffic lights in Ashton-under-Lyne could fill a book. The amount of times I have thought that “traffic lights as narky as these are driving people away from our buses”. In fact, it is the one thing on the Partnership and Enhanced Partnership options in Doing Buses Differently that I totally agreed with.

The final sentence in our quoted paragraph strikes a chord with me: evening and weekend services. I miss, several times over, being able to get a 343 bus after 6pm; as a consequence, this had knackered my attendance with a writing group I attended in Mossley (which unfortunately clashed with Stalybridge Celtic’s midweek fixtures or the Tameside Quiz League). I also miss being able to get from my home town to Manchester city centre outside of peak hours without having to change in Ashton-under-Lyne or Hyde. To a point, I have lost track of my fellows from South Manchester, other than on Facebook. When the COVID-19 pandemic came along, I found that some of my car-owning fellows were experiencing the same isolation that bus users have had for several years since bus deregulation began.

“Let’s Get The Network Together”

In a more condensed form than Doing Buses Differently, it mentions the partnership and franchising models in accessible prose. This, as detailed in the 2017 Bus Services Act. Echoing the same sentiments, it aims to “demystify buses for non-users” – in other words, simplified fares and frequencies that need a timetable or app (better still with turn-up-and-go frequencies) instead of a calendar. Simplification could mean fewer operators: one for an entire area as a five to seven year term of franchise. Or one for a pool of cross-boundary routes, serving areas outside those under a Bus Franchising Scheme (i.e.: the 237 from Ashton-under-Lyne to Glossop or the 184 from Manchester to Huddersfield).

The report also supports entrepreneurial flair within partnership models. The prose in Page 13 is clearly a feather in the cap for Transdev, where The Sensational Alex Hornby Brand has wowed passengers by treating each route as a product item. With car-style levels of comfort on long distance routes.

As we go into Chapter One, it repudiates The Free Trade Experiment by stating that:

“Profitable routes and times of day were flooded with buses at the expense of other routes and times; services became unstable and confusing; the quality of vehicles fell and fares in many places rose sharply.”

That was why the late Joe Clarke OBE and Councillor Guy Harkin et al fought tooth and nail to keep GM Buses in the public sector as an arms-length company like Blackpool Transport, amid continued threats of privatisation. They saw how the destruction of an established integrated network had to be destroyed in months to suit ideological leanings. Nevertheless, this paragraph had vindicated their findings. Though the teenage enthusiast in me loved the variety of buses, my head deplored the lack of continuity and consistency.

Page 20, in an easy-to-follow format, has a few case studies on four barriers towards a second bus renaissance. These are:

  • Limited cooperation;
  • Lack of evening services;
  • Complex ticketing; and
  • Poor integration.

Taking up a fair amount of space on that page is limited cooperation, which uses a seaside resort for its example. It cites the number of operators using the same route numbers for entirely different routes. The reference to separate city maps assumes that the seaside resort is either: (a) a city in the British sense with actual City Status (which could be Brighton with Hove); (b) a city in the American sense (which could include New Brighton). From my experience, they seem to have used Bournemouth as an example, where Yellow Buses runs a similar route along Wilts and Dorset territory. Therefore ‘city’ is used in the American sense, and as for trying to find a multi-operator ticket in the Dorset (or Hampshire if you prefer) seaside town, easier said than done.

Under the lack of evening services category, this can chime with many areas across the UK. It states that “large areas of even major cities have only one or two buses an hour in the evenings (their bold type).” I would love two buses an hour after 7pm on my local route, never mind four per hour. Where it states that “lots of bus services in rural areas cease as early as 5 or 6pm (again, their bold type)”, it fails to mention this is the case in urban areas too. There is no way of getting from Stalybridge to Hyde by bus without changing in Ashton after 7pm. We are talking two towns with a total population of 60,000 people. 80,000 if you add Dukinfield when you take the 343 into account.

Ticking the box for demystification measures is complex ticketing. It states how a major northern city sees passengers having a confusing choice of weekly and monthly tickets. Moreover, it decries the lack of a multi-operator pass. If you didn’t read the last sentence in full, you could be forgiven for thinking it is Manchester. Greater Manchester has had multi-operator passes since the late-1980s, part of today’s System One Travel passes. The Saver Travel Club passes also covered National Bus Company and Mayne of Manchester routes inside Greater Manchester, so we’ve had multi-operator passes since 1975. We think the city in question is Preston, where the main operators are Stagecoach, Arriva, Transdev, and Rotala North West.

