Bus pas­sen­gers in north Manch­ester get ‘shabby ser­vice’

COUN­CIL­LOR CLAIMS RE­FORM IS NEEDED TO TACKLE DI­VIDE

Manchester Evening News - - NEWS - By CHAR­LOTTE COX

A COUN­CIL­LOR has slammed a ‘north-south di­vide’ in the qual­ity of bus ser­vices in Greater Manch­ester – claim­ing pas­sen­gers who live above the city cen­tre are fac­ing rising fares for a ‘shoddy’ re­turn.

Phil Burke, mem­ber for West Mid­dle­ton, de­scribed buses serv­ing Rochdale, Hey­wood, Mid­dle­ton and Bury as ‘dire,’ adding: “The ser­vices are good in south [Greater] Manch­ester, but it takes up to an hour to get into the city cen­tre from the north.”

Speak­ing at a pub­lic trans­port meet­ing and amid fare rises from Stage­coach and First, he said this was, in part, due to cash-strapped coun­cils’ in­abil­ity to in­stall cam­eras on bus lanes mean­ing cars weren’t de­terred from us­ing them.

Coun Burke also slammed the cur­tail­ing, slash­ing and rerout­ing of ser­vices in the north – most of which are run by op­er­a­tor First – which he said was im­pact­ing the ‘most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents.’

After the meet­ing, he added: “It’s time for Andy Burn­ham to bring the op­er­a­tors to task and pro­vide a proper ser­vice for peo­ple in north [Greater] Manch­ester.

“We’ve got shabby ser­vices be­ing cut, re­duced, and prices be­ing hiked up be­cause of low pa­tron­age.

“Peo­ple aren’t us­ing the buses be­cause they are so un­re­li­able. Many times I’ve taken buses from Mid­dle­ton to Manch­ester and they turn back part-route be­cause the driver is run­ning late and blames con­ges­tion.

“Buses turn up late in the morn­ing, peo­ple can’t get to work early in Mid­dle­ton be­cause there are no buses be­fore 6am.”

Coun Burke said there were not enough op­er­a­tors in north Manch­ester, adding: “Over the years since de-reg­u­la­tion we have suf­fered mas­sively. South Manch­ester has got trains, trams and buses.

“It’s af­fect­ing de­prived areas where el­derly peo­ple can’t get out and about and they are putting the prices up, too.

“Poor in­no­cent peo­ple try­ing to get to work are be­ing pe­nalised be­cause of los­ing First Bus ser­vices left, right and cen­tre. They’re pay­ing for shoddy bus ser­vices that don’t turn up.”

Calling on Andy Burn­ham for fi­nan­cial sup­port, Coun Burke said coun­cils were also strug­gling to ease con­ges­tion due to the cost of in­stalling cam­eras on bus lanes, adding: “The lanes are white ele­phants. We aren’t go­ing to get peo­ple back on pub­lic trans­port un­til we im­prove the bus ser­vices and roads. It takes up to an hour to get into town, peo­ple are just us­ing bus lanes willy nilly be­cause there is no de­ter­rent.”

Coun Burke spoke at a Trans­port for Greater Manch­ester Com­mit­tee meet­ing at­tended by mayor Mr Burn­ham. Mr Burn­ham said more bus, cy­cling and walk­ing routes were a must in north Manch­ester. He also said bus re­form was needed to change a prof­i­tled sys­tem ‘trapped in a vi­cious cir­cle,’ adding: “Ser­vices are go­ing down, routes are go­ing down, pa­tron­age is fall­ing. It’s got to change here.”

Op­tions on the ta­ble for bus re­form in­clude fran­chis­ing or part­ner­ship.

Fran­chis­ing would trans­fer to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties decision-mak­ing power over routes, fre­quen­cies, stan­dard­ised fares and qual­ity of ser­vice. An al­ter­na­tive part­ner­ship model, favoured by op­er­a­tors like Stage­coach and First, would leave bus firms with more power over fac­tors in­clud­ing pric­ing. But op­er­a­tors are bat­tling against fran­chis­ing. The bus firms have also been vo­cal about con­ges­tion and the im­pact it’s hav­ing on their prof­its. A First Manch­ester spokes­woman said: “The dis­tri­bu­tion of pop­u­la­tion in the north of Greater Manch­ester is dif­fer­ent to that in the south. The bus net­work and the fre­quency of ser­vices has al­ways re­flected these dif­fer­ences and con­tin­ues to do so.” Stage­coach, mean­while, runs 32 of its to­tal 657 buses in north Manch­ester. A spokesman said 22 of these, based at the Mid­dle­ton de­pot, were re­placed by new dou­ble deck­ers at a cost of £4.6m. In Greater Manch­ester as a whole, he said, they had in­vested £25.8m since Jan­uary 2015.

Buses op­er­ated by Stage­coach and First at Pic­cadilly

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