Bus passengers in north Manchester get ‘shabby service’
COUNCILLOR CLAIMS REFORM IS NEEDED TO TACKLE DIVIDE
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