A very changed bus network in Cheshire East

There may have been good intentions to write about these changes last month before they happened but other distractions got in the way and it is only now that I am doing so. Last year, there was yet another consultation about subsidised bus services in Cheshire East with the aim of saving money and the outcome has been drastic. It makes any need to update timetable pages on here look like a triviality. In the meantime, I will try my best to collate the changes here and remain open to learning about any that I may have missed.

The biggest change is that Sunday services around Macclesfield have been heavily reduced and the bus station building closed on that day of the week. Only the bus shelter at stand 9 sees service now and that is a big change from a situation shown in a photo from nearly ten years ago when the place looked full of buses awaiting departure on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, the only services serving the town of a Sunday are town services 5 and 6 now operated commercially without the later evening journeys that used to run by D & G Buses, service 38 to and from Crewe also operated by D & G Buses and service 58 to and from Buxton operated by High Peak. Arriva services 9 to and from Moss Rose, 10A to and from Bollington together with 130 to and from Manchester all are Monday to Saturday operations following withdrawal of their Sunday services.

Weekday evening services have been affected too with Arriva’s Macclesfield services 9 and 10A now going without the later Friday and Saturday night services that used to be provided. Later evening journeys on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe not longer attract subsidy so it will be interesting to see if Arriva continues to operate the full timetable commercially as they do for now. The same change applies to D & G Buses Crewe town service 8 and Sunday journeys also are provided commercially.

Otherwise, route reorganisation is a good description for what else has happened. Monday to Saturday journeys on service 58 have been rerouted to replace the withdrawn town service 1. The same applies to services 391 and 392 now operated by Selwyns instead of High Peak between Macclesfield and Stockport with the former of these serving Kerridge as a replaced for the withdrawn service 11. D & G Buses commercial Monday to Saturday service 130 now runs between Macclesfield and Manchester Airport, replacing former service 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport.

The mention of Wilmslow brings up another reorganisation that takes some added effort to explain. For some reason, it was seen fit to combine the routes of former services 27, 88 and 289 into a single block. The result is that service 88 now runs between Macclesfield and Altrincham via Knutsford and Wilmslow, replacing service 27 operated by Howards. There is an additional commercial route 88A between Knutsford and Wilmslow’s Colshaw Farm estate that acts as a replacement for Knutsford town service 300 together with commercial Knutsford town service 87. Lastly, service 89 connects Knutsford with Northwich and replaces that part of route 289 while Network Warrington has expanded its service 47 to Monday to Friday operation with some journeys extending as far as Knutsford.

Making alterations to existing services to replace withdrawn one applies else in Cheshire East too. For instance, route 39 between Crewe and Nantwich has been extended to replace withdrawn route 52. Other changes in the area include new routes 70, 71, 72 and 73 operated by D & G Bus and service 78 saw a reduction in route length. New service 317 between Alsager, Sandbach and Leighton Hospital offers a replacement.

Additionally, new services have been set up to replace withdrawn ones. One is service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove that was replaced by part of service 318 between Alsager and Congleton. Route SB1 was renumbered as 316. There have been some losses too with service 99 between Macclesfield and Congleton via Bosley counted among them. Crewe town service 8 also changed around the same time and it now is Monday to Saturday service so you have to wonder if that lost its Sunday operation until you check the details.

Other routes were tweaked around Easter too and these include service 19 between Macclesfield and Prestbury, service 42 between Congleton and Crewe as well as service 84 between Crewe and Chester. Some changed operator like Congleton’s Beartown bus network though that otherwise remains unchanged.

In summary, there has been a lot of upheaval so I hope that this is the end of such cost saving since it has left some people stranded. That comment especially applies to Sunday services around Macclesfield and this will affect bank holiday services too since many operate to a Sunday timetable. One has to hope that this is the last of such initiatives because it all suggests an air of managed decline with cuts inducing more cuts.

An Arriva rearrangement to arrive in June 2014

This has been Catch the Bus Week across the U.K. and I have learned that something less positive is on the way for Arriva’s bus services in Cheshire East from the start of June. It comes in the form of many services seeing curtailment of evening journeys.

