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London-style transport planned for Greater Manchester

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Credit: PA

Greater Manchester could become the first city region in the UK to take back control of its buses after a report recommended refranchising its network.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has set out his plan for a London-style integrated transport system for Greater Manchester.

'Our Network' is part of a ten-year plan to create an integrated, modern and accessible London-style public transport system.

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The Mayor outlined the projects and policies he intends to implement to create a world-class public transport system for the people of Greater Manchester, accompanied by an animated map that shows how public transport connections across the city-region will grow and develop in four phases over the next decade.

Unsurprisingly, the city's current private operators aren't happy.

Credit: PA

A Stagecoach spokesman said:

The Mayor has provided no evidence to support his claim that franchising is better than a partnership approach and he is keeping Greater Manchester’s taxpayers in the dark about the massive bill they would have to pay for a London-style bus system. The capital’s franchised network is also currently losing passengers at a faster rate than the rest of England due to rising congestion, seeing many routes cut, and is £700m in the red.

Stagecoach has delivered £90m investment in greener buses for Manchester since 2010, provides unlimited weekly travel for around £2 a day, offers contactless and integrated multi-operator ticketing, with nine in 10 customers satisfied with their bus service. But this is not a choice between franchising and the status quo.

The Mayor has had on his desk for months a compelling £100m blueprint from bus operators which could further transform the region’s bus network right now. It would deliver better services, new greener buses, better value fares and a way forward to address car congestion and air quality, which everyone agrees are two of the biggest challenges facing the region.

People in Manchester and districts across the region must be asking why Transport for Greater Manchester has needlessly spent £23m of taxpayers money on consultants reports assessing franchising, when practical improvements have been delayed and the partnership solutions are already staring politicians in the face.

– Stagecoach
Credit: OneBus

Gary Nolan, chief executive of OneBus, a partnership representing the majority of bus operators in Greater Manchester said:

The Mayor’s vision presented on Monday morning was heavy on ambition and light on detail. Despite a two year assessment on whether to consider franchising or partnership, today’s announcement still keeps the people of Greater Manchester in the dark when it comes to the cost. If the local authority truly wants to be “Doing Things Differently”, they can do better than replicate a London-style system that expects to operate under a £742m deficit by the end of this year, cutting routes and consuming government subsidies.

Despite only £1m of funding from TfGM last year, compared to £500m for cycling and £72m for new trams, buses have led the way in transport innovation by introducing technologies such as contactless payments, something which is only just coming to the tram network this summer. Multi-operator tickets are already available, capped at £19 a week across the bus network, while passengers can use the integrated multi-modal Get Me There travel card on all bus routes and trams.

We agree that Greater Manchester’s bus network can be improved and encourage the mayor to use his existing powers to cut congestion now, before it inflicts further damage on bus punctuality and air quality. Our partnership proposal can deliver a better network at no extra cost to the public purse: our plans to invest in greener buses across our region can also be completed much sooner and make an immediate difference to our region’s air quality. We urge the mayor to put passengers before politics and let the public know how long this process will take and what tax increases they will face to achieve his vision.

– Gary Nolan, chief executive of OneBus
Credit: PA

So what's the plan?

  • Buses are a vital part of Greater Manchester's transport network. Currently, three out of every four public transport journeys in Greater Manchester are made by bus.
  • Demand on the transport network is growing. By 2035 it is estimated 600,000 extra daily journeys will need to be supported.
  • Despite this, bus use in Greater Manchester is falling. There has been a decline of 32 million annual passenger journeys by bus since 2010.

Current bus market

  • Since 1986 Greater Manchester bus services have been deregulated and are now run by private operators – who decide routes, timetables, fares and standards.
  • Transport for Greater Manchester currently subsidises around 20% of Greater
  • Manchester’s bus services on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
  • There are currently more than 30 companies operating in Greater Manchester with four large operators – Arriva, First, Stagecoach and Go North West (a new operator in the region) – delivering the vast majority of services.
  • The Mayor says that the deregulated bus market means that there is no oversight of coordination between bus services and other modes of public transport; a lack of integrated ticketing; no consistent branding; often confusing travel information and differing standards for customers.
  • It also prevents Greater Manchester from delivering an overall strategic vision for the bus network, which would ensure that bus services are designed to meet the future travel needs of people in the city-region.

Greater Manchester’s vision for bus

The Greater Manchester 2040 Transport Strategy sets out our Vision for Bus is based on four objectives:

  • an integrated network
  • simplified and integrated ticketing
  • a great customer experience
  • value for money.

How do they claim to be working to achieve this

  • The Bus Services Act (2017) gave Mayoral authorities like Greater Manchester powers to reform their bus markets.
  • On behalf of the GMCA, TfGM has been preparing an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme for Greater Manchester.
  • Alongside franchising, the assessment has also considered other options, such as partnerships.

Next steps

  • The assessment has been completed and has now been passed to the GMCA. The Bus Services Act sets out what the next steps are.
  • The GMCA will now vote to proceed to the next step and appoint an auditor to prepare a report on the assessment.
  • When the report is complete, the GMCA would then review the assessment and the audit and decide whether to undertake a public consultation.
  • Once the public consultation is complete the GMCA would then publish a report with its responses to the consultation.
  • The Mayor, acting on behalf of the GMCA, would then decide whether to implement the proposed franchising scheme.