A look at the service changes that have shaken our city region’s bus network forever

We are now 35 years into what Andy Burnham called The Free Market Experiment.  As with any free market experiment, there is a smaller number of winners than losers.  Before the first lockdown, having a bus company and a rail franchise was a licence to print money for some operators.  

During the pandemic, some have had to hand in the keys to central government or apply for funding.  One thing the pandemic has proven is that a sustainable public transport system needs funding to properly serve its passengers.  Some services can easily stand on their own six tyres, whereas some need financial support.

Before the 1985 Transport Act came into fruition, cross-subsidisation of bus routes was the norm.  Profitable journeys on the 192 route could help to keep its feeder routes (like the 358) in operation.  Since the 26th October 1986, bus deregulation came to being across the UK apart from Greater London and Northern Ireland.  Unlike most countries, where cross-subsidisation of bus routes is the norm, cross-subsidisation was outlawed in Nicholas Ridley’s Act.

This has meant the loss of socially necessary routes.  With continued cuts to Integrated Transport Authorities and County Councils that fund such routes, it has left some areas with poorer public transport provision than in the 1920s.  Sunday services are now non-existent outside metropolitan areas.  Taxis or private motoring have filled the gap; in some places, taxis aren’t available after 11pm till 6am the following day.

Greater Manchester, thankfully, has some Sunday and Bank Holiday bus services.  Taxis are plentiful.  Compared with some parts of the UK we don’t do too bad at all, but that is not the full story.  There are some routes in our City Region that have frequencies you would expect to see in rural areas or non-metropolitan areas.  Much of this due to departmental cuts imposed on TfGM by central government since 2010.

For our Not So Perfect Ten, we shall look at ten of the most shocking bus service changes in Greater Manchester since 1986.  Some of which have been due to the aforementioned departmental cuts, whereas some have been inviable to the operator.

  1. 33/35: Ashton-under-Lyne – Carrbrook – Mossley Circulars (First Pennine, February 1999).
  2. 400 Trans-Lancs Express: Bolton – Stockport (First Manchester, May 2003).
  3. X61: Preston – Manchester (Shudehill Interchange) (Stagecoach North West, January 2008).
  4. 239: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mottram-in-Longdendale – Gamesley – Glossop (SpeedwellBus, June 2011).
  5. 317: Stockport – Denton – Droylsden – Ashton-under-Lyne (Stagecoach Manchester, January 2015).
  6. 180: Oldham – Greenfield (First Manchester, October 2019).
  7. 130: Macclesfield – Wilmslow – Manchester (Piccadilly Gardens) (Arriva Midlands, January 2018).
  8. 41/41A: Ashton-under-Lyne – Dukinfield (MCT Travel, April 2020; Stagecoach Manchester, October 2020).
  9. 410/411: Oldham – Higginshaw – Waterhead Circulars (MCT Travel, April 2020).
  10. 389: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Dukinfield (Tennyson Avenue) (Stagecoach Manchester, April 2021).

1. 33/35: Ashton-under-Lyne – Carrbrook – Mossley Circulars

What made it so shocking? The Tame Valley end of Dukinfield lost its direct links with Mossley, Carrbrook and Tameside Hospital.  The 33 and 35 were rerouted to serve The Albion Hotel, where it followed the 343 up to the said stop then the 346 into Ashton-under-Lyne.

What happened next? The Tame Valley section was served by Mayne of Manchester’s 222 route, a rejigging of the 221 route.  Following the 220 into Stalybridge, it went back on itself at Stanley Square to reach Tame Street and Ashton-under-Lyne.  The service was withdrawn in January 2001, reverting to being the 221 route.

The 33 and 35 was renumbered 349 in August 1999, running from Carrbrook to Ashton via Dukinfield.  It was withdrawn and replaced by an off-peak hourly extension of the 419 route in October 2007, which was discontinued in January 2008.

2. 400 Trans-Lancs Express: Bolton – Stockport

What made it so shocking? The 400 had lost its Manchester Airport extension in May 1999 and the type of rolling stock the operator used lacked that Express quality that its predecessors gave the Trans-Lancs Express.

What happened next? After First Manchester ditched the 400 in May 2003, Blue Bus took over the route, initially with buses every two hours.  With high loadings, this was back to its previous hourly frequency.  Despite going the extra mile with route branding and timetables, it was withdrawn in August 2004.  A year later, Blue Bus was acquired by Arriva North West.

