Lost Welsh Independent Bus Companies

It was before Christmas 2017 when the idea for this post entered my head after learning about more Welsh bus company collapses. Though I might have had the motivation to write it up then, the topic felt unseasonal so I left it to one side for a while.

There are plenty of reasons why the subject is too sober for what was supposed to be a joyful time of year. In the companies listed below, there seems to be a repeating story of hardship and subsequent collapse. In some cases, business management was not what it should and the Welsh traffic commissioner never takes too kindly to sudden closure of any bus company and there has been too much cause for hearings to take place in Welshpool.

Most of the affected concerns operated rural bus routes under council contracts, an easier revenue earner during the years of Labour government in London but much tougher now in more austere times. Such is the geography of Wales, that many firms prospered once more funding was on offer from the late nineties until the end of the next decade. One bus industry professional commented that he was involved in setting up a business in the nineties because public subsidy was about to increase and the Cheshire bus network was much stronger back then so the same might have been possible for Wales.

That is not how it is now and bus patronage cannot be helped by service cuts either so a vicious circle comes into being. Then, smaller firms suffer and the hilly nature of Wales makes it hard too for large operators with Arriva and Veolia pulling out of mid Wales. It all makes for a troubled network so the presence of the Welsh Government support TrawsCambria network is invaluable because we cannot say that all is well yet.

When you see the list below, it is easy to see how instability can rein so anything that helps has to be good. After all, bus passengers need to sure that services will operate as advertised and the last thing that councils need is repeated re-tendering of services. Hopefully, the decline can be halted and we see a reduced number of failures over time. You only can hope for better.

D & J Jones and Son

In the wake of the collapse of GHA Coaches, this Wrexham based operator took on a lot of extra work before it too collapsed immediately before Christmas 2017. It was said that staffing issues were the cause rather than financial pressures but it left Wrexham Council with the task of replacing many services in order to keep transport services going in the borough.

Express Motors

2018 started with much change in the bus network in northwest Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy) because of this operator’s loss of its licence. The cause was a coach crash in France that revealed discrepancies in vehicle maintenance records. There were two family owned companies on site with similar names, one offering private and the other providing local bus services. Both were closed and a replacement company appears not to have been set up to continue in the bus service business. The result is that all council contracted routes were retendered.

GHA Coaches

GHA Coaches rose very quickly across North and Mid Wales as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. It now looks as if the expansion may have been too rapid for service quality declined and cashflow problems meant that taxes were unpaid and service quality suffered too. In the end, the company was wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The company’s directors tried starting another company but were disqualified from continuing with such operations by the traffic commissioner, an understandable action given how quickly GHA Coaches had collapsed and the chaos that resulted.

Padarn Bus

Llanberis’ Padarn Bus was another bus company that failed in northwest Wales and there was a fraud investigation mounted after that happened. That happened in 2014 and so comes before others on this list. It was a sign of what was to come.

Silcox Coaches

This Pembrokeshire operator failed for financial reasons not long before GHA Coaches. The business had been sold in order to gain added investment that never materialised. It then was bought back by the family that owned for much of its long history but it never recovered.

More on April 2014 Changes to Cheshire East Bus Services

Details are being revealed about changes to bus services in Cheshire East from the end of this month. First on the list is what is happening to Saturday journeys on Arriva’s service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester from the start of May. Thankfully, it is the section between East Didsbury and Piccadilly Gardens that is seeing any impact following loss of Transport for Greater Manchester funding. Journeys towards Manchester city centre at 07:55 and 08:55 are being dropped and Macclesfield-bound services leaving Piccadilly Gardens at 07:33 and 09:28 no longer will do so. Instead, they will commence from Parr’s Wood in East Didsbury instead at 07:51 and 09:51, respectively. Apart from those, there is on Arriva’s website what appears a confused comment on a Monday to Friday morning departure for Macclesfield but I will overlook that until the actual full timetable is published.

