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.

A mid morning gap in Argyll

Last weekend saw me stretch it to head up to Oban. It was August 2008 when I last went there so it was high time for a return to the place. Walks took me along the shore of Loch Etive and along the eastern coastline of Mull so I did spread out from my base and the weather was more obliging than weather forecasts were leading me to believe.

Because it is a long way from Macclesfield, going by train probably is best though an off-peak return is costly at £115.30. The way up saw changes in Manchester, Preston and Glasgow instead of suggested route options that oddly took in Stafford and Crewe. Though railway engineering was ongoing between Bolton and Preston, Transpennine Express continued to operate trains between Manchester Airport, Preston and the likes of Blackpool with a diversion via Wigan which involved tantalisingly slow movement through Wigan North Western station. That train was both busy and late so I was lucky to get any sort of seat on the thing with many standing. Apart from that, the other sections of the journey were fairly pleasant so I cannot issue too many complaints. The return journey involved the same changing points and was a little more enjoyable.

The changeover from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Queen Street is made to loom large on railway journey planners but in reality is something like a fifteen minute walk that I once did in around ten minutes. Doing the same between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria takes around twenty minutes so Glasgow’s main train stations are closer together and Buchanan Bus Station is of the same duration from the principal train stations so walking is viable there too.

Getting to and from Oban has improved from the three or four return journeys that I would have expected and I counted something like eight on summer weekdays. Many of these would involve piggybacking off the train to Mallaig and Fort William with train division at Crianlarich and there also are trains travelling solo to Oban and the 16:37 departure that took me there was one of those and that train left at 20:36 to return to Glasgow offering anyone living in Scotland’s Central Belt the chance of a longer day trip to the Isle of Mull while later ferries are running.

Speaking of ferries, it can feel as if Oban is better connected to nearby islands than other parts of the mainland. For instance, the ferry to Mull travels at a decent pace and offers up to seven each way sailings a day while Kerrera enjoys a very frequent largely passenger service only a mile or two down the road from Oban. Other islands like Lismore, Coll, Tiree, Barra, South Uist and Colonsay also see sailings from Oban.

Maybe it is a reality of the mountainous hinterland of Oban as much as the outcome of the Clearances but it can feel as if frequent bus services stick to the coastline. The 405 and 005 serve Connel and Benderloch from Monday to Saturday and there is the 410 on Sundays. All of these have an hourly frequency with extra schoolday journeys extending as far as Appin though the Monday to Saturday service 918 to Fort William could be a better bet for those parts so long as the timings of the three return journeys suit what you want to do. There also is an interesting if less frequent service 408 that goes all the way to Bonawe on the shore of Loch Etive and service 418 to Easdale and North Cuan with latter offering a ferry crossing to Luing.

Aside from the foregoing, Oban gets a smattering of Monday to Saturday town services going to the town’s more outlying fringes like Soroba, Ganavan and Gallanchmore but what hits me is how limit local bus connections to the likes of Dalavich, Taynuilt and Dalmally. If it were not for train and long distance coach services, the latter pair would be stranded altogether and that brings me to the title of this piece. To get to either of those places for commencing a walk, you either need to start from Oban around 08:00 or 09:00 or wait until just after 12:00. Whatever express service used to run around 11:00 is no more and I find myself challenging the idea of the 976 timetable (Oban to Glasgow) shadowing that of the trains, albeit with only three return journeys a day too. Even the summertime Citylink Oban to Dundee service only offers one journey each way when there once was two and that offered a gap filler. To be fair, Citylink did try to offer more connections in 2008 when it was embroiled in a bus war with West Coast Motors. Whatever innovation was shown at the time appears to have been lost since then and both parties did have the good sense to patch up their differences.

As it happened, the 12:11 from Oban to Glasgow was mobbed on the Saturday of my weekend away. It was if everyone was leaving at the end of the high season when Sunday’s weather showed what they were leaving after them if only they could see past the rain on the day of their departure. the inadequacy of the two carriage train was emphasised by Scotrail’s hiring of a coach to assist them in moving folk about. There also was a bother with luggage being in a wheelchair space and I could have done without one gentleman talking about the effects that lifting heavy luggage on him after a relatively recent operation. While sparing you all the details, I was glad to have a seat and to leave them on their way at Taynuilt. On this basis, having a train departure at around 10:30 would have seemed sensible and would have got me an earlier start to my walk too. However, the same train departure on Monday was much quieter and all the more enjoyable apart maybe from moments when someone started to watch something on his phone without headphones but that irritation has faded now. the weekend had been good to me anyway and I quite fancy a return sometime soon so that’s a good thing to be able to say after any trip away.

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.