3. X61: Preston – Manchester (Shudehill Interchange)

What made it so shocking? Another victim of salami slicing and a real shock for bus enthusiasts.  In its twilight years, the X61’s eventual demise was caused by some tinkering about with its route, which saw a diversion to its motorway section via Chorley and the end of its route switching to Preston.  Before 1979, it was the iconic X60 bus from Manchester (Chorlton Street Coach Station) to Blackpool.  At one point under Stagecoach Ribble, the X61 had had dedicated coaches with an extension to Fleetwood.

What happened next? Apart from Classic Bus North West’s attempt with the Red Rocket Express bus, there hasn’t been any serious attempts to resurrect the iconic express route.  Today it would face competition with rail and private car.

4. 239: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Mottram-in-Longdendale – Gamesley – Glossop

What made it so shocking? The 239 was a most important route in terms of offering unique links with Stalybridge, Mottram-in-Longdendale and Glossop.  Unlike the 236 and the 237 in 2011, it approached Glossop via Broadbottom, Gamesley and Dinting Vale – avoiding the notorious TESCO queues on High Street West. 

What happened next? Before its withdrawal, it was cut to four return journeys.  The bulk of its cutbacks were largely due to Derbyshire County Council’s service cuts.  A set where Glossop and Hadfield came off worst.  A partial replacement lives on in Stott’s Tours’ and Stagecoach Manchester’s 387 route which goes to Hyde via Tameside Hospital then Stalybridge through Stocks Lane and Mottram Old Road and Hattersley.

5. 317: Stockport – Denton – Droylsden – Ashton-under-Lyne

What made it so shocking? The 317 was an effective link between the west end of Denton with Denton town centre, Guide Bridge, and Ashton-under-Lyne.  It made for an alternative to the Stalybridge – Stockport ghost train between Stockport and Guide Bridge.  The severance of this link made for convoluted journey times which needed a change of bus or two.

What happened next? Traffic chaos saw to the demise of this important link.  As the author of this post can testify on one journey, it took him 15 minutes to get from Crown Point North (closer to where the Barcliff Cinema was) to Manchester Road.  Traffic priority measures could have helped to save that route from its demise.  Another factor could have been previous cuts from 2011, which severed the route’s direct links with Stepping Hill and Tameside hospitals.

6. 180: Oldham – Greenfield

What made it so shocking? Before 2019, the 180 was an important bus route from Manchester to Greenfield.  Before the late 1990s, it used to have limited stop status and GM Express branded vehicles for a time.  Typically, service cuts would see a route with a half hourly frequency cut to once hourly.  What was all the more shocking was the route’s trimming down from every half hour to four return journeys.  Apart from that, its direct link with Manchester was severed with all journeys terminating at Oldham.

What happened next? The present-day timetable is six return journeys (or five return journeys on Saturdays) at far from passenger-friendly intervals (1015, 1115, 1225, 1315, 1425, and 1735 from Oldham on weekdays for example).  Especially with a lack of peak hour journeys, and no Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys.  Should franchised operations go ahead, restoring the 180 to its pre-October 2019 service levels should be a top priority!

7. 130: Macclesfield – Wilmslow – Manchester (Piccadilly Gardens)

What made it so shocking? The loss of an inexpensive way of getting to Macclesfield from south Manchester if you have a bus pass or single operator ticket.  Before deregulation, the 130 was one of two limited stop routes operated by Crosville from Manchester to Macclesfield.  Before recent changes, it had had Arriva Sapphire Route status and a half hourly frequency on weekdays and Saturdays (later once hourly).  At one time, it had an express section between Manchester city centre and East Didsbury – with the 50 route being the all-stops alternative.

What happened next? After losing its original purpose,it was curtailed to operate from East Didsbury to Macclesfield.  On January 2020, cut back again to operate between Handforth and Macclesfield.  Just to mess people about even more, there was a change of operator to D&G Buses.  Then for a short while it was extended to Wythenshawe and now operates to Wythenshawe Hospital.

8. 41/41A: Ashton-under-Lyne – Dukinfield

What made it so shocking? The increased isolation of its residents, many of which elderly or vulnerable.  Recent changes to bus routes on Yew Tree Estate has isolated its own car-less residents from its own town centre.  Before the pandemic, the 41 and (later) 41A routes provided a lifeline, linking its residents with Morrisons, Dukinfield Library and public houses, as well as providing a fast link to Ashton-under-Lyne.  Today’s residents only have one bus an hour – and that has had more than its fair share of cuts in the last decade.

Since the expansion of Yew Tree Estate in the 1950s, the estate’s main bus routes were operated by SHMD and its successors.  In the 1960s, it was served by the 10, 10A,10B, and 11A routes.  Like its successors, they provided an important link from the top end to the bottom end of Dukinfield with access to the Town Hall, Public Library and main shopping areas.

