Greater Manchester Will Be First UK City Region to Consult on Bus Franchising

Greater Manchester Will Be First UK City Region to Consult on Bus Franchising
Stagecoach buses pass a cyclist on Oxford Road on their way into Manchester city centre.Tom Harrison

Greater Manchester will be the first city-region in the United Kingdom to hold a public consultation on the introduction of a bus franchising scheme, using powers available under the Bus Services Act 2017.

At an extraordinary meeting earlier this week, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) gave the go ahead for a major public consultation into how the buses should be run in Greater Manchester.

A wide range of people will be invited to have their say on the proposed franchising scheme for Greater Manchester from Monday 14th October 2019 through to Wednesday 8th January 2020.

Bus franchising is currently in place in London and other major global cities, and means bus services – including routes, timetables, fares and standards – would be brought under local control. Greater Manchester would coordinate the bus network and contract bus companies to run the services, with any profit being reinvested in the buses.

GMCA Vice Chair, Councillor Brenda Warrington said: “Buses play a crucial role in our society, helping people make millions of trips every year to work, shops and education, to see friends and family, enjoy the many cultural and leisure opportunities Greater Manchester has to offer, and to access essential healthcare.

“But we need better bus services. Buses are an important part of the ‘Our Network’ ambition to create a modern and accessible public transport system for Greater Manchester. One which brings together different modes of transport into a joined up, ease-to-use system with seamless connections, simple ticketing and an aspiration for capped fares.

“We want to give people the real choice to leave their cars at home, reduce the number of vehicles on our roads and their harmful emissions, so we have cleaner, greener neighbourhoods.

“This consultation will give everyone the opportunity to have their say on how the bus services are run, and we’re interested in hearing from as many people and organisations as possible.”

A Stagecoach spokesperson said: “Buses are the cornerstone of Greater Manchester’s economy and communities. It’s crucial that both people who use the bus, and those who don’t, have their say on the future of bus services, because local taxpayers would ultimately foot the bill for franchising.

“Greater Manchester residents have an alternative option, and it is not a choice between the bus service they have now or franchising. Partnership proposals developed by bus operators will deliver multi-million-pound investment in integrated ticketing, better value fares, electric buses and many more improvements – all much sooner than through franchising and with bus companies rather than taxpayers covering the cost.

“Manchester deserves a Manchester solution, not the financial burden of a ‘London-style’ system. London’s franchised bus network loses £700m per year – costs paid directly by local taxpayers. Here in Manchester, Stagecoach average bus fares are already 25% lower than London’s £1.50 standard fare, with independent research repeatedly showing higher customer satisfaction than in London.

“The huge cost of franchising our buses could be better spent on investing in social care, schools and policing – as well as tackling crippling road congestion, which is the biggest barrier to providing better and more attractive bus services.

“We would urge the people of Greater Manchester to consider the options for bus services and their implications very carefully. If local people want to see lower fares, a more joined up transport system, and investment in their bus services without a massive bill, they should choose partnership and reject franchising.”

An assessment prepared by Transport for Greater Manchester has compared the proposed franchising scheme with other realistic options – including new partnerships with the bus companies or leaving bus services as they are now.

It found that the proposed franchising scheme would be the best way to meet Greater Manchester’s objectives and future vision for buses. That includes a joined-up integrated bus and public transport network, simple fares and ticketing, an improved customer experience, and better value for money.

Following the public consultation, GMCA will give its response in a published report. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, would then make a decision on whether to implement the proposed franchising scheme.

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