Up to usual tricks yet again…

Cheshire East Council have launched yet another consultation to see if they can cut bus services even more. We probably should have had on whether it is appropriate to try to save £1.5m on this in the first place. Things already are close to a situation where nothing runs after 18:00 and I am trying to see if Arriva will give us a better service on route 130 between 16:00 and 19:00.

Again, it is evening and Sunday services that are at the centre of attempted savings though the Little Bus network does not escape either. Trunk routes like services 38 and 130 fall into the scope for cuts with the former potentially losing all of its evening services and the latter its Sunday ones. A number of services face withdrawal like service 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport or service P1 between Middlewood, Poynton and Hazel Grove. Otherwise, there is some pointless renumbering of otherwise unaffected services.

The consultation takes the form of a route by route interrogation that causes some like me to question the need to bother about it when so much is cut already. It certainly is not as user friendly as that run by Derbyshire County Council and that leads to its own share of cynical rebuke. It is one thing to try collecting too much information but that is made worse if it puts off those who depend on more than one service from commenting at all.

Still, there is some cause for optimism with all the consultation fatigue that I am suffering. Local newspapers like the Macclesfield Express and the Wilmslow Guardian have featured the consultation on their front pages with comments from local councillors. One does have to wonder when it all is going to stop but the cuts actually made in the end may step back from the full extent that is described in the proposal document. The consultation itself runs until July 26th so we will learn what happens after that. One has to ask if it all is false economy and we saw the collapse of GHA last year as they fell foul of an ever more challenging operating environment.

The Rise of GHA?

In recent years, GHA Coaches and its subsidiary Vale Travel have started to make inroads to Cheshire East that the North Wales operation hadn’t done until then. It all started with school bus contracts using mid-life double decker buses seemingly based in Macclesfield and that still is their base in the area.

Next, they won the contract for the Connect 88 service between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham from Arriva who had operated it using the route number of 288. New buses were acquired for the Monday to Saturday service, which must have come as a welcome surprise to those who were regular users of Arriva’s ageing and step entrance Dennis Darts. Low floor Optare Versas have been the mainstay since then although other older buses appear from time to time.

The 289 between Northwich, Knutsford and Altrincham was another service that GHA gained and I am not sure when that happened; my first sighting of it was of a sunny Friday evening in May 2012 when I glimpse the bus to Northwich passing through Knutsford. It again is a Monday to Saturday service and has something like five departures each way a day.

In recent months, the number of services coming under their custodianship has increased with the 200 between Wilmslow, Styal and Manchester Airport being the first that I noticed. That is a seven day hourly daytime service that always seems to escape the cuts that blighted others. Is it because it only needs one bus and one driver all day? They possibly are the most cost effective so that wouldn’t surprise me.

The Connect 19 service between Macclesfield, Whirley Barn and Prestbury is yet another hourly Monday to Saturday daytime service that they operate after taking over from High Peak, who had run it for a number of years. Sunday services between Macclesfield, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Manchester on the 130 route became yet another contract that they won, also from Arriva, and commenced in the middle of January and I got to seeing one of the Optare Versas for the Connect 88 running on it.

That wasn’t all because the P1 between Middlewood, Poynton and Hazel Grove became yet another entry on their roster of services and fitted the Monday to Friday hourly daytime service too. Thankfully, its institution meant the 392 and 393 services still run from Macclesfield into Stockport and don’t terminate in Hazel Grove as may have been feared.

Their most recent activity has involved a little risk taking on their part since they have applied to register a service along route 27 between Macclesfield and Knutsford. There is a little confusion about this since the council were in the throes of issuing a tender for contract when GHA appear to have looked at the ridership figures and decided to go running it commercially, albeit on a largely two hourly timetable as opposed to High Peak’s 90 minute one. It again is a Monday to Saturday daytime affair with the first and last services of a Saturday being dropped. Cheshire East Council are waiting for the actual registration to go to completion before telling anyone what is happening even if GHA already have a timetable on their website. Though the risk taking is to be welcomed, it all looks confused and I hope things work out for the new service and that it gets the patronage that it needs. There have been many lost bus services in our area already and more aren’t needed.

Cheshire East Bus News 2013-01-23

Only change ever is constant and there are a few new developments to share regarding bus services in Cheshire East. The bigger announcement is that BakerBus will be operating the Macclesfield towns routes 5 and 6 on Sundays and bank holidays. There is no change in timetable announced but it still doesn’t look much of a thank you for their operation of same routes commercially on Monday to Friday evenings.