There are other less notable tweaks too in the form of changes to Macclesfield town services 2, 2A and 4 with the 31 and 31A between Crewe, Winsford and Northwich also coming into the same category. Further details of what is coming have yet to become clear but let’s hope that service reductions are not in order for these.

Others are less fortunate and Monday to Saturday journeys between Macclesfield and Bollington after 21:00. There is little sign of a campaign against this at the time of writing but it really took a big push to get Arriva to provide the commercial service that it has done since council funding was withdrawn. The same sort of thing is coming to Macclesfield town service 9 after 20:45 and circular town services 5 and 6 after 19:30. Also, the 08:35 and 09:05 Monday to Friday journeys on the Macclesfield to Hurdsfield town service are set to go too. These were route 21B and routes 21 and 21A will survive untouched though it does the morning peak travel time no favours at all.

Service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe loses out too. On Saturdays, there are to be no Arriva buses after 18:00 and that leaves a gap until the council-contracted BakerBus journeys that start at 20:35. It will be interesting to see if Cheshire East Council fills the gap here though I realise that money is tight with them. Otherwise, there is sense in pulling the short return journey between Macclesfield and Congleton that leaves Macclesfield shortly before BakerBus’s first evening journey to Crewe.

Also not escaping unscathed are services 37, 37A and 37E between Crewe and Northwich. There is set to be only journey from Crewe to Northwich after 19:00 and that leaves Crewe as the 37E at 19:34 to arrive in Northwich at 20:49. The other 19:00, 20:00 and 21:00 journeys will not operate.

Other than the above, it is the 23:00 journey from Crewe to Nantwich on service 84 that faces withdrawal. This completes a series of changes that look anything but positive. Recently, I learned that the head of Arriva Northwest is an accountant so it is tempting to lay the blame at bean counting but I reckon that is not the whole story. Of course, there is the matter of passenger patronage to be considered too and High Peak is withdrawing the the last journey of the day on service 14 between Macclesfield and Langley (a Monday to Saturday affair anyway since Arriva stopped offering a Sunday service) to leave no service after 18:00, not a good thing for any commuters though the new 109 service between Macclesfield and Leek could help to fill the gap. Maybe it’s time to support what services are running and get campaigning when we need to retain any that are threatened.

Update 2014-05-19:

BakerBus are to plug the gap left in the Saturday service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Their Saturday departures from Macclesfield will start at 18:35 and continue hourly until the last bus of the day. Their equivalent Saturday departures from Crewe will commence at 19:35 and continue hourly until the end of service, so ensuring a complete service over the whole day. If only something similar could be said for soon to be withdrawn services between Macclesfield and Bollington.

Update 2014-05-27:

BakerBus are set to lose their Monday to Saturday evening journey contract to GHA from the first Monday in July (2014-07-07) so that last evening journey from Biddulph to Macclesfield is set to go at the same time. GHA are taking over service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove, another Cheshire East Council contract, from the same date. No timetables are changing though.

It is not all bad news for BakerBus though since they won the contract to operate the soon to be discontinued evening journeys on Macclesfield local services 9 and 10 on Friday and Saturday evenings from the first weekend in June (2014-06-06) onwards. It would be better if Monday to Thursday evenings gained the same reprieve but anything has to be better than nothing at all.

Along the route of the X1

When I first moved to Macclesfield, there was a bus service running from Manchester all the way to Derby that passed through the town. It was called the X1 and First operated it under contract to three councils: Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Before First won the contract, Stagecoach ran it and nearly made it a commercial prospect too. In fact, it had been in existence at least since the Crosville/National Bus Company days and it wasn’t a commercial success even then.

