Greater Manchester to adopt franchising model for bus services

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The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has confirmed that Greater Manchester is to adopt a franchising model for its bus services – making it the first city outside of London to have local control over the operation of its buses.

Local leaders will be able to set routes, frequencies, fares and tickets. By the end of 2025, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) says it plans to fully integrate buses with the rest of the transport network, as part of a ‘passenger-focused network with easy end-to-end journeys.’

To ensure a smooth transition franchising will be introduced in phases, with the first franchised buses starting to run in Bolton and Wigan in early 2023 and the move to a fully franchised system across the whole of Greater Manchester by the end of 2025. In the period up to full transition, GMCA and TfGM will work with central government and bus operators to plan and improve bus services to best support Greater Manchester’s economic recovery.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Public transport is essential for any successful city-region, and our buses are the backbone of Greater Manchester’s transport network. As Greater Manchester recovers from the pandemic and grows in the future, we must develop our public transport network, alongside walking and cycling, to support the increasing number of journeys we will all be making.

“In Greater Manchester, we’ve always done things differently and been trailblazers especially in the field of transport; we had the first passenger railway; the first ‘bus’ route with a horse-drawn carriage and now I’ve decided that we will be the first outside London to run our buses differently – under local control, so that decisions are made at a local level for the benefit of our passengers.

“My decision will mean that we can integrate our buses as part of a joined-up network, so passengers can easily switch between different types of transport. It means simpler fares and ticketing with price capping, so no one pays more than they need to. It also means a ‘one-stop-shop’ for travel information and a single identity for the whole public transport network, which is attractive, clearly recognisable and easy for passengers to navigate and understand.

“Ultimately, this means a different way of moving around for everyone in our city-region, as we move towards Our Network; our ambition of a world-class, integrated transport network which can unlock opportunity for all; providing access to jobs and education, reducing pollution, attracting investment and reducing isolation.

“Bringing buses into local control will be the biggest change to Greater Manchester’s buses since de-regulation in 1986. But as with all change for the better, it will take time; it won’t happen overnight and we are just at the start of our journey. I hope the people, businesses and communities of Greater Manchester come with us on the journey, so we can create a joined-up public transport network that works for the benefit of passengers and our city-region.”

Stagecoach released a statement responding to the news: “Stagecoach believes that GMCA’s consultation process has failed to meet the standards on proper process, evidence and analysis required by law.   In February 2021, Stagecoach submitted an application for a judicial review on that basis and that application is now scheduled to be considered by the court on 27 and 28 May 2021.

“We are disappointed and surprised that the Mayor has chosen to push ahead with these proposals and not wait a short time for the outcome of the judicial review process before making any final decisions.

“The UK Government’s recently announced National Bus Strategy for England has outlined a routemap and funding for regions across England to secure the immediate future of local bus networks. The strategy also encourages bus operators and authorities to work together to plan a package of improvements for customers and local communities.

“The planned franchising scheme in Greater Manchester would incur £135m of transition costs that would not deliver any new buses or new services and, under GMCA plans, would see above-inflation fares increases for customers. We believe a better approach in line with the government’s bus strategy would be to work together and focus precious taxpayer funding on practical improvements for customers and local communities.

“While we await the decision of the court, we remain ready to work collaboratively with the Mayor and the Combined Authority to get through the pandemic and ensure the region has a sustainable, high quality bus network for the long term.”