The timetable for the replacement of the 391 service starting in March, the P1, has been published and it runs from Middlewood to Hazel Grove via Poynton. GHA are set to run it from around 07:00 until around 18:30 so it’s very much a daytime only affair. The timetable is hourly and it looks like a one bus operation like the 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport or the 300 Knutsford town service. That probably is the most cost effective way of doing things so it’s hard to see how more money could be saved apart from running less journeys.

The timetables for the 392 and 393 services from March have yet to be made public and changes are coming. Even with what I reported on here before, I am left wondering if these will be full Macclesfield to Stockport routes operated by High Peak. Only time will tell if those hopes have been misplaced as has been my understanding.

When GHA took over the Sunday 130 route between Macclesfield and Manchester, the timetable got tweaked so all departures from Macclesfield are five minutes earlier than they were. Journey time then is an hour and twenty five minutes with all Manchester departures at 29 minutes past the hour. Like before, the last service from Manchester only goes as far as Wilmslow. Otherwise, the timetable is not overly dissimilar to that operated by Arriva though I do wonder if it might become more Macclesfield-centric in time with their having a base near the town; currently, the Manchester bias of the service is maintained.

Apart from the above, there are temporary route changes due to roadworks. Middlewich is affected until late in February and services 37 (Northwich to Sandwich to Crewe) and 42 (D&G Congleton to Crewe) are diverted. Crewe services 8, 8A and 9 are affected by roadworks on Middlewich Street in the town from tomorrow until next Tuesday with the exception of Saturday and Sunday.

There may have been a time that i might have thought that bus services didn’t change so quickly in Cheshire East but that’s not how it feels now so I have gone for a more standard title. It feels easier than trying to come with new ones all the time and the article hopefully passes the proverbial Ronseal test too.

Update 2013-01-31: March timetable for Macclesfield to Stockport bus services is now online. Most services go via Bollington and Pott Shrigley with only a few going via Adlington. The former is the route of the 392 and the latter the 393 so this is a big change. Hopefully, it’ll do nothing to undermine the sustainability of the service with the possibility of more council funding cuts not being one that can be discounted.

Bus service changes continue in Cheshire East

It’s come to my attention at short notice that G.H.A. Coaches are taking over the Sunday Macclesfield to Manchester service from Arriva on next Sunday (2013-01-13). Whether that means that Arriva weekly and four-weekly tickets will be accepted remains to be seen and I wouldn’t bet on it unless I hear confirmation first. On the D & G Sunday service on the Crewe to Macclesfield route 38, I have never seen anyone proffer an Arriva saver ticket so I wouldn’t be surprised if the same applies here. Looking at Traveline, the timetable is staying the same for now though the Cheshire East Council website suggests to the contrary. Unfortunately, the change involves yet more fragmentation and that hasn’t helped the cause of some of our services recently; the lost Monday to Saturday evening 130 journeys come to mind here. Will it also further test the appetite that Arriva’s Wythenshawe depot has for running the 130 and would getting G.H.A. to run the whole thing be the sort of development that we need? Maybe now isn’t the time for such experimentation but I and others have had more revolutionary thoughts so what about it? There are more questions than answers on the topic and such is where we find ourselves in these times.

Speaking of G.H.A., they are set to operate a partial replacement for the 391 service from 4th March. The new service is called the P1 and we have yet to see details of the timetable for it. There seems to be a growing trend of G.H.A. winning more council contracts recently with the 200 Wilmslow to Manchester Airport and Connect 19 Macclesfield to Prestbury services going their way too. Given that the company is based in rural Denbighshire, this may come as a surprise but I think that they have an outstation in Macclesfield that originally started with schoolbus services before they gained the Connect 88 between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham.

The mention of Poynton allows me to relate that High Peak will be taking over the 392 and 393 services from BakerBus from the start of March too. It’s a pity to see a quality operator like BakerBus losing out like this, especially given that they brought newer buses to the route when they started on it a few years ago. Those were different times though and the the announcement of the P1 makes me wonder if the truncation at Hazel Grove still applies or if there might be through ticketing via the 199 Skyline service between Buxton and Stockport to compensate for it. It’s an interesting possibility.

High Peak are not done with tweaking the 27 service between Macclesfield and Knutsford though and there are major route alterations to come from 11th February. Some journeys were numbers 27A but no longer will be the case. Beggarman’s Lane will not be served and that’s not exactly a surprise since I saw no one living there use the service on the journeys that I used. That now means that any journeys going via Over Peover and Whipping Stocks Inn will be routed via Ollerton and Knutsford train station instead. The Monday to Friday Over Peover service level is to be cut though with only the following journeys going that way: 1000, 1130, 1300 and 1430 from Macclesfield; 1045, 1215, 1345 and 1515 from Knutsford. That makes me wonder about those going to work at the Barclays site of Radbroke Hall who used to travel by bus and how they managed now. Saturday services are unaffected but that’s little consolation to them. On the subject of workplaces, the Alderley Park loop is getting shortened only to serve only Mereside and not Alderley House. Only for the speed bumps in that place being very harsh, it would be difficult to comprehend why this is being done but bus suspension damage cannot be cheap to fix and there have been complaints from a bus company operating there in the past.

