Travelers using Rochdale bus station have been left frustrated with some having to resort to using taxis after a bus operator canceled hundreds of services last week. But for many, this latest week of chaos is nothing out of the ordinary for what they call Greater Manchester’s ‘poor’ bus network.
This morning, the Manchester Evening News revealed that bus operator Rosso axed 837 services between April 25 and May 1, with more cancellations on the way. The operator put these cancellations down to ‘staff shortages’, impacting passengers in Rochdale, as well as Oldham, Bury, and Bolton.
On Friday (April 29), the crisis meant there were no peak time afternoon services on the B2 service to Bury or the R9 Rochdale to Foxholes route. There were also no evening services after 7pm on the 480 from Bury to Greenmount, the B2 Bury service, on the B4 Heywood service, the R9 Rochdale route or the R10 from Rochdale to Shaw. Meanwhile, other services, including the 467 and 468, were slashed in frequency from every 30 minutes to every 90 minutes.
READMORE: Bus operator cancels more than 100 services a day – but won’t tell passengers what will be running tomorrow
The MEN spoke to travelers at Rochdale bus station today to see how they had been affected. While many were unaware of the raft of ongoing cancellations, ‘unreliable’ and ‘late’ was a common feeling among those waiting for services.
Doreen Wightman travels regularly between Rochdale and her home in Syke, north of the town. The 78-year-old described that the service is timetabled to run hourly, and is a bus route used by many pensioners to get to Rochdale Infirmary and into the town centre.
“There’s been a few times recently where it just hasn’t turned up, and when you ask staff why they just shrug,” she said, hoping the bus she was waiting for would be on time. “When the bus does arrive on time everyone lets out a cheer!
“The people who can have resorted to walking 10 or so minutes to catch the Accrington bus as it’s more frequent and reliable. But there’s a lot of pensioners around me who rely on this Syke bus but it feels very lucky for one to come on time , if at all.
“You’d think with it going to the hospital more effort would be put in to keep it running and on time. I waited with a woman last week who had oxygen with her relying on the bus to get to the hospital but it never arrived , she wouldn’t be able to walk to another route.
“Last week I had to get a taxi a few times as I had shopping on me, a few of my neighbors were here too so we all got in one together. Last week I spent at least £20 getting taxis because the bus never arrived I’ve got a bus pass so shouldn’t be spending money on taxis, especially with everything costing more these days.”
Another man from Littleborough told us he rarely comes into Rochdale and instead gets the train into Manchester as it’s much more reliable. “I didn’t know there’d been any cancellations,” he said, “but the buses just aren’t very good are they?
“I think they’ve been like this for so long that people are just used to a poor service. They should be a lot more accessible.”
Thirty-year-old James uses the bus to get into Rochdale from Bury regularly for work. Some of his journeys had been canceled but he did not think this was particularly out of the ordinary.
“It seems to be always late or cancelled,” he said. “There’s quite a few busses that go between Bury and Rochdale so you never wait too long but some of the routes take ages. It only takes about 20 minutes to drive but can take over an hour on the bus which doesn’t seem right. “
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) said they are working with Rosso to ‘mitigate’ impact on passengers and ensuring school services were given priority. They were also looking to subcontract some routes to other providers, while social and digital channels are updating Rosso passengers on what to expect.
In March, a judge ruled that the process by which Mayor Andy Burnham had made a decision on bus reform was legal – paving the way for sweeping changes to how services are run in Greater Manchester, with a public ownership model meaning leaders are in control of timetables and fares, with services franchised to operators. Transport bosses are currently waiting to see if operator Rotala will appeal this decision.
On Tuesday, Stephen Rhodes, customer director and interim head of bus services at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), said Rosso was experiencing ‘significant operational difficulties’, adding: “This has included many subsidized services, which run in areas and at times where there is a lack of alternatives, meaning the impact is being most keenly felt on those most reliant on them.
“We are working with the operator to prioritize these routes as well as school bus services to minimize the impact on the local community as best as possible. The situation is changing on a daily basis, and I’d encourage passengers to check with the operator to ensure they have the latest information before travelling.”
On Wednesday, the MEN asked Rosso which services were likely to be axed this week but they did not provide a response. On Tuesday, a spokesman said they had operated ‘at least 80 per cent’ of their journeys last week, adding: “Which we apologize to our customers for – this falls far from our usual standards. It indicates the strength of the challenge our industry faces in terms of recruitment.
“All public transport operators are impacted by this right across the UK, but the difference here is that whilst most operators have reduced timetables in the past few months, we made attempts to increase; this is why the problem is more pronounced. The issues are in spite of our best efforts, including an increase to drivers’ wages by 20pc in the last 18 months.
“We expect the problem will have severely diminished by next week with a target back to 100pc coverage and are working alongside our sister companies, TfGM and other operators to overcome this very short-term issue over the space of a 10 day period. We are updating customers in real time with live departure tracking and disruptions published on the Transdev Go app and at rossobus.co.uk .”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.