The final one is poor integration, where “one Home Counties town with generally excellent bus services” had “misguided landscaping and redevelopment around the railway station”. This sounds like Milton Keynes to me, where the bus station had moved from its previous position near Central Milton Keynes (Midsummer Boulevard) to a site by the railway station.

As one would expect, there is a line chart that shows bus usage and car ownership trends over the last forty years. Of particular interest is the modest rise in bus patronage from 1982 to 1986. This coincided with Passenger Transport Executive schemes to improve integration and lower fares. Up until bus deregulation, South Yorkshire PTE had fares that were truly subsidised and close enough to being free at the point of boarding. Greater Manchester PTE had modest fare freezes from 1982 to 1986, but expanded the market further by enabling bus passengers to buy Saver Travel Cards from some local Post Offices. West Yorkshire PTE had cheaper off-peak fares.

Only Tyne and Wear PTE had a continental style ticketing system that enables passengers to travel from Wallsend to South Shields with more than one mode. For example, you could take the Shields Ferry one way, and return home on the Tyne and Wear Metro. Without a penalty for switching between modes of transport.

The chart also proves how patronage on London’s buses increased since a franchised system was brought in during Ken Livingstone’s stint as Mayor of Greater London. The other chart, taking us towards present events, looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected bus patronage.

Best practice

Near the end of chapter one, it cites three examples of Best Practice whilst under deregulated bus operations. Many bus enthusiasts would happily cite Harrogate Bus Company’s 36 route from Leeds to Harrogate and Ripon. Also among the three is Bristol’s Metrobus network – three limited stop routes that use bus lanes and dedicated busways (a bit like the Vantage routes in Leigh and Atherton). Brighton and Hove is the third example, where the city council has focused on bus priority measures. Thanks to their efforts, bus patronage per head is the highest outside Greater London.

Whereas the Bristol and Brighton schemes have been delivered by means of local authority partnership, the entrepreneurial flair of Alex Hornby’s Transdev is behind the 36 route’s success. A move that has benefited the Yorkshire Coastliner and X43 Witch Way routes, and one not lost in the Easier To Understand section under the second chapter (The Buses We Want).

The Buses We Want

At face value, the second chapter builds on the policies that Integrated Transport Authorities, Transport for London, and Transport for Greater Manchester has had for years. Only with greater powers to coordinate timetables. Under improving the frequency, the report favours more turn-up-and-go services on major urban routes (see also GM Buses’ VHF routes on their main corridors). Also frequent feeder services with smaller vehicles (seems like The Bee Line Buzz Company all over again).

Where areas have lower demand for scheduled bus routes, it suggests the use of Demand Responsive Transport. What isn’t clear is whether they would either complement existing bus routes or replace lesser used bus routes. Quite rightly, it suggests bus priority schemes, though complemented with active travel schemes (cycling and walking in laypeople’s terms). It also aims to boost bus frequencies is underserved parts by cutting routes on some urban corridors where ‘overprovision’ is a problem.

In their Easier To Understand section, demystifying the bus network means:

