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“Please help me persuade First Manchester to improve reliability on the 88/89 route” – Bill Harrop


Bill Harrop

The 88/89 is circular route around North Manchester. It is the only service on some parts of the route.

It is woefully unreliable (unless you rely on it being late/missing).

It is often the case that you can wait 20 to 30 minutes for a service that is supposed to run every 10!

Problem History

  • 1 Bill Harrop reported the issue on FixMyTransport. close 23:18 01 Aug 2011
  • 2 Bill Harrop wrote to First Manchester close 23:18 01 Aug 2011

    Here is the letter that Bill Harrop wrote.

    Missing buses

    Arrived at bus stop on Colemore Drive at 09:00 to catch the 09:04 no 89.

    Nothing arrived until 09:23, the 09:04 and 09:14 failed to show. (regular occurence)

  • 3 [email address] responded to Bill Harrop close 09:45 02 Aug 2011
    What was the direction of travel?

    Was this today?
    Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    Kind Regards

    First in Manchester
    Website Team

    Bill Harrop To [First Manchester problem reporting email]
    <[Improve reliability on the 88/89 route email]> cc
    Subject Problem Report: Missing buses
    01/08/2011 23:25

    Dear First Manchester,

    The problem report below has been sent to you via the

    It refers to a problem on the number 89 bus route

    show quoted sections
  • 4 Bill Harrop wrote to [email address] close 10:07 02 Aug 2011

    The 89 only travels in one direction, from Shudehill to Oldham Street/Piccadilly. I was heading to Oldham street.

    The date in question was yesterday August 1st 2011.

    -----Original Message-----

    What was the direction of travel?

    Was this today?
    Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    Kind Regards

    First in Manchester
    Website Team

    Bill Harrop To [First Manchester problem reporting email]
    <[Improve reliability on the 88/89 route email]> cc
    Subject Problem Report: Missing buses
    01/08/2011 23:25

         Dear First Manchester,

        The problem report below has been sent to you via the website

        It refers to a problem on the number 89 bus route


  • 5 Bill Harrop commented close 12:27 02 Aug 2011

    I had an hour (or so) to kill this morning, and just as I was wondering what to do with the time I saw an 88 bus out of my window (I have a great view of the junction of Hall Moss Rd and Grangepark Rd* (*a timing point here I beleive?).
    This was at 10:21, so I decided to note the times of all 88s and 89s for the next hour (I know, I live an exciting life :) )

    Here are the results. It is worth noting at this time of day this is a 'frequent service, running at intervals of not more than 10 minutes' rather than a timetabled service (although times are posted at the bus stops). I, personally,
    would prefer reliabilty over high frequency.

    I stopped at 11:30. I will do it again at some point for comparision, ideally between 09:00 and 10:00, which is when I have experienced the most unreliability.

    88 10:21 (time wait till next)
    88 10:32 (11 mins)
    88 10:41 (9 mins)
    88 10:55 (14 mins)
    88 11:01 (6 mins)
    88 11:12 (11 mins)
    88 11:27 (15 mins)

    89 10:28 (time wait till next)
    89 10:35 (7 mins)
    89 10:49 (14 mins)
    89 10:57 (8 mins)
    89 11:10 (13 mins)
    89 11:12 (2 mins)
    89 11:24 (12 mins)

  • 6 Myf Nixon commented close 15:13 03 Aug 2011

    Hi Bill,

    I've taken the liberty of making a few comments around the web to drum up interest in your campaign:!/group.php?gid=76944050295!/group.php?gid=2371974558&v=wall

    and I've emailed
    and to ask them to feature it.

    I hope that at least some of this bears fruit.


