BUSINESSES still rebuilding from the coronavirus pandemic have been dealt a blow by the cancellation of a full bus service, one cafe owner claims.

Atherton used to have four direct bus services to Manchester before the Leigh Guided Busway was brought in back in 2017, now it has none - except for peak times. 

The bus service, operated by First, was initially hailed by business owners as the Vantage service brought more people to their doors, but now "due to lack of usage" it has been left in a reduced capacity.

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Leigh Journal: The guided bus network was brought in to ease connectivity into ManchesterThe guided bus network was brought in to ease connectivity into Manchester (Image: TGfM)

Rachael Flaszczak, who runs The Snug Coffee House on Market Street, said: “I have noticed that we have seen a drop in ticket sales [for music events] and there are some people who’ve bought tickets and not turned up. When we asked them why, they said they couldn’t get the bus here like they originally thought.

“We praised the service when it came out as it dropped people off outside on Market Street. We have had bands travel from Manchester on the V2 with all their equipment.”

The 45-year-old explained that when the full service was running at off peak times she saw "bus loads of people" get off and enjoy the nightlife scene in Atherton before coming to one of their music events.

Leigh Journal: The Snug has felt a drop off in customers, its owner has saidThe Snug has felt a drop off in customers, its owner has said (Image: The Snug)

Atherton Councillor Stuart Gerrard has been campaigning for the return of the full V2 service and explained that passenger numbers would be low on a service that is unreliable, with people likely to find another way to travel like using the car.

Cllr Gerrard, who is also a bus driver by trade, said: “From my experience, if the service isn’t frequent and unreliable then people will use the car.

“The issue is the V2 replaced four direct services to Manchester with no need to change buses. Before Covid the service was well used, in fact we were asking TfGM for a dedicated park and ride as so many were using the shopper’s car park for the V2.

“The only way we will find out if the service is still well used is to bring it back to full service as per the contract both TfGM and first have. If first can’t deliver that, then a different operator who can run the service at full capacity should be found.”

Cllr Gerrard and business owners want a full service back because of the impact on businesses in Atherton which initially saw a boom after the guided busway came in.

Leigh Journal: Cllr Stuart GerrardCllr Stuart Gerrard (Image: Stuart Gerarrd)

After getting back on their feet following the pandemic, the cost of living crisis has kicked in and the off peak service has taken footfall with it, business owners like Rachael feel.

Rachael, who also owns Hey Ho Let’s Sew haberdashery in the town, is worried this will serve a blow to numbers attending their Christmas markets that start on December 10.

A spokesperson for First Manchester said: “We are working closely with Transport for Greater Manchester to monitor passenger levels and review services based on demand. Roadworks in the city have added to traffic congestion. We are doing all we can to manage this but understand it is frustrating for customers and appreciate their patience.”