Funding found for socially necessary Greater Manchester bus routes

With the perfect storm of skyrocketing energy prices and swingeing bus service cuts, Greater Manchester’s bus users could have been in for a much bleaker winter. The loss of Department of Transport funding on the 4th October from COVID Recovery grants would have seen cuts to 33 bus routes and the loss of 31 bus routes.

Many of the routes would have been affected by tender changes and, at best, may have seen a change of operator. At worst they would have been withdrawn in full, leaving passengers to fight for scarce taxis or face greatly extended journey times.

Today (Wednesday 7th September 2022) the office of The Mayor of Greater Manchester and Transport for Greater Manchester has secured extra funding of £15 million per annum to save 64 bus routes. This includes the DfT’s recovery grant and existing budgets.

In the end, only three routes have been slated for withdrawal next month. Fourteen routes will see timetable changes. Another five routes will see a change of operator. Contract awards have been finalised.

On the Greater Manchester Combined Authority website, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said: “With Greater Manchester set to start bringing buses back under local control in just over a year, and having introduced new low bus fares just this week, it was vital we didn’t find ourselves with a shrinking bus network.

“That is why we took the decision to step in, save these services and keep our communities connected.”

What would have happened?

According to VOSA’s Notices and Proceedings for the North Western Traffic Area, Stagecoach Manchester was on the verge of pulling out of tendered routes in Oldham and Tameside. Proposed changes would have seen the loss of Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys on the 343 route. The 237 and 346 routes may have been devoid of evening journeys, a similar fate that would have afflicted the 81 route. As seen on Andrew Gwynne’s website, there was fears any withdrawal of the 7, 7A and 7B routes would have cut the West End of Denton off from Droylsden and Ashton-under-Lyne.

The loss of evening journeys on the 237 would have had a profound effect on Glossopians’ and Tamesiders’ travel habits. It would have meant switching modes at Guide Bridge (switching from train to bus) – walking to The Corporation Arms for a 219 or 347 – then changing at Ashton-under-Lyne Interchange for a Stalybridge bus. (Which would have been the hourly 348, the longer 389 route or a 356 Saddleworth Rambler – which only touches the bus station). Watching The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic would have meant a train to Guide Bridge, a bus to Ashton, then a train or bus to Stalybridge station and a taxi to Bower Fold!

The elephant in the room lay in Derbyshire County Council’s then reluctance to fund their part of the 237, in relation to concessionary fares. A similar precedent was set by the withdrawal of SpeedwellBus’ 239 and 397 routes from Stalybridge and Hyde in 2011.

At this time of writing, and according to the Facebook page of Robert Largan (the Conservative MP for High Peak), a deal has yet to be finalised with the 358 route from Stockport to Hayfield. As it covers three counties, there are two stops inside Cheshire East boundaries, that could well be a stumbling block to negotiations.

What changes will be taking place after the 4th October 2022?

Operator revisions

  • 6: Rochdale – Kirkholt Circular: from First Manchester to Go North West.
  • 11A: Altrincham – Gatley – Cheadle – Stockport: from Stagecoach Manchester to Diamond Bus North West.
  • 150: Gorton – Longsight – Chorlton-cum-Hardy – Stretford – Trafford Centre: from Stagecoach Manchester to Diamond Bus North West.
  • 480: Bolton – Bradshaw – Ramsbottom – Bury: from Rosso to Vision Bus.
  • X50: Piccadilly Gardens – Trafford Park – The Trafford Centre: from Stagecoach Manchester to Diamond Bus North West.