The current Monday to Saturday service 108 from Macclesfield to Leek and Ashbourne would appear to be getting split with the 108 only running between Leek and Ashbourne according to a new timetable on the Derbyshire bus timetables website. From the last Monday in April, it does appear that the new 108 is better than the old one with five journeys each way a day and the spread of the day served extends later into the evening time too.

But for information in an email from Staffordshire County Council about bus services, I would be mourning the complete loss of the Macclesfield to Leek section of the current 108. Apparently, there is to be a new two hourly service 109 between both towns. We may be getting another division in routes but that can be overlooked given the proposed improvement in the level of service. If we get that, then it needs supporting or we could lose it, not the sort of thought that I want to be putting around at all.

More changes are coming to BakerBus service 99 between Biddulph and Congleton from 2014-04-21 with a thinning out of off-peak journeys and strengthening of the peak timetable. Also, Buglawton is dropped apart from the single evening journey from Biddulph to Macclesfield in order to have a bus in place to operate the council contract for Macclesfield to Crewe services. While the new timetable looks very different to the old one, it remains workable and extended journeys on service 94, normally a Newcastle to Biddulph operation, to offer school transport connections early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Times for those journeys are as yet unavailable and make be added on here once I have them.

Other than these, early morning Monday to Saturday journeys on High Peak service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton are being tweaked as follows:

Current 06:40 from Buxton to leave 10 minutes earlier at 06:30

Current 07:45 from Buxton to leave 3 minutes earlier at 07:42.

Current 07:10 from Macclesfield to leave 5 minutes earlier at 07:05.

Of these, only the 07:45/07:42 runs on Saturdays according to the High Peak timetable. It does seem that early morning bus travel on Saturdays is becoming less available than it once was and what has happened the 130 Saturday timetable also reflects this, taking us back to the start of the piece.

For whatever reason, April is bringing with it a lot of bus service alterations. Some are fully known while others are awaiting extra details that could added on here yet. Still, we are looking at tweaking and trimming rather than the chopping that is ongoing elsewhere. Hopefully, the evolving cost savings of recent developments like recent subsidy reductions on the Connect 88 between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham will keep those away from us.

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.

How the 130 service level will look from January 2013

The 130 bus service is one that I use regularly to get to and from work so I have a vested interest in seeing how its timetable will look next month. The latest round of bus subsidy cuts have taken their toll and only the Sunday service seems to have escaped. However, if there are any more funding reductions, it too could end up on Cheshire East Council’s cross-hairs. The same cannot be said for the rest of the week.

Today however, Arriva have registered changes to come into force for the end of next month and these have appeared on Cheshire East Council’s website. In their own way, they are quite extensive with lots of little reductions to come. The timetable has yet to become available but this is a flavour of what the changes are.

Monday to Friday services only see one change in the last departure from Macclesfield at 18:10 will terminate at East Didsbury instead of going all of the way into Manchester as it does now. This makes it like the 17:40 and means that the last two journeys of the day from Macclesfield are similarly curtailed so the more regular services offered by Stagecoach will be needed to continue further.

It is the Saturday services that see the bigger changes with the current 06:45 and 07:45 journeys from Macclesfield starting from East Didsbury instead. Also, the seemingly useful 18:35 departure is set to get axed too. Is this possibly another casualty of the abolition of the evening journeys between Macclesfield and East Didsbury? After all, it is unlikely that you will leave Macclesfield for a night out by bus if you cannot make it back in the same way. The last Saturday change is confusingly described but my take is that any journey currently starting from Brunswick Street in Manchester will start from East Didsbury instead.

Such is the extent of the change made by Arriva and D&G’s service withdrawal that a summary is in order. So, here are a few tables with service start and end times to show how savage the service cuts will be. Sunday evening services amazingly persist and show what has been lost for the other days, partially saving me the need to show how things are at the moment. Hopefully, they’ll save folk from getting caught out.