When First ran the service, they used a mixture of coaches and buses and their timetable was a limited one with only four to five departures each way a day and they weren’t all that useful between Macclesfield and Stockport either since the times nearly coincided with the similarly rare 392 journeys to the same destination. There was an additional school service operated by Arriva between Macclesfield and Leek on Monday to Friday mornings too that some could use for commuting to work; getting home by bus at the end of the working day involved either an early finish or a long wait, hardly an ideal state of affair but the successor 108 timetable is even less workable than the old one was.

After First lost the contract, Trent Barton took it over and the service number became 108, one that covers part of the route even today. While I cannot tell you which depot was used to operate the route, the driver changeover took place in Macclesfield bus station so if the bus running in one direction was late, the one going the other way was made late and it hardly was the best state of affairs for maintaining on time running of buses.

Macclesfield to Stockport Bus Travel Improvements

2003 and 2004 saw Cheshire County Council spent money getting in some new buses for subsidised services. Seeing the cuts that are being made now makes those times a distant memory and I reckon it might be U.K. government cash that made this possible. Some of those buses were used by Arriva to operate an enhanced Macclesfield to Stockport bus services using the 392 and 393 routes that we still have today. These buses were stationed in Macclesfield around the time of the opening of the current bus station and then moved to a Manchester depot after that.

Both buses were used to offer an hourly timetable from Monday to Saturday instead of a much less frequent one seven days a week. That’s the basis that we still have today though those buses have been with different operators since Arriva lost the contract in 2008. One went to High Peak for an improved Macclesfield to Prestbury while the other went to GHA as a backup for the main buses on their routes serving Northwich, Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham.

In their place, BakerBus had to bring their own buses when taking over from Arriva around four or five years ago. The timetable remained very similar though, apart maybe from re-branding it The Shuttle. Their tenure in charge of the route is coming to an end now with High Peak set to run it from next month. It will be interesting to see if their takeover means using older buses again. The 393 has been relegated to only a few journeys a day with the 392 becoming the main route for the new service. Timekeeping will be another matter to watch with the new timetable because the alternating 392 and 393 routes left some slack for keeping buses running on time because the 393 goes along the A523 via Adlington and 392 goes around by Bollington and Pott Shrigley.

Breakup

Those 392/393 improvements meant the end of a Manchester to Derby service that went via Leek and Ashbourne. Now the course of the route was broken in four on all days apart from Sunday: Manchester to Stockport, Stockport to Macclesfield, Macclesfield to Ashbourne, Ashbourne to Derby. The very regular 192 does the first section and the second is served by the 392/393. The third one is served by Clowes 108 service, a rump of what went before. Their use of older Mercedes midi-buses appears to be a cost-saving measure and I have seen these running without ticket machines either, hardly an encouraging sign. The last section is well served with the SW1 service operated by Trent Barton with only a few Monday to Wednesday contracted services run by Arriva Midlands.

The Monday to Saturday frequency of each of these is varied. The 192 offers a 10 minute one, the highest of the bunch. It is as good as hourly for the 392/393 and SW1. The lowest of these is the 108 with only a few services each way a day and it has not escaped spending cuts either.

In fact, what brought the whole story of the X1 route to mind in the first place is a change that is coming to the 108 service. Until the weekend after the coming one, we have evening journeys such as a 18:15 from Ashbourne to Macclesfield and a 19:10 going all of the other way. The last journey from Ashbourne leaves at 20:20 and terminates in Leek. There was a Monday to Friday morning school service that got canned and the loss of the aforementioned Friday and Saturday evening journeys is next, kicking in from March 8th. It’s a far cry from a full X1 that I used to get from Stockport to Macclesfield one Saturday around a decade ago. Not only has a coherent long distance bus route option been dismantled but you have to wonder if things could get even worse than they are. After all, I have seen Clowes operate the 108 using a bus with no ticket machine and they are being left to carry on for now.

With all this dismantling, a Manchester to Derby bus travel option effectively was removed. All those changes mean that it is far from an attractive way to go anymore unless you plan on stopping off here, there and everywhere. This is nice countryside so that would be no bad idea but there’s no way of having a teaser now like the TransPeak service.