  • Accurate information at each stop: real time and printed or electronic information at all bus stops across England. (This is already happening with the excellent BusTimes.org website that I use for my essential travel needs).
  • Common numbering systems: thanks to bus deregulation, the core of carefully constructed bus numbering systems by previous local authorities and public sector undertakings have been eroded. (I speak as somebody who wonders why 397 – a Glossop number under the 1973 – 74 SELNEC renumbering scheme – is used for a North Manchester bus route).
  • Local branding based on community focus instead of operational needs: instead of anonymous brands like Gold Service or Magic Bus, chapter two suggests more localised branding that reflects each route. (Perhaps the time has come for green and cream branded 343s as that route links Hyde with Dukinfield, Stalybridge and Mossley – all four constituents of the late great SHMD Joint Transport Board).
  • Identical frequencies from 5am to 12midnight: The Buses We Want chapter recommends a constant frequency from early morning up to midnight across England’s bus routes. In one way, this could mean the 346 would be every 20 minutes till midnight, possibly with smaller buses after 7pm. On the other hand, this could mean 346s all the way to Gee Cross with a 70 minute frequency throughout the day and night. For routes like the 343, which is hourly, the restoration of its evening journeys and hourly frequency on Sundays and Bank Holidays would be a godsend.
  • Easy to understand routes: this point suggests the optimisation of trunk routes, where one frequent route instead of three routes creating a frequent corridor is more favourable. This has already happened in East Manchester where Stagecoach has recasted its network that way. Instead of the 204, 206, and 207 at certain times of the day in West Gorton, all three routes have been replaced by the 202. As best as possible under the deregulated system, Transport for Greater Manchester has rejigged its tendered routes to minimise duplication that could abstract revenue off other similar routes (see the changes with the 335 and 345 routes in Dukinfield and Denton).
  • Multi-operator through-ticketing: what is mystifying outside our Metropolitan areas and Greater London is how many parts of England lack multi-operator through-ticketing schemes. If you’re looking for a Devon equivalent of the System One season tickets, a case of “No Way Pedro” if you wish to travel from Ilfracombe to Torquay. Especially if one end of the county is solid FirstGroup territory whereas the other end is solid Stagecoach territory (especially around the Torbay resorts).
  • Coordinated timetable changes: at local level in England, Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester, and the Integrated Transport Authorities that serve other Metropolitan areas have coordinated timetable changes. In pre-pandemic times, usually four times a year. The Buses We Want suggests that the rest of England should follow suit, so this builds on best practice by some of our local authorities. This leaves us with one question: should local authorities be free to set their quarterly change dates, or would this be uniform through the whole of England?
  • Heavy promotion: a case of preaching to new converts as opposed to the converted, something that The Sensational Alex Hornby Brand (and the Zal Cleminson to his group, Ray Stenning of Best Impressions) do so well. If the product is right, they’ll use it day and night and say Witch Way or Hotline instead of X43 or 152. By making buses appealing to laypersons as well as enthusiasts.

Ultimately, Bus Back Better‘s aim is to improve the image of bus travel and make it more inclusive. This means improving the accessibility of our bus stops, more comfortable buses that would get people leaving their cars at home. Also easier to use buses and solid connections with other modes of transport. Passenger satisfaction on England’s bus routes, in the latest Transport Focus Annual Bus Passenger Survey ranges from 76% to 95% outside London.

Service delivery

Chapter 3, Delivering Better Bus Services, focuses on improving the reliability of our routes. To the average bus enthusiast, its look at today’s bus sector, is instantly familiar. That of how the deregulated system has meant service cuts, higher fares and different operators. Though it backs a franchised network in principle, it favours from a service implementation point of view Partnerships or Enhanced Partnerships.

Partnerships or Enhanced Partnerships could be a gateway towards franchising or a sensible approach to maintaining cross-boundary routes. An existing Enhanced Partnership in Hertfordshire is cited as one positive example.

Another key part of the National Bus Strategy are Bus Service Improvement Plans. We could have done with this over twenty years ago. Especially when the chances of getting a 346 from Hyde bus station at 7pm were slimmer than the away team getting a penalty at Anfield. Bus Service Improvement Plans is a Public Service Obligation style document for bus services, in collaboration with local authorities, bus operators, local businesses and community transport bodies. In Derbyshire, this could be High Peak Borough Council, Hulleys of Baslow, The Devil’s Arse (Peak Cavern if you prefer!) and South Pennine Community Transport.

For anybody used to the Doing Buses Differently consultations, their sections on franchising and devolution have a familiar ring to it. It explains how a Bus Franchising Scheme may be less complex outside of Greater London, citing a successful case in Jersey.

Superbuses and hints at public ownership

Under a Bus Service Improvement Plan, some parts of England outside of Metropolitan areas could benefit from a Superbus network. On page 47, a single paragraph states how they could deliver “higher frequency, lower fare services” in parts of (say) Darlington or Leicester.

The next section underneath (More Comprehensive ‘Socially Necessary’ Services) looks at how deregulation has jeopardised socially necessary services. It states how communities have seen significant cuts in services, which covers the same ground that Greater Manchester’s bus users have stressed for over 30 years.

It states how partnerships and franchising arrangements can enhance services. A far cry from hoping the free market would do the same nearly 40 years ago. Furthermore, the Public Service Obligation side of Bus Service Improvement Plans allows for a minimum standard of bus service from 5am to 12midnight. Something that I have thought of myself as the Basic Frequency with enhancements on weekdays and Saturdays before 7pm.

The most surprising aspect of this report, for anybody used to Conservative party transport policy is this statement:

“We will review whether it remains right that local authorities cannot set up new bus companies”

At present, the 2017 Bus Services Act forbids the creation of new public sector bus operations. Under this Act, the chances of Greater Manchester Transport Mark 2 (in the ownership sense) are nil. According to this statement, the National Bus Strategy wishes to review that situation. If this clause is repealed, local authorities could save socially necessary services, making them more accountable to their electorate.

