November 14, 2014
by Neil Turner
Today’s blog post is about a bus service. You may be wondering if I’m scraping the barrel here – surely there’s nothing interesting about a bus service? But Diamond Geezer blogs about buses and makes them interesting, and I think that this particular bus service qualifies.
The 528 bus runs once every hour from Halifax to Rochdale, via my home town of Sowerby Bridge, Ripponden, Blackstone Edge, Littleborough and Smallbridge. Drawn on a map, it operates on a near direct south-westerly line, taking around an hour to complete the journey. And it’s quite a scenic route – the photo above is of Blackstone Edge reservoir, as between Ripponden and Littleborough the bus runs through open moorland. On a nice day it can be quite spectacular. I’ve used it a couple of times, once when I needed to get to Bury for work, and another time when the trains weren’t running because of engineering work.
It isn’t the only way of getting between Halifax and Rochdale though. It’s quicker by train, with the fastest services taking around half an hour – and they’re every half hour whereas the 528 is hourly. And there’s another bus service, the 590, which also runs hourly. The 590 runs via Luddendenfoot, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Walsden before rejoining the 528’s route at Littleborough. It takes longer – about an hour and a half – but passes through more populous settlements.
Change of operator
P927949 by Ingy the Wingy on Flickr, CC-licensed.
At one time, both the 528 and 590 were operated by First, the Scottish-owned large national bus and train company that operates the majority of buses in West Yorkshire. First still operate the 590 service, but several years ago the 528 was taken over by a company called Centrebus Holdings. This was a joint venture between the managers of Centrebus, a bus company in the midlands, and Arriva, the German-owned large national bus and train company. Last year the managers of Centrebus sold their stake to Arriva, allowing Arriva to take full ownership of the company, which is now branded Yorkshire Tiger. Their buses retain Centrebus’ orange livery but with black tiger prints on the side. It makes me smile that a bus operated by Yorkshire Tiger crosses the border into Greater Manchester.
The reason for the change in operator is because the 528 is a subsidised service. It’s not commercially viable without taxpayer support, which comes from Metro (part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority). Over time First have pulled out of a number of subsidised services and so Centrebus won the bid when it was put out to tender, along with a number of other services which run more as a public service than for profit.
Huddersfield Bus Company 775 YJ10 EZH by Ingy the Wingy on Flickr, all rights reserved.
The weak economy and austerity cuts being imposed by central government led Metro to review the services it was subsidising earlier this year. In some cases it was supporting services that were used by just a handful of people which wasn’t providing value for money, and so a consultation process was held. And one of the service proposed to be cut was the 528. Not just cut, but cancelled completely with some replacement buses running only as far as Ripponden. There would be no bus links between Ripponden and Rochdale, and those wanting to use the bus between Halifax and Rochdale would have to use the slower 590 service.
Whilst a large number of other cuts were proposed, the cut to the 528 received the most vocal opposition. In particular, the consultation was only held in West Yorkshire; residents of Littleborough and Rochdale were not asked for their views. Meanwhile the buses used on the 528 route were downsized from large single-decker Optare Tempo buses to smaller Optare Solos.
Redemption, of sorts
The outcome of the consultation was published a couple of weeks ago, and like many consultations that propose cuts, the end result was something in the middle. The 528 will still cease to exist when the changes take effect early next year, but it will be replaced with a new service called the X58 which will operate the same route. ‘X’ services are express services and this will hopefully reinforce the fact that it offers quicker journeys between Halifax and Rochdale than the 590, with the potential that more people will use it. It’ll retain the same hourly service interval as the 528, although it will not run late into the evening and its frequency will be reduced on Sundays.
I’m pleased that the bus service will be kept, even if I personally don’t use it very often. Whilst some buses can be run at a profit, it shouldn’t mean that those that aren’t profitable are withdrawn, provided that they serve a useful public service. Serving small outlying villages may not make much money for the bus companies but it can be a lifeline for the residents who rely on these services.