  • 7 Bill Harrop commented close 16:28 03 Aug 2011

    Thanks Myf :)

  • 8 Myf Nixon commented close 09:12 04 Aug 2011

    Hi Bill,

    One of my forum postings received a very interesting answer which I'll copy here:

    "The inherent trouble (structurally) with circular routes is that they can't have a large layover built-in to cater for delays en route, unlike the conventional form of finishing at the terminus and then regulate for time. Buses on circular routes pick up passengers everywhere along the route and if people have to wait in the bus somewhere along the line for 15 minutes, I don't think that they will be very impressed if they are on a through journey. It is a bit of a pickle really. One possibility is to build in time regulations at a number of points along the line. The downside of this is for it to be effective the passengers will experience a number of delays of a few minutes along the route, under normal conditions (ie. when there is no heavy traffic nearby), which also annoys passengers. Especially for circular routes running more than just a short distance, realistically to improve punctuality, the solution is to cut it into two conventional routes terminating at the city centre and the suburbs, possibly White Moss in this case, via two different routes.

    Good luck with what you're doing, however to resolve this issue of bunching, I'm afraid that more needs to be done than purely saying that reliability/punctuality needs improving on this route.

    On a technicality, reliability is a measure of how many journeys are run compared to the schedule, and punctuality is a measure whether the buses run on time. I suspect that both issues are of importance here as punctuality issues can cause reliability problems."

    -bb21 on the rail forums.

  • 9 Bill Harrop commented close 10:27 04 Aug 2011

    Thanks again Myf,

    bb21 raises some great points, unfortunatley I do not have the time to do the reply it deserves right now (I will though).

    I just wanted to say thanks and acknowledge it.

    For now I will also say that it was indeed two routes at one time (with the 60/61 doing the western half).

    A fuller reply will follow soon.


  • 10 Bill Harrop commented close 16:38 04 Aug 2011

    bb21, thanks for your comments and wishing me luck, I know will need it:)

    Your comments are appreciated, and I agree that more (much, much more) needs to be done than just saying reliability/punctuality needs improving.

    The post on fixmytransport was just to start the ball rolling. I was hoping First Manchester would respond, and a dialogue could be opened with them.

    Although this response is as a result of your comments, please do not take it as being aimed at you, it is not.

    I would like to respond to your last point first, the technicality of what reliability is. I do not mean to be a pedant; I use this simply because it highlights one of the main obstacles in addressing a multitude of issues. The number of agencies, consultants, planners and providers involved, and the language used can be a cause of confusion and misunderstanding, depending on the perspective of the user.

    Reliability basically has two definitions (a quick "def: reliability" internet search returned):

    1. The quality of being reliable, dependable or trustworthy.
    2. A quality of a measurement indicating the degree, to which the measure is consistent, that is, repeated measurements would give the same result.

    From a transport planners/providers/professional perspective I suspect the 2nd definition is the norm. From a passenger’s perspective, and certainly from mine when making the post, the 1st definition is what was meant.

    This is the crux, or at least a significant factor in how buses are run/planned, who is involved in the planning/running of them (or more importantly who is not involved), and how they are perceived/used by the general public. (I spent the last six years doing community engagement work on transport issues)

    All the decision making tends to be done in dualistic way, with the provider and local authority, sometimes playing a tit for tat game to see who can get what off/out of the other. This is contrary to the tripartite needs of transport provision, and totally ignores/disregards the passenger, and ends up doing to, rather than doing with/for them. Not good for promoting/encouraging usage.

    I am sure (most of) the decisions are well intended. However, as long as they are based on models, simulations and measurements, calculated using ideals/circumstances that only exist in algorithms and computations programmed into computer software; or solely upon economic models that are intended to increase profitability; and do not take into account the needs/desire of the passengers (and where they want to go/how much time there are comfortable spending to get there), the full potential of public transport, especially the bus (which is the most viable/flexible solution to local/short distance mass transit) will not be realised.

    The troubles you highlight as inherent with circular routes also apply to linear routes; passengers are picked up at various points along all bus routes. And if any bus had to wait along a route for 15 minutes there is obviously a problem. Building in a layover circumvents rather than addresses the problem. As does the current attempt to provide 'reliability’ by relying on the inclusion of additional vehicles on the route, in the hope that one will arrive within a reasonable time of that indicated.