More flexible services

So far, we have learned that our bus network could see easier to use trunk routes. In other words, why have three routes at three buses per hour, when you could have one revised route with nine buses per hour along (for example) Hyde Road. To maintain frequencies, this could mean smaller buses after 7pm, whilst your local route keeps its 20-minute frequency from 5am to midnight. In some areas, there could be greater use of Demand Responsive Transport systems and active travel schemes.

Though the report stresses the need to “stimulate innovation and enable it to thrive”, its approach will be underpinned by nine Future of Transport principles, which are as follows:

  1. Safe and secure design;
  2. Innovative transport schemes for everybody across the UK;
  3. The promotion of walking and cycling for short urban journeys;
  4. Emphasis on mass transit being the key to a fully integrated transport network;
  5. Leading the way in zero emission transport;
  6. Better use of road space;
  7. Scope for innovation and customer-friendly service provision;
  8. A fully integrated transport system across all modes – public, private and multiple modes;
  9. Data sharing, to improve choice and operational standards.

Accessibility and affordability

Instead of letting the market decide our bus fares as well as timetables, affordability is and keeping fare levels down is an important part of the National Bus Strategy. Under Fares must be lower and simpler in Chapter 4 (Delivering for passengers), it states that average bus fares have risen by 403% since 1987. According to the Retail Prices Index chart on page 60, the gap between motoring expenditure and bus fares started widening in 1991.

It is fair to say at this point, this could have been caused by the privatisation of former PTE-owned arms-length operators. Most of the former National Bus Company constituents had had been sold to their management and began to form part of bus owning groups. By 1996 – when GM Buses North and GMS Buses were sold to FirstBus and Stagecoach Holdings respectively – motoring expenditure rose at a flatter rate. By 2018 – 32 years after bus deregulation – the gap between motoring expenditure and bus and coach fare rises became a chasm. This may well have been helped by freezes in fuel duty and a tank of unleaded petrol (at forecourt prices) being cheaper in 2021 than in 2011.

Chapter 4 also understands that many of the tools used to integrate our buses with the trams and trains are there. The only problem is inconsistency with piecemeal solutions from Lands End to Berwick-upon-Tweed. As an enthusiast, the differences between validity in my part of the world and other places I have visited is a source of fascination and irritation. It amazes me how a fare from Bournemouth to Poole (five miles) would be double the price for a similar journey in Greater Manchester (it is at least £4.00 upwards from Ashton-under-Lyne to Oldham).

In a nutshell, the National Bus Strategy wants to see some of the best practices in certain areas rolled out across England. For example: a version of Greater Manchester’s Our Pass throughout England. Also the use of local bus routes as passenger conveyors towards trunk routes, trains and trams. It aims to improve accessibility by means of online and printed information – exactly the kind of things that Britain should have been doing three decades ago.

By page 62, we see case studies of how existing bus operators have created desire, starting with Trent Barton’s Hucknall Connect service. Also a successful example of demand responsive transport services in Teesside with the Tees Flex service. This also ticks the DfT’s box in using as many possible ways to make your journey (online, smartphone app and telephone). It is supportive of Translink’s Glider network of urban routes in Belfast, which is doing a better job in The Bus That Thinks It’s A Tram niche than FirstGroup’s FTR buses ever did. The construction costs for a Bus Rapid Transit system is side to be 50% lower than conventional light rail schemes. Perhaps this could be the way forward for cities outside metropolitan city regions like Stoke-on-Trent, Worcester and Durham.

Environmental concerns

Many long-term bus enthusiasts or passengers will understand the environmental impact of public and private transport. At Key Stage 3 level, it is the understanding that a fully loaded double decker bus could take up to 75 cars off the road. Page 72 of the fifth chapter, A Green Bus Revolution, tells us that 3% of the UK’s transport greenhouse gas emissions come from buses and coaches. Also how zero emission buses make for a marked drop in emissions, as per legislation to achieve Net Zero Greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

There is reference to the use of all electric buses – as seen on Stagecoach Greater Manchester’s trunk routes in Withington. Also hydrogen buses – a technology that the Liverpool City Region is exploring.

Conclusion

Bus Back Better is a worthy document on bus reform. Though we understand the £3billion wouldn’t cover the full cost of Building Back Britain’s Buses in its fullest form. It is a step in the right direction. My only complaint is this should have been published ten years ago. What would have been seen as visionary ten years ago in Bus Back Better‘s report should be run-of-the-mill for 2021 standards. Across the UK.