There Once Was a Sunday Service…

Even the Sunday and bank holiday route of the 108 meant a change at Leek with operators changing at the end of every council contract. BakerBus and then D&G were the custodians of the northern section while TM Travel ran the southern one. There were three departures each way and the two halves awaited each other at Leek bus station. Sadly, that service now is no more and I seem to remember a reasonable level of usage when I used it too.

The only existing remnant now goes between Derby and Ashbourne with only two return journeys extending as far as Leek, a loss of one from what went before. The service is the Sunday and bank holiday SW1 and Trent Barton is the operator. There are five journeys going each way, an improvement for the residents of Ashbourne and nearby Mayfield gains a few of the ones that don’t go as far as Mayfield too. It’s nowhere near as regular as the Monday to Saturday service but it’s good to see that it continues, which is more than could be said for the Sunday service along the rest of the route.

Any Sign of Better Times Ahead?

It seems that there has been a mixture of gains and losses along the length of the former X1 route with Sunday services decimated and the section between Macclesfield, Leek and Ashbourne seeing a reduced service on other days of the week. The continuing near hourly Macclesfield to Stockport bus service from Monday to Saturday is a bright spot though amongst the other gloom. Whenever there are bus services withdrawn, you have to ask if there ever can be a chance of some sort of return in the future. As gloomy as things appear now, it yet may surprise us though the “lost decade” isn’t over yet.

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.

Public Transport in Bollington

Public Transport in Bollington

Bollington once had its own train station on a railway that extended from Marple to Macclesfield. That is no more and much of the route of that railway is the Middlewood Way, a recreational cycling route between the two places formerly connected by a train line. Some of the alignment near Bollington has a truck depot across it and more of it may have been used for the Silk Road feeding the A523 into Macclesfield from Hazel Grove.

That former railway also served Higher Poynton and the platforms remain and get used as picnic areas by passing walkers, cyclists and equestrians. However, Poynton still has a train station while Bollington doesn’t. That means that residents of the latter need to get to Macclesfield or Prestbury since they have the nearest train stations. Of the two, it is the former that has the more trains due to its being a principal station on the West Coast Mainline.

Given the latter fact, it’s just as well that there is a plentiful supply of bus services connecting Bollington to Macclesfield. The 10 and 10A are the main ones with the first of these offering a half-hourly frequency during daytimes from Monday to Saturday. The latter runs all day on Sundays and lost its subsidy last year, thankfully without any reduction in service frequency. The equivalent Monday to Saturday evening services are set to lose their council funding next month and vigorous campaigning on the part of Bollington Town Council has Arriva trying out commercial operation. Hopefully, a good level of support from residents will see it continue like it does on Sundays.

There’s a service 11 to Kerridge too that adds to those going towards the Happy Valley, as Bollington is known due to having good mill owners in its industrial heyday. It doesn’t go the full length of the town but turns from the main road part way. It is a Monday to Saturday daytime operation with an hourly frequency. The operator is BakerBus on a council contract and it escaped attention during the 2012 cuts. Before BakerBus, Bostocks had the contract and Arriva had it before them again.

The last bus service for mention passes through Bollington on its way from Macclesfield to Stockport, the 392. The frequency is two-hourly and it too is operated by BakerBus on a council contract. The withdrawal of the 391 in Poynton means that it hasn’t escaped the current cuts. From the beginning of March 2013, it is set to terminate in Hazel Grove, a disappointing development.

There once were Sunday bus services along the route of the 392. Last year’s cuts saw the end of them with the 108 between Stockport and Leek withdrawn. That had three journeys a day in each direction and made walks around Leek more a reality for the bus user. That in turn had replaced a Sunday 392 that ran on a similar frequency though the last 19:00 departure from Stockport was a pointless affair.

Bollington is well supplied with bus services and those those who will fight to retain them too, the latter being an especially rare commodity in recent years in Cheshire East. They will need to continue their efforts, methinks. It helps that Bollington is a good place to visit thanks to its location among hills and all the things that happen there thanks to a sense of community that needs exporting to other parts of Cheshire.