4 Comments

  1. John Ellis
    Sat 27 Feb, 2016 @ 11:07 am

    Good luck with this campaign – as a frequent and regular user of the 394, I’ve signed Cllr McKeown’s petition and all the others that I’ve been able to find on line. There’s one on the Marple Community website and another on Change.org, both put on by a guy living in Marple who regularly uses the 394, Marple Liberal Democrats have one on their website, and there’s yet another on new Hazel Grove Tory MP William Wragg’s site – bit rich, that one, in that the Conservative government’s austerity agenda is hardly supportive of local authorities putting money into maintaining loss-making bus routes on which numbers of people depend. Still, any port in a storm! If anyone knows of other petitions, I’d gladly sign up.

    I’ve also used High Peak/Centrebus’s on-line “Contact Us” facility to argue the case for the retention of the service. The difficulty, of course, is that bus companies are businesses which need to turn a profit to survive, and the unhappy fate of Speedwell, the 394’s previous operator, shows that they don’t always manage to do so! So I put a couple of alternative suggestions to High Peak which I thought might attract more custom and so offer a chance to keep (just about!) profitable buses running along much or even all of the route, even if they no longer had the number 394 and didn’t directly link Glossop with Stepping Hill. But I’m just an ordinary bus passenger and no public transport economist, so the Centrebus bigwigs might just laugh out loud at my suggestions.

    There may be some hope that Derbyshire County Council and Transport for Greater Manchester will agree to completely subsidize the 394 once again; it had been subsidized for years right up to the time when Speedwell collapsed, High Peak took it on with a subsidy at the beginning under an emergency contract, the subsidy was apparently set to continue when High Peak offered to operate the 394 commercially in order to stop Smith’s of Marple horning in with a lower quote than they’d given, and the subsidy was restored on the 394’s Saturday service when High Peak said they couldn’t continue it without one.

    But I see that Derbyshire County Council is currently holding a public consultation on the future of subsidized bus services in the county in which one of the options is scrapping subsidies completely; councils are already being squeezed until the pips squeak, and George Osborne’s just hinted that because the economy’s not doing quite as well as he was suggesting only three months ago (well, fancy that!), public expenditure may be curtailed still further.

    So we just can’t be sure that this time round there’ll be public money to keep the 394 on the road six days a week. But what we surely do know is that if enough of us 394 users make a clamour, the service is more likely to survive than if we don’t! And it might encourage those of you at the Gamesley and Glossop end of the route – and especially the unfortunate folk in Chisworth faced with the possibility of no weekday bus service at all! – to know that there are people here at the Hazel Grove and Marple end who are no less keen than you are to retain this bus service in some form.

  2. John Ellis
    Sat 27 Feb, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

    John Bates, prospective Conservative candidate for Stockport’s Marple North ward, also has a petition on his website, and has recently added this update on the future of the 394:

    ***UPDATE***

    Derbyshire have put out to tender for two options.

    1) The current service
    2) a reduced two hourly service

    A positive sign – well, we can hope. It would obviously help help if Transport for Greater Manchester would commit to share in meeting the cost, given that rather more than half the route lies in their area. Otherwise we might end up with a curtailed 394 which just runs between Glossop and Marple, or even Glossop and Chisworth.

  3. John Ellis
    Mon 29 Feb, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

    I thought any interested readers and 394 users might be interested in my message to High Peak Buses via the “Contact Us” section of their website, and in their reply, e-mailed to me this morning. I notice that they make no comment at all on my attempt at a helpful suggestion as to possible alternatives if there’s no public money forthcoming to subsidize the service!

    MY MESSAGE TO THEM:

    I was dismayed to learn this week from one of your excellent drivers that HighPeak/Centrebus proposes to withdraw the Monday>Friday (untendered) 394 bus service at the end of March, as I use the service several times a week and sometimes more than once a day; I live close to the 199 and 394 bus routes on the outskirts of Hazel Grove, use a Marple bank which has no branch closer to my home, and regularly visit an elderly house-bound friend on the borders of Hawk Green. There is no straightforward public transport alternative to the 394 for accessing Marple from my area.

    I appreciate that, since taking over this service at very short notice after the demise of “Speedwell”, the company has been proactive in making efforts to encourage more patronage of the 394 service, notably by experimenting with the – presumably ultimately loss-making – extension from Stepping Hill into Stockport, that when costs are routinely greater than revenues commercial bus services can’t be maintained indefinitely, and that in the current public expenditure climate local authorities are increasingly unable to maintain the existing networks of subsidized bus services. On the other hand, I’m also aware that back in 2012 TfGM and Derbyshire County Council were at that time prepared to continue the subsidy, and that High Peak offered to try to run the service on a commercial basis rather than surrender the route to Smith’s of Marple!