We should have been able to track and trace our bus routes well before 2021. Even now, it is easier to trace your Amazon order than the whereabouts of a bus to Burnham-on-Sea in real time. If such a system was available in 1996 (when Amazon sold its first wares), a better informed bus user might have been less likely to dump his or her 419 for a Ford Focus.

It is good that Bus Back Better recognises some of the best practices of local partnership and entrepreneurial flair from operators and local authorities. Also good that it supports in principle a franchised network for metropolitan city regions.

As for its aims to demystify the network, I like it. I like how the promotion of buses should be aimed at the not-so-regular bus user or non-bus user. When I visit many seaside towns across the UK, the bus network is seen as an ideal way of unlocking access to its attractions. As well as linking tourists with each attractions, the system should work for the people that live in, say Blackpool and Brighton. I like innovative route branding, but it annoys me if a bus with the wrong branding is seen on a different route.

Part of Bus Back Better‘s aim to demystify the network is support for an industry-led Back To Bus campaign. A bus industry version of Help Out To Eat Out, only with free-day vouchers, try-before-you-buy schemes and refund guarantees. Not to mention better vehicles with charging points and more comfortable seats.

How would this fit into a Greater Manchester context? Our City Region is on the brink of implementing a Bus Franchising Scheme which fulfils many of the aims seen in Bus Back Better. Elsewhere, Stagecoach Greater Manchester is celebrating its 25 years of owning Greater Manchester Buses South (GMS Buses) by mounting a legal challenge against GMCA’s franchising proposals. With the Department for Transport supporting franchised networks in principle alongside partnerships, Stagecoach might not have its own way compared with their successful legal challenge against NEXUS Integrated Transport Authority.

The proposals are good for our city regions cross-boundary routes, the importance of which shouldn’t be underestimated. Such routes retain their popularity and importance due to established links that predate previous local government reorganisations.

One case in point is the 237 route from Ashton-under-Lyne to Glossop. Another one is the 394 from Glossop to Stepping Hill via Charlesworth and Marple. Both cross-boundary routes are shadows of their pre-deregulation former selves. The 394 has no Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holiday and Evening journeys and is only every two hours. Yet it is a lifeline between Glossop and Stepping Hill for hospital appointments, college, exercise, shopping and train connections.

The 237 originally went to Manchester city centre, and was conceived in 1978 when Greater Manchester Transport diverted one journey an hour of the 236 via Tintwistle and Hadfield, replacing a local route. Today, only two buses an hour are seen on the 237 (hourly on Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings), and they all terminate at Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange.

We hope the words of this report are followed by deeds. It seems that the Department for Transport’s love affair with the Free Trade Experiment of Nicholas Ridley is waning. We sincerely hope it is.

In addition to improving the lot of our local bus routes, what about a strategy for scheduled and chartered coach routes and coach holidays? How many more cars could we get off our motorways if we went on a coach holiday to Eastbourne instead of driving all the way down?

Bus Back Better is available to download from GOV.UK by clicking this link.

S.V., 17 March 2021.

One thought on “Bus Back Better: Towards a Second Bus Renaissance?

  1. An interesting article. I have been keenly interested in transport for over 65 years since I spent a couple of summer vacations as a trolley bus conductor in Huddersfield. Service frequency was strongly influenced by Councillors who were mill owners who needed boiler men to arrive promptly so that steam would be available reliably for work to start on time.
    I am most impressed by German buses. About 15 years ago, I visited my son in Hamburg. At the time, he had only a small flat so I had to stay in a hotel. My son was amused that I was restless about catching a bus back to the hotel on a Sunday evening so I could catch an early plane back to Manchester the next morning. At the bus stop, I discovered that there were 9 suitable buses between 9 & 10 pm for an outer suburb similar to Bramhall. They were well patronised by smartly dressed couples who appeared to have been to the opera.
    On a later occasion, I visited the Ruhr, an industrial area with much in common with Sheffield but much larger. We used a bus for sight-seeing. I discovered that the bus had a timetabled route into the countryside. The route was shown on a map at the bus-stop. If there was sufficient demand, the bus would travel the full route. If it was a quiet time, the driver would call a taxi to cover the last part of the route. For the return journey, passengers used a phone to call either a bus or a taxi to join the bus further down the valley. All very well planned and efficiently run. Maybe this gives you ideas you could feed back to those who plan new bus schemes for Greater Manchester.

    Like

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