Frequency changes

  • 3/4: Wigan – Kitt Green Circular (Stagecoach Wigan): revised Saturday service with buses every 15 minutes.
  • 10: Brookhouse Estate – Eccles – Shudehill Interchange (Arriva North West): revised Sunday service with buses every 20 minutes.
  • 23: Stockport – Stretford – Urmston – The Trafford Centre (Stagecoach Manchester): fewer journeys before 9am on weekdays and Saturdays.
  • 59: Oldham – Chadderton – Middleton – Piccadilly Gardens (First Manchester): weekday journeys cut from every 10 minutes to every 12 minutes.
  • 147: West Didsbury – Withington – Fallowfield – Piccadilly Station – Ancoats (Stagecoach Manchester): weekday journeys cut from every 20 minutes.
  • 250: Piccadilly Gardens – Hulme – Moss Side – Trafford Park – The Trafford Centre (Stagecoach Manchester): weekday journeys cut from every 10 minutes to every 12 minutes.
  • 253: Piccadilly Gardens – Stretford – Carrington – Partington (Stagecoach Manchester): one weekday peak hour journey withdrawn.
  • 256: Piccadilly Gardens – Hulme – Stretford – Lostock – Flixton (Stagecoach Manchester): weekday and Saturday journeys cut from every 15 minutes.
  • 464: Accrington – Haslingden – Bacup – Whitworth – Rochdale (Rosso): 5.13am arrival in Rochdale (weekdays and Saturdays) and 6.13am and 7.13am Saturday journeys reinstated.
  • 467/468: Bury – Jericho – Bacup – Whitworth – Rochdale (Rosso): 5.13am arrival in Rochdale (weekdays and Saturdays) and 6.13am and 7.13am Saturday journeys reinstated.

Services Withdrawn

We shall be saying goodbye to the…

  • 108: Timperley – Brooklands – Northern Moor – Piccadilly Gardens (Stagecoach Manchester): covered in some part by the 11A route to Altrincham and the 44 to Piccadilly Gardens. Soon to be the second of two withdrawn bus routes name checked on Frank Sidebottom’s Next Train to Timperley – the late great Chris Sievey’s adaptation of The Monkees’ Last Train to Clarksville.
  • X58: Flixton – Davyhulme – Lostock – Piccadilly Gardens (Stagecoach Manchester): peak hour express variant of the 256 route. Formerly numbered 258.
  • X84: Carrcote – Delph – Uppermill – Lees – Piccadilly Gardens (First Manchester): Oldham’s last true express bus route, a peak hour version of the former 183 and 184 routes (13 and 14 under North Western Road Car Company) without a single call at Oldham town centre. Greenfield to Carrcote section covered by 350 and 356 Saddleworth Rambler routes. Uppermill to Oldham section covered by 84 route.

Where next?

For Greater Manchester’s bus users, the retention of 64 bus routes is only the second part of its journey towards a franchised bus network. With the introduction of a fares cap in our City Region, it is clear that Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and TfGM want to attract new passengers to our network. For its core users, particularly those who make sporadic journeys (and see no need for season tickets), the £2.00 single fares cap is a great start. It reverses the previous upward trends we have seen since 1986 – and the above inflation fare hikes we saw in the 1970s and early 1980s.

From a PR point of view, the loss of any significant bus route coupled with a new fares cap – let alone 31 or 64 – would have been disastrous. Any faith in the bus network would have fallen much faster than in recent times. Politically, it could have been caviar to local Conservatives – some of which already buoyed by the arrival of Liz Truss as Prime Minister. Getting our buses wrong could have placed our City Region under Conservative control for the first time since the Greater Manchester County Council Elections in 1981. Worse, Andy Burnham could have had no buses left to franchise.

We hope this is the foundation of a new, revived bus network in Greater Manchester. For our City Region, this isn’t the be all and end all. The trams are struggling and its COVID recovery funding status doesn’t seem to be as assured as our buses. Our local buses can be conveyors toward Metrolink trams as well as local trains and longer distance bus routes, which is why The Bee Network needs to cover all modes seamlessly.

What is most important is funding has been sought for 64 socially necessary bus routes. No amount of fancy trains or brand spanking new tram system can thrive without multimodal tickets nor a stable bus network. Our buses not only take us to the doctors, our schools or supermarkets. They can form part of a longer car-free journey.

From personal experience, the punctuality and reliability of my first bus to work (or last bus home) can make or break a journey. A missing bus or late bus could be disastrous for our long term mental health if it is a regular occurrence. It could make us more anxious about leaving the house, though we need efficient public transport to get us out of the house. To meet up with family, friends or watch The Mighty ‘Bridge (maybe the Lilywhites, Rebels, Boro, Colls, or the Tigers). Or make new friends to and from work, school or the library.

We hope the next year paints a better picture for Greater Manchester’s bus network. So far, everything seems promising, though any success will be measured in bums on seats. Whether those bums on seats are new passengers or long time bus passengers remains to be seen.

S.V., 07 September 2022.

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