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.

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.

A contract change and its wider effects

High Peak is to take over Monday to Saturday bus service 11 between Macclesfield and Kerridge from February 24th. This means that BakerBus, who currently run the service for Cheshire East Council and have done so for a number of years now, will be handing it over in less than three weeks time.

When BakerBus scaled back the number of Biddulph to Macclesfield journeys on services 99 and 99A last autumn, they left a 07:25 from Biddulph to Macclesfield that arrives at 08:24 and an 18:41 from Macclesfield that reaches Biddulph at 19:36. These were positioning journeys for their Kerridge service and will be withdrawn in less than three weeks time. This leaves the 18:37 from Biddulph to Macclesfield as the only relic of what once was a fairly regular service that now largely is a Biddulph to Congleton route these days, a trend that is set to continue. The remaining evening journey is a positioning one for the Monday to Saturday evening contract for Macclesfield to Crewe (and return) service 38.

However, GHA’s Monday to Friday commercial service 39 is to gain an extra morning journey from Congleton at 07:50 that arrives in Macclesfield at 08:10. That is ten minutes ahead of the first bus to Kerridge and the new timetable for service 11 has all its timings shifted thirty minutes earlier in comparison with the old one. That could come as a big surprise to anyone inattentive who is a regular user of the service.

Less dramatically, Arriva’s Crewe town service 6 is set to operate ten minutes earlier from March 23rd. Then, February 17th sees the withdrawal of Routemaster Buses’ less frequent services 828 and 884 between Crewe and Nantwich. These were peak time services and I hope that their demise will not affect too many folk.

While all this is a mixed bag, it is nothing compared to proposals in other local authority areas and I do hope that we will be spared more tough choices after what we got during 2011, 2012 and 2013. Many services that were supported are now commercial so its up to increased patronage to get them sustained and hopefully improved.

Chestergate Road Closure, Macclesfield

Since yesterday, Chestergate in Macclesfield closed until 2014-02-09 to allow the demolition and rebuilding of number 123 on the road. The obstruction blocks the end of Catherine Street as well as Chestergate itself so a number of bus services are having to be diverted.

Service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester is going the full length of Churchill Way before turning onto Cumberland Street before returning to its route at the roundabout where it meets Prestbury Road. Stops on Chestergate, King Edward Street and Chester Road are not being served while the road closure is in place.

From the seeing where the last bus of the day went, it looks as if service 27 between Macclesfield and Knutsford is diverting by the same route as the 130. What I do not know is how service 19 from Macclesfield to Prestbury via Whirley Barn is going. Looking at the placement on Cheshire East Council’s map, that too must be affected but I do not know how that is being diverted. If anyone has anything to add, then please let me know.

Still some council support forthcoming after all

Previously, I reported the then upcoming decimation of Monday to Saturday evening services on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Now, it seems that Bakerbus have a contract to run later evening journeys on an hourly basis from 20:35 to 23:35 in either direction, albeit without having to honour tickets issued Arriva or D&G. This is promising news and makes me wonder now becomes of the planned short Arriva journeys between Macclesfield and Congleton (20:30 and 20:57 in each direction) and the 20:25 from Crewe to Sandbach. Maybe, all will become more clear in time but the continuation of something like the current is nothing but good news. Apparently, the 38 gets considered a strategic service and the 130 from Macclesfield to Manchester gets nothing like the same status, as can be seen from the severe service reductions in recent times.

This changeover is to take place on June 3rd and there is another on July 1st: the return of council funding for service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove. The current timetable will not be changing so the current set up of four journeys in each direction from morning into early afternoon is to remain. Though the days of the route all the way to Hanley bus station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is encouraging to see its continuation given that Astbury and Mow Cop are calling points, the latter of these being especially important for being on the Gritstone Trail.

Crewe gets its share of support for town services too with D&G’s service 9 between Crewe and Wistaston getting support for its Saturday journeys. The result is that there are more journeys over near enough the full route (Elm Drive is not served) for more of the day than was the case before. To compensate for the omission of Elm Drive from service 9, all current service 8 journeys are to follow the 8A route (with a consequent change in route number) instead as they go between Wistaston Green, Crewe and Sidney. This new arrangement comes into place from June 9th and June 3rd also sees tweaks to services 44 and 44M between Crewe and Nantwich (44M gets re-timed and Monday to Friday 08:55 from Crewe changed to start from Shavington at 09:08 instead).

June 3rd also sees D&G taking over daytime journeys on Knutsford town service 300 from High Peak without a change in timetable. There is no word of council financial support for this but the sense of High Peak leaving Knutsford is not hard to see now that they no longer operate service 27 to there from Macclesfield. It still is out on a limb for D&G too and Tomlinson Travel continue with the evening ones and I have heard some complaints on the service that they provide.

For a change, this latest round of bus service announcements is good news; developments haven’t looked this harmless for a while. It also is intriguing to see council funding appearing now after what was looking like bus services being left to their own devices with some falling on such hard times that they couldn’t continue as they were. For a good while. it almost felt like the approach was a managed decline somewhat akin to that applied to the railways in Britain for a few decades and was quite ironic given that bus services were mooted as replacements for soon to be defunct railway lines in Beeching’s plans.

What makes me wonder a little though is the timing of all of this. Cheshire East Council has seen hefty staffing upheaval in recent months. Having experienced this sort of re-organisation myself a number of times during my career so far, I realise how much stasis they can cause and I find myself asking if the same thing befell Cheshire East; folk in fear of their jobs can be unable to make decisions and it looks like that was happening before what we see now. Beyond what was happening, it might be that folk can see their way ahead again.

Seeing the recognition of the 38 as a strategic service was a great development and I’d like to think that its Sunday evening journeys may be graced by the same thinking at some point in the near future. Maybe that’s being overly optimistic but I was beginning to think that Northern Rail’s service between Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent might have made services like those on routes 38 and 77 less critical in the eyes of some and hence more vulnerable to withdrawal. After all, loss of trust in bus services is a dangerous thing and seeing what was happening was making my mind veer towards the apparent safe haven of train services. Let’s hope that we have found the bottom now and that bus service news may be a bit more positive from this point forward.