    Time regulations are already built in, and bus routes have a number of set timing points along them. These form part of the licensing conditions under which buses operate (in the deregulated market outside London at least).

    A downside of this regulation is the fact that these conditions can be circumvented by advertising a route as 'regular, with intervals of no more than ## minutes' 10 mins as is the case on the 88/89 route, between certain hours of the day.

    This exacerbates the situation. A passenger arrives at a bus stop and waits for a bus. The chances are that timetable information will be displayed at the stop. The passenger relies on this information, and trusts that a bus will arrive at (or near) the published time. When it does not they feel let down, and unable to rely on that service.

    The average passenger has no idea that what they are in fact reading are indicative times, based on reliability metrics derived from hypothetical, or historical scenarios.

    Ironically said licensing conditions also play a part in undermining reliability. To avoid being penalised for running outside the 6 minutes permitted (1 minute early or 5 minutes late) the out of service ploy may be used. This is when a bus displays out of service to make up time, and drives past those waiting for it to avoid being financially penalised or even having the license withdrawn.

    Your suggested solution is indeed an answer; it may even be part of the answer.

    In fact this route was once two separate routes, the 88 which did indeed terminate at Whitemoss, and the 60/61 which ran a much smaller circle, heading back into/out of the city centre along Rochdale Rd. A short section between Whitemoss and Victoria Avenue was added to make it into one.

    And just to add an extra degree of unreliability it still is two routes at times. The very early running’s, the evening and Sunday running’s split the route into two. So a journey made on the same service number before 8am* or after 6pm* will run a different route than one made between these times. A journey made on a Saturday may not be possible on a Sunday (*the exact times of change vary depending on direction of travel).

    The main factor is the length rather than the pattern a route takes/makes. And the conditions it encounters. The further a bus travels increases the number of main junctions it must navigate, and the possibility of encountering other delaying factors. The 88/89 route as 14.5 miles long and I would question the suitability of some of the roads to accommodate full size buses.

    The real problem, in my opinion, is how any problems that impact on timings are addressed. And it is here where much more could, and should be done.

    A regulated network, with fixed fares and capped profits (a profit (anything over and above the costs of running) is still a profit) can and does work. Limiting circular routes and focusing on flooding linear, especially major road routes with lots of buses all going to the same place, at the expense of servicing off the beaten track areas is purely profit rather than service orientated.

    Buses started out as private endeavours, they have been nationalised, regulated, deregulated and privatised. It is no wonder they are in a mess. The biggest competition to running a bus is not other bus operators, it is the private car.

    The level of traffic, especially single occupancy private cars plays a significant part in causing congestion, which in turn makes bus travel less appealing, a catch 22 situation.

    The biggest change needs to be in priorities, and mindsets. The social and environmental elements should be given equal (or higher) consideration to the economic in public transport planning and provision decisions.

    Public transport should be seen as a priority, not an aside that can be forgotten if the going gets a little tough.

    Above all, if we are to encourage more people onto the bus they will need to go to the places the people want to get to, at the times they want to travel. It is vital to involve the passenger (or potential passenger) in the service planning, or at least give a real mechanism to influence/feedback on/in the decision making. They know much more about their needs than any software model/package (or planner/provider/decision maker who drives everywhere and has never used a bus in their life).

    In my opinion the whole outlook on bus service provision needs to be refreshed. A new start where the mistakes already made are used to make improvements. With the emphasis on the service part, a bus route is not a product; passengers or service users rather than customers, consumers or resources.

    I do of course realise that this will cost, what is the cost of not doing it though?

  • 11 Bill Harrop commented close 16:39 04 Aug 2011

    Hmm, railforums will not let me post a reply top bb21 without registering.

  • 12 Myf Nixon commented close 16:53 04 Aug 2011

    I'll do it for you, Bill.