    However, we are where we are. I’ve signed a couple of petitions to local councillors which, if well supported by 394 users, will hopefully have some influence in encouraging TfGM and DCC to give favourable consideration to reinstating at least some degree of subsidy to enable the retention of the 394, even with a more limited frequency. But in present circumstances there is of course no way of knowing whether that will happen, which leaves me wondering whether there might be other more financially viable ways of retrieving at least something of the present 394 service.

    For instance, might it be possible to consider extending the 62 Hayfield – New Mills – Marple service to Stepping Hill via the 394 routes, especially since Stepping Hill is the main local hospital for New Mills residents, whereas it isn’t, on the whole, for folk who live in and around Glossop? And with that section of the 394 route thus served by an extended 62, I wonder if a Glossop – Stockport service which didn’t have the long and time-consuming diversion via High Lane and Hazel Grove, and was, perhaps, “express” or “limited stop” between Marple and Stockport, might turn out more attractive to through passengers than the extended 394 proved to be – especially if DCC could be persuaded to put a little money into it for the benefit of residents in Charlesworth and Chisworth? I’ve no particular expertise in public transport economics, but I was a teenager in south Manchester when Dr Beeching slashed the railway network and, while it was quite reasonable to cut existing rail services which were little used, it surprised me back then that no real “lateral thinking” seemed to be given to utilizing existing track and stations to provide services into central Manchester which was where, back then, a very large number of people did want to go each day. Just a thought!

    THEIR REPLY TO ME:

    Dear Mr Ellis,

    Thank you for your email and sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the planned withdrawal of the 394. I can confirm that from the 27th March this service will no longer operate Monday to Friday. The weekday service on the 394 is operated on an entirely commercial basis by High Peak Buses and over the past few years we have worked hard to try and build the route up in order maintain commerciality.

    The timetable has been reviewed a number of times to try and improve passenger usage and in April 2015 we extended the service to Stockport Bus Station, by adding extra resources into the service in a bid to try and increase passenger numbers on the service. This change was promoted through a special 394 leaflet that was designed and produced for the service. However unfortunately, despite the extra resource we put into the service, passenger numbers continued to be low and the extension was withdrawn towards the end of October 2015. In addition to this a review of specific journeys on the route identified some poorly used journeys which were costing us an extra bus and therefore some early morning journeys on the service were also cancelled.

    We have continued to monitor the service and unfortunately despite our best efforts to keep the service running, we have now reached a point where the operating costs of running the service are no longer being met and as a result we have had to withdraw the service. I understand that this decision may cause some inconvenience to some passengers, however at the same time I would like to assure you that this is not a decision that has been made lightly.

    Unfortunately with the reducing government funding it is difficult for bus operators to maintain commerciality on services, however we will continue to work in partnership with the council to try and ensure that key bus links are maintained where possible.

    I am aware that Derbyshire County Council have now issued a tender for the Monday to Friday 394 service to continue with funding support provided by them. At this point, the best advice I can give you is to contact the council for more information regarding this.

    Once again thank you for taking the time to get in touch and sorry for any inconvenience caused as a result of the changes to the 394 service.

    Kind Regards,

    Bijel Mistry

    Commercial Manager

    CENTREBUS LTD your local bus service provider

    PLANNING, DEVELOPMENT AND REVENUE
    102 Cannock Street, Leicester, LE4 9HR

  4. John Ellis
    Wed 2 Mar, 2016 @ 11:27 pm

    Marple Lib Dems have reproduced on their website part of High Peak/Centrebus’s response to their letter expressing their unhappiness about the proposal to withdraw the 394. It’s identical to a paragraph in the response which I had from them, which suggests that they’re simply sending out a standard “identikit” letter or e-mail to everyone who has made representations to them about the loss of the service without addressing people’s individual points or concerns.

    I think that suggests that High Peak’s mind is made up, and that making representations to them are going to be wasted effort! If the 394 is going to be saved at all, its survival, in whole or in part, will depend on whether Derbyshire County Council, Transport for Greater Manchester or (hopefully!) both are prepared to reinstate financial support to subsidize the route. If people who use and value the service want to lobby for its retention, they clearly need to forget about High Peak and direct their efforts at TfGM and Derbyshire CC.

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