Manchester residents want a better service, says survey

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Research carried out by ComRes on behalf of bus operator Abellio has found that people in Manchester want a greater say in bus services, better fare structures and better ticketing. According to the research, 95% of people supported the idea of subsidised bus services for routes which are socially necessary, said the operator, which runs bus services under the franchised regime in London. Furthermore, 88% of respondents think that all operators should use the same fare structure, and that local people should have a say on bus provision.

Additionally, 91% were in favour of a system similar to London’s Oyster Card, valid for travel buses, trains and trams. Mayor Andy Burnham has announced plans to take Manchester’s bus network into public control, where local leaders, accountable to Greater Manchester residents, would specify the service and put contracts out to tender under a franchise system.

Speaking at the opening event of Southall’s Armstrong Way depot on Wednesday 25 September, Alan Pilbeam, Deputy Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of Abellio, which is an experienced operator in London’s franchised bus network, said: “We’ve been operating buses in London for 10 years now. Through that time, we’ve been very proud to work with TfL. We’ve seen how the TfL model has worked and evolved, and been innovative. It has taken public transport in London to a world-class level.

“There is no doubt lessons can be learned in the rest of the UK. We have a seemingly inexorable decline in patronage outside of London. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bus franchising is now an opportunity outside of London which needs to be seized on. We can learn some lessons outside of London and I think we can make the mode of choice, rather than something people feel they have to use. People should be desperate to use it, because it is so good.

Commenting on the research itself, he said: “This research clearly demonstrates the people of Greater Manchester want to see a change to the way their public transport system is delivered. People rightly believe that bus operators have a social responsibility towards the communities they serve.
“We wanted to know what the residents of Manchester want from their public bus system. Despite 94% saying they lived within ten minutes of a bus stop, only half of respondents use a bus at least once a month and only half feel they can get to the places they need. One in two people think that current bus fares are too complicated and services are too unreliable.

“There is clearly a need for bus services to change and vastly improve. The Mayor’s proposal would put decision-making back into the hands of the public and allow them to choose a local transport system that works for them. We know a franchising model works successfully in London, and it can be a success in Greater Manchester as well.”

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership added: “The Mayor of Greater Manchester commissioned a review which shows the clear case for bus franchising, which will give the public sector the ability to drive use of the bus network by improving the routes served and making fares fairer, which is very much in line with the findings of this research.

“The Northern Powerhouse is not about just the North coming together – but about the city regions and wider economies of the North being free to choose what is right for their economies, with the powers to take the decisions needed. The case for having a Mayor rested on government giving our city regions the right to do this, because it is such an important opportunity to replicate the same benefits which London gets from its bus network.”

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, agreed: “Buses play a vital role in connecting people, supporting the economy, and tackling loneliness. The people of Manchester clearly want simpler fares and better integration between buses, trains and trams, which would go a long way towards improving public transport across the city.”