The 41’s demise was pretty much down to HCT Group’s departure from Greater Manchester.  As that happened during the first COVID lockdown, there was an operator revision (Stott’s Tours taking on the daytime journeys with Stagecoach Manchester on evenings, Bank Holidays and Sundays as the 41A).  In October 2020, the 41 was withdrawn and became part of a new 335 route.  This was followed by the withdrawal of the 41A on January 2021.

What happened next? The bottom and middle section of the 41 route is now covered by the 335.  Under the tutelage of Go-Goodwins’ revived Little Gem brand, it is a full time route between Ashton and Denton (Town Lane) with evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys every two hours.  On weekdays and Saturdays, the 335 continues from Town Lane to Dane Bank.  

For the people on Yew Tree Estate, there hasn’t been a true replacement for the 41/41A routes.  From The Forester to The Angel Hotel, today’s journey is best done by taxi as the bus option requires three ill-connecting buses!  Stalybridge Library is now easier to get to than the public library in their own town.  The link from Tennyson Avenue to Dukinfield Town Hall needs to be revived and – like the bricked to uselessness present-day 180 route – getting it back to pre-Lockdown #1 frequencies would be a bonus.

9. 410/411: Oldham – Higginshaw – Waterhead Circulars (Shudehill Interchange)

What made it so shocking? The loss of a useful circular link that connected the eastern parts of Oldham.  Before April 2015, the 410 and 411 routes offered a useful half hourly circular route from Oldham to Higginshaw, Roundthorn and Roxbury.  Upon that month’s tender changes, it was cut to once hourly with MCT Travel its operator.  More recent changes saw the addition of a section to Waterhead and a revised route in Derker.

Like the 41, that too was a victim of MCT Travel’s demise.  Bits and bats of the 410 and 411 route were added to existing tendered routes.

What happened next? Part of it is survived by daytime 412s from Oldham to Derker.  Also the 83 from Sholver to Oldham, the 343 and 350 routes in Waterhead, and the 84/184 routes in Roundthorn.  So far, there is no easy way of getting from Waterhead to Roxbury by bus without going back into Mumps Bridge.

10. 389: Ashton-under-Lyne – Stalybridge – Dukinfield (Tennyson Avenue)

What made it so shocking? Apart from the route’s own service cuts, today’s 389 suffers from one farcical route change that makes the most basic journey (by bus) too complex for its own good.  Back when flares were in fashion, the 389 was an important link between Stalybridge, Hyde, Bredbury, and Marple.  Under Greater Manchester Transport, its terminus moved from Ridge Hill Estate to Ashton-under-Lyne bus station.  In its heyday, there was a fifteen minute frequency.  This was later combined with sister route 388.

For a while, Stagecoach’s route was shared with First Manchester.  In the late-1990s, Stagecoach’s journeys went to Marple – like GMT and the North Western Road Car Company did before then.  Firstbus’ finished at Hyde and Gee Cross.  Several changes later – including a short-lived rerouting to Stockport via Lower Bredbury, First Manchester became its sole operator.  Buses were every 20 minutes to Hyde.  Then in later years, half hourly to Hyde with an hourly part-route working to Stalybridge (Armentieres Square).

The most shocking changes were a product of First Manchester’s Tamexit.  Shortly after the closure of Broadway garage, Dukinfield, FirstGroup pulled out of Tameside on all but three routes (the 348, 350 and 409).  The 389 was affected – and curtailed to operate between Ashton-under-Lyne and Tennyson Avenue.  The most egregious cut came earlier this year when Stagecoach Manchester chose to make the 389’s lockdown timetable a permanent fixture.  What was worse was the timing – so close to the 41’s withdrawal – leaving car-less residents in a state of semi-permanent shielding from everyday life.

What happened next? The present route is hourly from Ashton-under-Lyne to Stalybridge and Tennyson Avenue.  As well as the loss of its Hyde link (leaving Lodge Lane in Hyde a Bus Free Zone), the biggest headache is the Yew Tree section.  This is only clockwise meaning no buses go downhill on Gorse Hall Road nor uphill on Yew Tree Lane.  The lack of Tennyson Avenue to Dukinfield Town Hall link could be addressed by making the 221 a full time bus route.  Or by making some journeys of the 216 or 219 routes a new 222 service – restoring a faster link with Ashton-under-Lyne.

Any more additions to the list?

Feel free to add to the existing ten routes or add a few of your own post-deregulation shocking bus service changes.  As well as some of the negative changes detailed in this article, feel free to add some surprising ones.  Are there any ‘shocking’ changes that took you by surprise and improved your daily commute?  Do you live in Hurst and find yourself happy with a direct bus to Middleton?  Feel free to comment away.

