As one hospital link closes, another one opens
- Renumbered 397 extended to North Manchester General Hospital;
- Little Gem (Mark II) increases Tameside presence on TfGM tendered routes;
- 217 reverts to being Ashton-under-Lyne to Manchester route;
- Timetable changes for Stagecoach routes with cuts to 336, 337 and 389 services.
The Spring 2021 changes are a bit of a mixed bag for Tameside’s bus passengers. A day before non-essential retail reopens, there has been some tinkering around the edges of Stagecoach’s routes, particularly with subtle changes to trunk routes. For some not-so-trunk routes, some not-so-subtle changes, like operator revisions and service cuts.
A major beneficiary of some of Stagecoach’s service changes is Little Gem. You could be forgiven for thinking I’m writing this post in 1987. If you think “here’s another operator trying to cash in on GM Buses’ heritage (a la UK North),” think again.
Like Courtesy Coaches’ adoption of the Yelloway name several years back, the Little Gem name has been adopted by another well-known coach company. That of Go-Goodwins, a highly-regarded operator who have been trading since 1976. At one point, they sponsored The Mighty Robins at Moss Lane (Altrincham FC).
From the 11 April, their buses will take you to see The Mighty Robins at Hurst Cross: Ashton United of course. As Little Gem, their orange and white buses will be seen on the 396 to Limehurst Farm Estate. On Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings, with Stott’s Tours running Monday to Saturday journeys as of nowadays. The same is also true of the 339 route to Crowhill: Stott’s by day, Little Gem by night. Both of these TfGM tender gains have been at the expense of Stagecoach Greater Manchester.
What, might you ask will become of sister route 397 from Ashton to Newton Heath? There will be no more 397s; instead they will be renumbered as 151s. The upside of this is a significant uplift in frequency – from every 90 minutes to every hour. Up until the 10 April, the 151 will run between Newton Heath and North Manchester General Hospital. From the 12 April, Tameside gains a direct bus link to NMGH – thanks to the 151’s absorption of the 397 route. The operator? As you were with Little Gem, with buses leaving at seven minutes past the hour from Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange.
Oh, and once the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport reopens, Tameside bus enthusiasts should also make use of the 151. It will come into its own if you don’t fancy changing buses or trams in central Manchester. Taking a 2021 Little Gem bus to see a 1987 bread van (original Little Gem) at Boyle Street, what a joy to behold. Especially with that corned beef hash they serve up!
For the first time since the split of GM Buses, there will be Little Gems on the streets of Dukinfield – albeit once an hour. From the 11 April, they will be the sole operator of the 335 route to Dane Bank (via Morrisons, Armadale Road and Globe Lane). After 7pm, and on Sundays and Bank Holidays, they will also take on the 345 route (via Astley Street). Little Gem will take over from Stott’s Tours and Stagecoach Greater Manchester on the 335.
Elsewhere in Dukinfield, there will be a welcome boost to the 346 route. Its weekday daytime journeys will be every fifteen minutes. These will leave on the hour, quarter past, half past, and quarter to the hour from Hyde bus station, and at five past, twenty past, twenty-five to, and ten to the hour from Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange.
Since FirstGroup pulled out of Tameside on all but three bus routes, the Ashton circulars and the 389 have been at the sharp end of recent service cuts. So much so that as of the 11 April, the 336, 337 and 389 routes will become TfGM tendered routes. All three routes will see their frequencies slashed from half hourly to once hourly. There is no change of operator.
Another significant change to Tameside’s bus network affects the 217 route. Thankfully, one not as pervasive as the changes affecting our fellows in Hazelhurst, Ridge Hill and Yew Tree. Diamond Bus North West’s 217 route will revert to its previous form as an Ashton to Manchester route via Clayton and Bradford. The section to Wythenshawe Hospital, which has been in place for nearly a year, will be spun off into a separate route (44). Selwyn’s Travel will take over the 44 between Piccadilly Gardens and Wythenshawe Hospital.
Minor changes in the Tameside and Glossop area
There has been some retiming changes to the 201, 205, and 237 routes. Subtle retiming changes will be the order of the day on the 205‘s Saturday journeys. Likewise on the 201 route. With the reopening of our schools, there has been timetable changes to the 237 route, and a welcome one in the restoration of its 20-minute frequency.
On the 09 April, we shall be saying goodbye to the 340 route. If (once again) you think I am stuck in 1987, the 2021 version of that route is a different beast entirely. The Albion Hotel to the top of Boyd’s Walk section is the only thing Stott’s Tours’ weekday only route has in common with the sadly-missed Dukinfield circular route. In its place will be an additional journey of the 343, leaving Oldham at 0740. Again, on weekdays, making things a bit easier for more casual passengers.
The most significant part of this April’s changes is a retreat from tendered work on some of Stagecoach’s routes. Even more significant is the victor, Go-Goodwins. I have heard of Go-Goodwins through watching non-league football and whilst working in Altrincham, where they dipped their toes into GMPTE tendered operations. Little did I know that eleven years later they would make inroads into the Tameside area.
By November 2020, with the Little Gem moniker they revived in 2017, they broke their Tameside duck with the 397 route to Newton Heath. From my experience (I sometimes use this route to get to work via Hollinwood), their buses are very clean. The drivers are friendly and, from my experience, as amiable as the Stott’s Tours drivers I get on the 343. The enthusiast in me likes the variety of vehicles – not to mention their modern-day take on the Little Gem livery with Ken Mortimer’s logotype.
Of particular note is the timing of these changes. We are talking about three weeks on from Andy Burnham’s Bus Franchising Scheme decision. Also on the eve of the reopening of non-essential retail premises and – al fresco for the time being at least – our pubs.
For regulars at The Forester, or passengers living on Astley Street that want to go to The Forester, this April’s changes make for queasy reading. Isolation for the carless passenger, reluctant to get taxis from one end of Duki to another, has become the new normal. Should there be any buses left to franchise in the Tameside area, Dukinfield’s bus network should include a revived circular route with Ashton-under-Lyne at the very least. One similar to the 339 and 340 of Greater Manchester Transport. The reinstatement of these two routes would address the present-day problem of getting from Yew Tree shops to The Forester without changing buses. (A problem that didn’t exist prior to September 2019).
Apart from making a straightforward journey unnecessarily complex, bus passengers on Yew Tree estate are cut off from their very own town’s public services. iTrain has become ‘aye, train’ if you can walk from Lyne Edge Road to Stalybridge station for the hourly StalyVegas Shuttle to Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Victoria. It is easier to walk to Stalybridge Library through Gorse Hall Park, but passengers wanting to go to Dukinfield Library need to get two buses these days. If you fancy a dance at the Jubilee Hall, it’s a ten note for the non-replacement of the replacement of the 10, 10A and 10B (in other words, taxi).
The next set of changes should be our summertime ones. Typically, these have meant the observance of Summer Holiday timetables on our trunk routes. We eagerly await what we are about to receive in July. As with anything in the world of bus operation, expect the odd surprise or two.
S.V., 05 April 2021.