  • 13 Bill Harrop commented close 16:58 04 Aug 2011

    Ta :)

  • 14 Myf Nixon commented close 09:15 08 Aug 2011

    Another comment from the rail forums UK:

    "The 88/89 service was given a new TfGM timetable dated 1st May 2011 to reflect that whilst First Manchester are the main operators of these bi-directional services, the evening, Sunday and Public Holiday services will be run by Jpt.

    All the First Manchester services are operated as Commercial bus services by First Manchester and are not subsidised, unlike those now operated by Jpt.

    On service 88, services from Manchester Piccadilly, via White Moss and Cheetham to Manchester Shudehill, between 0657 and 1757 are operated to a 10 minute timetable frequency from Mondays to Fridays.

    On service 89, services from Manchester Shudehill, via Cheetham and White Moss to Manchester Piccadilly, between 0742 and 1739 are operated to a 10 minute timetable frequency from Mondays to Fridays.

    Both services serve the Metrolink stations at Bowker Vale, Crumpsall, Victoria, Piccadilly Gardens and Shudehill Interchange. "

  • 15 Bill Harrop commented close 11:10 08 Aug 2011

    Thanks Paul,

    The timetable from the 1st May 11 only shows it as "and at frequent intervals of not more than 10 minutes until" between 07:47 and 13:57 Mon - Fri, and between 10:37 and 17:57 on Saturday. It also shows it runs only part route on Sunday at 30 minute intervals until 18:55 where it then alternates between full and part route. This is from the 88 half of the timetable, the 89 displays a similar pattern albeit lightly different times.(

    The timetable information at the bus stop differs in that it has specific times listed for the whole day, it does not have the "and at frequent intervals of not more than 10 minutes until" displayed.

    The revised Summer time table does not show any other change than the period it is "frequent" between, (

    This does not address the reliabilty issue. It just exagerates how unreliable it is! Especially as the information passenger are relying on differs depending on what/where they are reading it.

    While it should run every ten minutes it does not, at least not along the section of the route where I use it.

    How is it being a commercial or subsidised service relevant? The average passenger does not care, they just want the bus to arrive at the time it is supposed to.

    Also posted at

  • 16 Bill Harrop commented close 11:11 08 Aug 2011

    Thanks agin Myf, I have now registered at rail forums so can alos reply directly.

  • 17 Bill Harrop commented close 12:20 08 Aug 2011

    More from rail forums:

    radamfi said:

    Subsidised or commercial does make a slight difference in the level of enforcement of service performance. If a route is tendered then the authority can impose sanctions for poor performance or strip the company of the tender in extreme cases. By contrast, there is little that can be done for poor performance of commercial services. You are relying on traffic commissioners having sufficient evidence and their resources are spread very thin. Even if there is an inquiry, operators at best get a modest financial penalty and maybe a reduction in vehicles they are allowed to run. Only in a very extreme case would a licence be revoked (like UK North a few years ago). So the 88/89 would probably still be run by First.

    Clearly bus services in most of Britain, including Manchester, operate without much bus priority so I wouldn't be surprised if the 88/89 is prone to random traffic delays, which is beyond the operator's control. If the route has a summer timetable then that would indicate that journey times are quicker in summer and there are significant traffic problems during the rest of the year.

  • 18 Bill Harrop commented close 12:21 08 Aug 2011

    To which I replied:

    Hi radamfi,

    It does not influence reliabilty though. I am not seeking penalties or enforcement. The emphasis on this just entrenches the 'us and them' attitude between providers and policy makers (and does nothing to improve the service to passengers).

    And it does nothing to address the multitude of issues that cause the situation in the first place.

    Actually enforcement could play a role, if box junction infringement, inconsiderate/illegal parking and other traffic violations were enforced it could address some of the problems that impact on the runnings.

    Reliable, safe and effective public transport is not an important enough priority though.

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