Towards Manchester Piccadilly Gardens (M) or East Didsbury (ED)

Place First Service Last Service
Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
Macclesfield 06:10 08:45 09:05 17:10 (M)
18:10 (ED)
17:35 22:00
Wilmslow 06:28 09:19 09:35 17:59 (M)
18:50 (ED)
18:09 22:29

From Manchester Piccadilly Gardens (M), Brunswick Street (B) or East Didsbury (ED)

Place First Service Last Service
Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
Macclesfield 06:03 07:21 (ED)
07:33 (M)
08:34 (B)
09:29 (M)
17:28 17:28 20:29
Wilmslow As above As above As above 18:04 18:18 22:29

Last buses from Wilmslow to Macclesfield

Monday to Friday Saturday Sunday
18:40 18.32 21:23

Seeing all of the reductions leaves me wondering if we need to rethink the operation of the 130 to make it more sustainable. Splitting it has been a suggestion that cropped up in a comment on a previous post. After all, train services between Macclesfield and Manchester are such that buses over the equivalent road route are less attractive and the same has to be said for Wilmslow too. The merit of buses is that they connect intermediate points and those connections suffer whenever services are withdrawn to the extent that we are about to witness next month.

One thing that strikes me about bus services that have escaped unscathed such as the 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport (now operated by GHA) is that they don’t much in the way of buses and drivers. Being able to have just a single bus and driver at a time seems to be the best recipe for keeping a service by the lucks of things. That was the intention of the timings for the evening 130 services between Macclesfield and East Didsbury but I now reckon that the length of the route still may have been too long for it to truly work as it should.

Following on from the above, I am coming to think that the 130 should be split. The Cheshire portion would be between Macclesfield and Handforth since that would take less than an hour to go one way according to the current timetable. Having a local operator who would stick with the route would be beneficial too since the level of commitment from either Arriva or D&G has done nothing to inspire confidence.

Though it proved very useful when train services between Macclesfield and Manchester were blighted by engineering works around a decade ago, I now wonder if keeping the route as it is now is a luxury that we cannot afford. My suggestion would mean that a gap needed sorting on the Greater Manchester end and it would be interesting to hear how that would look. Anything has to be better than a declining service level and apparently uncommitted operators.

Cheshire East Bus Funding Cuts: More from D&G but still no news from Arriva

There have been updates to the Cheshire East Council Bus Subsidy Reductions and Bus Service Changes page today. Most are new links to D&G Bus timetables that are set to come into force in January. One of these is for the 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Sunday evening services are set to finish with the 17:35 from Crewe and the 18:50 from Macclesfield since D&G are unwilling to operate them without council funding, confirming what was in the offing from last week. There is a new timetable on their website with this information and it’s a shame to see those Sunday evening services going and I hope that it’s not forever. Also, their Cheshire timetables page also is a good place to be looking for other service changes by the latest round of funding cuts too.

As yet, there is no word from Arriva about what is happening to services that they operate which are going to lose their funding. Monday to Saturday evening journeys on the 10 between Macclesfield and Bollington is one that has attracted a good deal of interest and publicity but there are Macclesfield evening town services affected for the same days. Early Saturday morning journeys on the 130 from Macclesfield still face an uncertain future while the fate of their Monday to Saturday evening services is sealed unless a surprise is sprung on us yet. Form last week, we know that D&G are not going to offer these on a commercial basis.

The passing the 56 day bus service change notice period last week must have triggered all the alterations that we have seen so far. It does make you wondering what is happening with Arriva’s operations. Are there discussions going on behind the scenes of which we know nothing as of now? Enough grotesqueness has appeared already and we still are left wondering what more is to come. Is pointless to hope that this round of cuts will be the last? That’s the way that I’d like it to be but doubts exist in my mind about it. Whatever comes next, my plan is to continue sharing the main points of detail on here as I have been doing so far.