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A troubled campaign?

Within the past week, Northern Rail has launched its Get a Ticket campaign to stop folk travelling without paying. However, it is at times like this that holes in the ticketing system not only emerge but are trotted out by passengers who do not take kindly to being suspected of criminality. Also, it is easy to roll out a campaign without considering what needs to be in place for such a thing to work.

In fact, it is pretty telling that Northern Rail are admitting that buying a ticket at a destination station has to be a fallback for passengers. It would be better for credibility that a few things had happened before the campaign begun. There also will be doubts in the minds of the travelling public as to how seriously to take these things, no matter how hard hitting a YouTube video campaign accompanied by a Twitter one can be.

The first is to install ticket machines at every station on their network, both staffed and unstaffed. If money is an issue, and it is bound to be one, then move machines from stations already staffed by other train operating companies such as Virgin to where they really are needed. Here’s an example: there is one Northern ticket machine in Stockport so that could be removed from there and installed in a place like Poynton where there are limited opportunities for buying tickets prior to travel.

Another development would have been to introduced ticketing via mobile phone apps. A recent update to Arriva’s bus ticketing app (they have made it very, very clunky and it sounds as if they are not keen to hear that either) shows that this needs careful execution if it is to work well. After all, if there is too little time for getting a ticket before boarding a train, that can be addressed while the train is moving because you should have time then to get things sorted.

Next up is ensuring that conductors do offer passengers opportunities to buy tickets from them and some can be lacklustre when it comes to this. On late night services, I have seen the conductor staying in his cab all the time and no one has the chance that they may need. This can cause cynicism with some thinking that a conductor is hiding away reading a newspaper instead of doing their job. The “hiding” word was mentioned in a tweet and Northern Rail didn’t take so kindly to its mention either. Nevertheless, when someone accused train staff of being lazy and used somewhat coarse language in so doing, they got asked to give an example. If I find one while out and about, I will be flagging this up to Northern. To be fair, there were opportunities to buy tickets on Northern services that I have used over the last two days (which is more than be said for an East Midlands one that I used between Stockport and Sheffield when no conductor was to be seen).

After motivating staff to do their job, there’s the matter of overcrowding and having too few folk to process ticket transactions on a busy train. The first one is the more difficult at the moment because that shortage of trains. Hopefully, electrification will allow the cascading of trains from the southeast to the north when new rolling stock down there replaces them. With Pacers (classes 142, 143 and 144) becoming obsolete from 2020, any extra trains really will be needed if a crunch is to be avoided. Getting in more staff to check tickets is another matter and those doing so at stations could be ideal for such a change in duties.

Senior management may think that there are plenty of ways of buying train tickets and there is a good list: via the web, at a train station and on a train. However, all of these can be improved by a mixture of mobile phone ticketing, greater availability of ticket machines, better motivated staff with more of them on busy trains and more train capacity. all of that takes investment so it is easy to see the attractions of an inexpensive online campaign over the web. What that does need though is credibility with a travelling perhaps weary from fare increases and there needs to be balance if there is not to be resentment at perceived heavyhandedness. Passenger patronage may be increasing now but that is never to say that things will stay that way indefinitely so goodwill always needs to be retained.

 

 
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Posted on February 1, 2014 in News, Ticketing, Trains

 

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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.

 
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Posted on March 20, 2013 in Buses, Happenings, News, Observations, Timetables

 

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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.

 
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Posted on January 23, 2013 in Buses, News, Timetables

 

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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.

 
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Posted on January 10, 2013 in Buses, News, Timetables

 

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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.

 
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Posted on December 9, 2012 in Buses, Timetables, Trains

 

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