So, while I was thinking that it would be quiet on here for a while, I found the above today. There may be a big upheaval in progress following last year’s decisions on funding cuts but it seems that other changes are not excluded either. What we really need is more news like the investment being made by D & G into Crewe town service 1 but I am sceptical about that at this stage when Cheshire East bus services continue to get rough treatment and one wonders at what we could hear later in the year.

How the 130 service level will look from January 2013

The 130 bus service is one that I use regularly to get to and from work so I have a vested interest in seeing how its timetable will look next month. The latest round of bus subsidy cuts have taken their toll and only the Sunday service seems to have escaped. However, if there are any more funding reductions, it too could end up on Cheshire East Council’s cross-hairs. The same cannot be said for the rest of the week.

Today however, Arriva have registered changes to come into force for the end of next month and these have appeared on Cheshire East Council’s website. In their own way, they are quite extensive with lots of little reductions to come. The timetable has yet to become available but this is a flavour of what the changes are.

Monday to Friday services only see one change in the last departure from Macclesfield at 18:10 will terminate at East Didsbury instead of going all of the way into Manchester as it does now. This makes it like the 17:40 and means that the last two journeys of the day from Macclesfield are similarly curtailed so the more regular services offered by Stagecoach will be needed to continue further.

It is the Saturday services that see the bigger changes with the current 06:45 and 07:45 journeys from Macclesfield starting from East Didsbury instead. Also, the seemingly useful 18:35 departure is set to get axed too. Is this possibly another casualty of the abolition of the evening journeys between Macclesfield and East Didsbury? After all, it is unlikely that you will leave Macclesfield for a night out by bus if you cannot make it back in the same way. The last Saturday change is confusingly described but my take is that any journey currently starting from Brunswick Street in Manchester will start from East Didsbury instead.

Such is the extent of the change made by Arriva and D&G’s service withdrawal that a summary is in order. So, here are a few tables with service start and end times to show how savage the service cuts will be. Sunday evening services amazingly persist and show what has been lost for the other days, partially saving me the need to show how things are at the moment. Hopefully, they’ll save folk from getting caught out.

Towards Manchester Piccadilly Gardens (M) or East Didsbury (ED)

Place First Service Last Service
Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
Macclesfield 06:10 08:45 09:05 17:10 (M)
18:10 (ED)
17:35 22:00
Wilmslow 06:28 09:19 09:35 17:59 (M)
18:50 (ED)
18:09 22:29

From Manchester Piccadilly Gardens (M), Brunswick Street (B) or East Didsbury (ED)

Place First Service Last Service
Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
Macclesfield 06:03 07:21 (ED)
07:33 (M)
08:34 (B)
09:29 (M)
17:28 17:28 20:29
Wilmslow As above As above As above 18:04 18:18 22:29

Last buses from Wilmslow to Macclesfield

Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
18:40 18.32 21:23

Seeing all of the reductions leaves me wondering if we need to rethink the operation of the 130 to make it more sustainable. Splitting it has been a suggestion that cropped up in a comment on a previous post. After all, train services between Macclesfield and Manchester are such that buses over the equivalent road route are less attractive and the same has to be said for Wilmslow too. The merit of buses is that they connect intermediate points and those connections suffer whenever services are withdrawn to the extent that we are about to witness next month.

One thing that strikes me about bus services that have escaped unscathed such as the 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport (now operated by GHA) is that they don’t much in the way of buses and drivers. Being able to have just a single bus and driver at a time seems to be the best recipe for keeping a service by the lucks of things. That was the intention of the timings for the evening 130 services between Macclesfield and East Didsbury but I now reckon that the length of the route still may have been too long for it to truly work as it should.

Following on from the above, I am coming to think that the 130 should be split. The Cheshire portion would be between Macclesfield and Handforth since that would take less than an hour to go one way according to the current timetable. Having a local operator who would stick with the route would be beneficial too since the level of commitment from either Arriva or D&G has done nothing to inspire confidence.

Though it proved very useful when train services between Macclesfield and Manchester were blighted by engineering works around a decade ago, I now wonder if keeping the route as it is now is a luxury that we cannot afford. My suggestion would mean that a gap needed sorting on the Greater Manchester end and it would be interesting to hear how that would look. Anything has to be better than a declining service level and apparently uncommitted operators.