Buses "not a viable alternative" for Metrolink, local rail campaign group says

Date published: 26 March 2019

Bus services “cannot be considered a viable alternative” when the Metrolink tram service is not running between Shaw and Rochdale town centre, says local rail campaign group STORM (Support the Oldham Rochdale Manchester rail line).

When the tram is not running between Shaw and Rochdale, alternative bus routes given are the First Bus services 58 (Middleton to Rochdale via Oldham), 181 and 182 (both Manchester to Rochdale via Chadderton and Shaw).

In theory, the alternative bus service follows a similar route from Shaw to Rochdale, via Newhey and Milnrow, allowing those travelling by the light rail service to reach their destinations if the Metrolink is not running.

However, the last 58 serving Rochdale, which runs twice an hour for most of the day, arrives into the Smith Street bus interchange just before 7pm on weekdays, and just after 6.45pm on Saturdays. The Sunday service does not extend beyond Newhey, running between Wren’s Nest and Manchester Piccadilly only.

The first 181/182 to frequent Rochdale arrives at its destination just before 8pm on weekdays, with further services at 9pm, 9.30pm, 10.34pm and 11.34pm.

On Saturdays, the service operates more evening buses to Rochdale, which arrive at 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 9.30pm, 10.34pm and 11.34pm.

All of the Sunday 181 and 182 buses extend past Shaw to frequent Newhey, Milnrow and Rochdale approximately twice every hour.

STORM has also criticised the tramline operator for listing all the buses running between the two locations, without actually checking to see if they are running at that particular time.

Richard Greenwood, chair of STORM, said: “An hourly – or worse, which the evening 181/182s are – bus replacing a 12-minute frequency tram cannot be considered a viable alternative.

“When Metrolink has to cancel its service between Shaw and Rochdale, the announcements mention alternative bus routes 58, 181 and 182 for stranded passengers.

“The bus service 181 and 182 from Manchester doesn't serve Newhey, Milnrow and Rochdale until after tea. They only go as far as Wren's Nest in Shaw.

“At that time, the 58s stop running and the 181/182 run through to Newhey, Milnrow and Rochdale, but with only a very sparse service. 

“When Metrolink fails in the evening and there’s no service Shaw-Rochdale, the 58 – which Metrolink includes in its announcements as a saviour – isn’t running and going into Shaw for a 181/182 can leave a lone passenger standing for an hour at a bus stop in Shaw’s main street.”

Dujon Toussaint, Head of Customer Experience at KeolisAmey Metrolink (KAM), said: “We put customers at the heart of everything we do, and we are committed to offering alternative travel options during times of disruption.

“Unfortunately, when Metrolink is disrupted, no alternative can match the level of service we offer our customers on a daily basis.

“Depending on the expected length of delay, we have plans in place to allow customers to continue their journeys with the least inconvenience.

“Safety is our number one priority, and our disruption contingency plans focus on customer safety, their vulnerability and any accessibility requirements they may have.

“As a minimum, this ranges from ticket acceptance on local buses, through to, where possible, the provision of a dedicated Metrolink bus replacement service that matches the tram service frequency as closely as possible and calls at each tram stop.

“As we strive towards our objective of delivering customer excellence every day, we continue to look at ways to improve the service we offer, and welcome feedback on how we can improve the journey experience. Working closely with our customers will help us shape the future of Metrolink and deliver our vision of keeping Greater Manchester moving and growing every day.”

First Bus Group declined to comment.

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