S.V., 26 October 2021.

4 thoughts on “Greater Manchester’s Most Shocking Bus Service Changes Since 1986: The Not So Perfect Ten

  1. Hi Stuart just a couple of things, I think you mean 402 when you mentioned about 412 Oldham-Derker service.

    Just thinking about Stalybridge services in general as you mentioned about 389 frequency is how hard it is to get to Stalybridge now on Bank Holidays and Sundays, you can wait upto 40 minutes for a bus to Stalybridge from Ashton where as during the week buses are more frequent.

    As for adding routes what about what was the long standing 24 Rochdale-Manchester via Chadderton route which doesn’t run anymore which was cut due to First saying that there’s more frequent services on the route it runs alongside.

    Then there’s First’s 181/182 services which both run down Nuthurst Road/St Mary’s Road to/from Manchester meaning now there’s no services along Broadway for anyone that want’s to shop at Failsworth Morrisons, both services changed due to the withdrawl of what was Bluebirds 77 service which would have left Nuthurst Road/St Mary’s Road without a service to Manchester.

    I could go on but there’s probably plenty for a future Not so Perfect 10 Part 2.

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    1. Hi Andrew,

      The correction is much appreciated and you are right in saying there’s a follow up to Greater Manchester’s Most Shocking Bus Changes Since 1986. I was originally going to go with 35 of them for a single blog post!

      The 24/181/182 changes is worth an article in itself – or a shoo-in for Part Two. The second part could be entitled Greater Manchester’s Incredible Shrinking Bus Routes, and focus on the bus routes that have substantially shrunk from their original size. For this one, we could go as far back as the early 1930s when the 8 from Bolton to Hyde was split at Manchester city centre. In more recent times, the 180, 237 and the 425 could be included. Another part could have the working title of Trigger’s Broom, looking at bus routes that have changed beyond recognition in the last 50 years.

      When travelling from Ashton-under-Lyne to Stalybridge on Sundays, I also check the train (or, as is often the case, bus replacement service) times. If in that 40 minute dead zone, I would walk between the two towns via Stamford Street. A long time friend of mine (an ardent socialist who I sometimes see in ‘Spoons or Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange) has said how getting between the two towns on Sundays is harder than climbing Mount Everest. It is clear that Stalybridge does need to join the Metrolink system as soon as possible. I wonder if they would extend the Eccles trams to Stalybridge or be part of Metrolink’s tram-train proposals?

      Warmly,

      Stuart.

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  2. Here’s an interesting thing that I’ve come across when digging about looking for travel ideas, it’s actually possible to get from Glossop to Doncaster on a Saturday for a fiver, with 2 getting there for just 8 quid and 4 for just 12 quid! Might take almost 4 hours like but it’s possible, and could be a really cheap way of accessing Doncaster Airport providing the local Doncaster to airport return fare is cheap as well. By using the South Pennine bus, you can get a day ticket that is valid on Powels services as well, so catching the Saturday 351 at 09.05 connects with service 350 at 9.55 from Holmfirth to Denby Dale where you can enjoy a short break before catching bus 99 from Holmfirth to Barnsley at 11am. This arrives in Barnsley at 11.35 giving plenty of time for the 11.50am X20 Powels bus to Doncaster arriving at 12.57. Now you can’t get back in the same day, however it could be of use for those visiting attractions in Doncaster, and happy to overnight there. Same too for anyone needing to get to the airport for a cheaper price than the train.

    On a serious note though, I wonder how many day return or one way connections can be made from Glossop/Uppermill using these day tickets? Glossop/Uppermill to Penistone is possible for a day out, and amazingly it’s possible to get just over an hour in Halifax from both Glossop/Uppermill ! Folk from Glossop can easily access the Fox Valley Retail Park for a solid 2 and a half hour shop, with time in Holmfirth before and after the Fox Valley bus. The possibilities could be seriously good.

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  3. There has been a massive decline in bus services in Hyde, with only 10 routes currently serving the town, compared to around 20 pre deregulation. The main losses apart from the mentioned 389 link to Romiley and Marple is a direct link to Glossop, the old 125, later 215 which had a a slight detour into Hattersley, were much better than the current 341 service which goes a massively roundabout way and they were much more frequent, also the loss of the 397 service to Tintwistle and Hadfield, which meant the loss of a service to Hollingworth also. A direct link to Hollingworth and Glossop has recently been introduced with the X57 now serving Hyde, but who know how long that will last?

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