INCONVENIENT parking, pedestrianisation, and reduced bus timetables are just some of the concerns facing Atherton business owners at present.

In order to better connect towns across the region and improve transport links into central Manchester, the guided busway was launched by First Manchester and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) in 2016.

Designed to make commuting more comfortable and more efficient, the Vantage bus service links Leigh, Atherton, and Tyldesley into Manchester via the guided busway.

However, despite the intention to make commuting easier for residents, a new and reduced bus timetable has brought about concerns for passengers and business owners.

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Bus parking impacting businesses 'in a negative way'

Leigh Journal: Kevin has concerns about buses parking up outside his shop for hoursKevin has concerns about buses parking up outside his shop for hours (Image: LDRS)

Kevin Jones, who runs Atherton Tackle on Market Street in Atherton, said he believes that the new timetable has left drivers with long periods with nothing to do, and so vehicles end up parked on Market Street for hours.

“It’s impacting business in a negative way," he said.

“There are normally buses in front at all times and it’s so annoying, I don’t see why they stay here,” he says. “They’re here all day non-stop...that’ll be there for three hours."

“I think cafes benefit more from the service than us. But they shouldn’t be parked here for three to four hours a day.

"The problem is people can’t see the shop when they park there. We rely on passing trade and that blocks us. I think they're here because they only go at peak times."

Before the guided busway was introduced, with promises that it would drive regeneration in the borough, Atherton had four direct bus services to Manchester.

The introduction of the V2 saw that reduced to one. Now, following the cuts, the V2 only runs at peak times, and doesn't go all the way.

This means passengers bound for Atherton have to get off at Tyldesley interchange and catch another shuttle bus into Atherton, or get the other service on the guided busway, the V1, to Leigh, before catching another bus to Atherton.

The decision to cut direct services to Atherton came after Transport for Greater Manchester conducted surveys and concluded that the level of demand after Covid couldn't justify a full V2 timetable.

'A nail in the coffin for the town'

Leigh Journal: Dry Clean Centre owners Anita and Brian Thomas outside their shopDry Clean Centre owners Anita and Brian Thomas outside their shop (Image: LDRS)

Brian Thomas, from the Dry Clean Centre on Market Street, is another disgruntled business owner. He believes Atherton's fortunes have gone downhill, as the pedestrianisation which preceded the guided busway means motorists are less likely to shop in the town, and more likely to park in the area before getting the bus somewhere else.

“People filling up the car parks and going elsewhere [is a big problem]," he says. "No spaces are left for people shopping in the centre.

“Car parks are rammed [from people parking and getting the bus] and no one is in town. When they did the guided busway Atherton didn’t get a car park like the other big towns (Leigh and Tyldesley).

Leigh Journal: A Vantage bus heading down Market Street in AthertonA Vantage bus heading down Market Street in Atherton (Image: LDRS)

“It’s gone downhill since pedestrianisation came in many years ago, people can’t drive into town. Because of that you can’t see the shops for passing trade.

“Pedestrianisation was the first nail in the coffin for the town. They tried to sell the V2 as people coming to Atherton to Manchester which was just not going to happen.”

Brian’s wife and business partner Anita says the diversity of shops in the last decade in the town has reduced because of the decline in passing trade, meaning it's difficult for all but 'hairdressers and cafes' to survive in Atherton.

'We sold out but then people didn't come'

Leigh Journal: The snug owner, Rachael FlaszczakThe snug owner, Rachael Flaszczak (Image: Rachael Flaszczak)

Rachael Flaszczak, owner of The Snug Coffee House venue, did see the benefits for business when the V2 was first brought in. She recalls buses pulling up, packed with revellers heading for Atherton's bars.

But since the service has been reduced to peak-only hours the boom has ended. “We sold out a recent gig for 100 tickets but a portion of them didn’t come,” Rachael said. “We emailed them asking why and they said they booked the ticket and looked at the transport which said it could take around two hours to get here.

“We get people booking tickets seeing we’re in Greater Manchester, then they look at the public transport situation. You have to get one bus to Tyldesley then get another.

“We ran a survey to see if customers would return and everything was good except for public transport options. 30 per cent walked, 60 per cent drove, zero per cent came on the train, 10 per cent came on the bus.

Leigh Journal: The Snug has had trouble getting music fans to the venue due to bus issuesThe Snug has had trouble getting music fans to the venue due to bus issues (Image: The Snug)

“We are operating a music venue where 10 per cent of customers use public transport, not because they don’t want to but because they can’t. We don’t do well on the bar sales because of the cost of beer and people not being able to get home at the end of the night.

“Some of our artists are grassroots and are around 17/18 and aren't driving. We have dropped some off at the train station and they’ve been left waiting for over an hour with all their gear. It is just embarrassing.”

'The V1 and V2 offer a quality service'

Leigh Journal: Vantage buses have been travelling down the guided busway route since 2016Vantage buses have been travelling down the guided busway route since 2016 (Image: TfGM)

The Guided Busway which the V1 and V2 serves isn't like any other bus route in Greater Manchester, as part of it sees buses ride on rails like trams. Most of the buses on this First-operated route - excluding the back-ups - are 'Vantage' vehicles, hence the 'V', offering passengers 'luxury' - padded e-leather seats, tables upstairs and wi-fi.

Nick Roberts, TfGM’s Head of Bus Services and Commercial Development, said: “The Vantage V1 and V2 services continue to offer a quality experience to the thousands of people who travel daily along the guided busway.

“We introduced a reduced timetable on the V2 last year in response to low demand. We are continuing to review patronage across both Vantage services to help identify how we can improve services in a sustainable way.

“We are investigating the issues reported to us in relation to both V1 and V2 services, and I would urge anyone with issues to raise to get in touch.”