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 Monday to Saturday journeys on service 58 have been rerouted to replace the withdrawn town service 1.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instead of High Peak between Macclesfield and Stockport with the former of these serving Kerridge as a replaced for the withdrawn service 11.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.

Cheshire Bus Service Changes during December 2013 and January 2014

Just because Cheshire East is quieter than this time last year or other places when it comes to bus services does not mean that there is nothing happening all the same. Other distractions have meant that anything that happened during November passed by on me so it’s best that I capture what is happening now and what is to come in the near future.

At the start of the week, Knutsford town service 300 saw some tweaks with a reduction in the number of journeys serving Lilac Avenue. Next Monday sees little alterations to the BakerBus service between Biddulph and Congleton with its occasional forays to and from Macclesfield. The current 99B journeys will be renumbered 99A and there will be two new journeys too: an 08:10 from Biddulph to Cionleton and one at 15:50 going in the opposite direction. In an age when bus services are being lost, this is a good thing to see.

Congleton town bus services are seeing changes on the last Monday before Christmas with the withdrawal of the 76 to Banky Fields and The Westlands; this last runs on the preceding Saturday. Services 90 to Bromley Estate and 91 to Mossley are seeing frequencies reduced to hourly on Saturdays and at certain times during the Monday to Friday portion of a week from the same day (2013-12-23).

In January, we are seeing more changes again, especially from the first Sunday on 2014. Crewe town service 6 is seeing big changes with Arriva only to operate buses between the bus station and Brookhouse Estate. D&G will then offer a longer version of the same route from Shavington to Leighton Hospital to replace the lost Arriva workings from the same date. Existing D&G services 6A and 6E will be replaced by their new service 6 at the same time.

Arriva services 31, 31A, 37, 37A, 37E and 38 also are seeing changes. Service 38 gets off the lightest with only the questionable Monday to Saturday 20:25 journey from Crewe to Sandbach lost and BakerBus have a council contract for a late evening service to make up for this anyway. In its place, there is a 20:20 departure from Crewe to Winsford Industrial Estate as part of a package of bigger changes to the service. Initially, I thought that the 37 was to become a Crewe to Winsford service with any short journeys becoming 37A journeys. However, the sight of journeys starting and ending in Sandbach makes me wonder if those are set to continue all the way to Northwich after the changes. The new timetable will make interesting reading when it becomes available and I hope that no one gets inconvenienced by the upheaval. Thankfully, service 31 still will go the whole way between Crewe and Northwich, albeit without serving Morrisons in Northwich any longer, while the 31A will become a Crewe to Winsford operation.

Other than the above, Macclesfield town service 21 gets a change of route with services from Hurdsfield to Macclesfield going via Hibel Road and Churchill Way from the first Monday in 2014. On the same day BakerBus also takes over Sandbach services SB1, SB2 and SB3 from D&G with only a slight change to the SB1 timetable at the time of the transfer. Speaking of D&G, they are introducing a new Congleton town service 39 that overlaps with High Peak’s service between the town and Macclesfield, in route rather than timings as far as I can see. It operates between the morning and evening peak travel times from Monday to Friday between Congleton and Buglawton and I hope there is no ill effect on the High Peak service caused by its introduction.

The last change pencilled in for January 2014 relates to the Sunday service for the 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester and it is seeing its share of toing and froing. Initially, GHA had lost the contract to D&G and the new timetable was to be a daytime only affair much like the Monday to Saturday operation of Arriva without the early Monday to Friday morning workings. However, GHA then decided to try running the service on a commercial basis and the council is withdrawing D&G’s contract offer. The appearance of the new GHA timetable is yet to be seen but I suspect that the timings could be like those set to be offered by D&G. However, there is one question lurking in my mind: the current GHA contract ends on 2014-01-12 and their new service starts on 2014-01-26 so will be there any 130 service on 2014-01-19 or that just something that needs tidying? All in all, the situation reminds me of what happened when they swooped in on the Macclesfield to Knutsford service 27 and that is going still.

Changes to Crewe bus services in September & October of 2013

Within the last few days, a number of changes to bus services serving Crewe have been announced. These are coming in three waves, one for each of three bus companies. D&G is first and largely sticks to tweaking times and routes as does First. Arriva sadly are doing a spot of pruning though this is no near as drastic as what was facing us this time last year.

The 22nd of September is when the first batch of changes will come to pass and they are being introduced by D&G. Service 85 from Crewe to Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent) will have two morning journeys starting later: 08:15 at 08:35 and 09:30 at 09:35. The 45/45A service between Nantwich and Crewe will see the 08:22 journey from Marshfield to Crewe start at the earlier time of 08:12. Crewe town services 8, 8A and 9 are seeing some swapping around with 8A replacing the 8 and 9 on some Monday to Friday afternoon journeys. All of these are tweaks compared to what was going on this time last year and any later or earlier starts affect later stopping points on those journeys by the same amount of time.

Next up for adjustment is the 20 service from Crewe to Hanley that is operated by First Potteries from 6th October. Again, these are timing changes apart from withdrawal of the extension to Haslington. Otherwise, it’s a matter of journeys such as the Sunday morning 09:08 arrival at Leighton Hospital seeing tweaks. Some other journeys from Leighton Hospital start three minutes early and more again will see timing changes between Crewe train station and Radway Green. All of this is for the sake of ensuring greater reliability so things most have changed on roads around there recently to necessitate the changes.

On 27th October, Arriva are adjusting services 31/31A between Crewe and Northwich and 6 between Crewe and Shavington. The latter is losing the first Monday to Saturday journey of the day in each direction. Late afternoon journeys on the 31/31A are being thinned out with Monday to Friday post 16:00 journeys from Northwich to two at 16:35 and 17:40. Their equivalents on Saturdays are to become hourly (16:15, 17:15, 18:15). Post 17:00 Northwich journeys from Crewe go down to two from Monday to Friday (17:20 & 17:55) and three on Saturday (17:01, 17:31, 18:31). In all of this, the last journey of the day from Crewe to Winsford escapes unscathed.

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.