For the first time in nearly four decades, Greater Manchester’s bus passengers will be involved in holding local bus operators to account over how they perform.
The city-region is the first to use powers contained within the Bus Services Act 2017, with Go North West and Diamond appointed to run Greater Manchester’s first locally controlled bus services since they were deregulated in 1986, signifying the biggest change to public transport in generations.
Not only this, Greater Manchester plan talks with rail industry to integrate 20% of train services into Bee Network from 2025.
It looks like finally, operators may be held to some account for late, delayed and cancelled services.
There will also be another 50 fully electric buses ordered to operate in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, bringing total to 270 in 2024.
With an estimated 3.5 million bus journeys each week during November, the number of people using commercial bus services in November was 7.5% higher than November 2021 and is now at its highest level since the pandemic.
So things are looking up for public transport across Greater Manchester.
Currently in Greater Manchester, like all areas outside of London, the majority of bus services are provided on a commercial basis by private bus companies, with operators deciding on routes, frequencies, timetables, fares and quality standards.
The council have said that the new way is a more effective way of delivering bus services, where the bus network is planned and overseen by the local transport authority, with Greater Manchester now able to specify bus routes, service levels and fares.
It is common in Europe but until now it was only permitted in London in the UK.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Locally controlled bus services are fundamental to our Bee Network vision for a better public transport network for all, and as the first area to do this outside London, Greater Manchester is once again blazing a trail.
“Franchising will enable us to better integrate services as part of a joined-up network, with simpler fares and ticketing, a price cap so no one pays more than they need to, a better customer service offer and a single look for the whole network.
“Passengers are at the very core of our Bee Network vision and when we talk about local accountability, we really mean it – that is why at the heart of our contracts with operators will be a performance regime that will influence operator payments based on those factors that we know are of most importance to customers, including punctuality, reliability and customer complaints.
“The move to franchising is the biggest change to public transport for almost 40 years and today is a significant step on our journey as we appoint operators to run the very first franchised services from September next year and I am especially pleased that both operators provided strong social value plans, with commitments around recruitment and pay in line with the city-region’s Good Employment Charter.”
Greater Manchester’s vision for a truly integrated public transport network includes all modes of transport, with ambitions for services on six key train routes to be integrated into the Bee Network once buses are brought under local control from 2025:
- Wigan – Victoria, which includes the development of a new station at Golborne anticipated to open late 2025 subject to DfT and industry approvals
- Stalybridge –Southport
- Glossop – Hadfield – Piccadilly
- Rose Hill – Piccadilly
- Buxton – Piccadilly
- Alderley Edge – Piccadilly
The move would see around one in five local train services integrated into the Bee Network, with a focus on performance and reliability, improved train station accessibility and a pilot of pay-as-you-go fares, similar to Metrolink’s touch-in/touch-out system.
Greater Manchester plans to explore these proposals with the rail industry as part of discussions about longer-term devolution of rail to the city-region, which would see larger parts of the network integrated into the Bee Network by the end of the decade.
Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Vernon Everitt, said: “The announcements on bus franchising and our ambitions for local rail services demonstrate further strong momentum towards delivery of the Bee Network – an integrated London-style transport system.
“We are seeing a strong increase in the number of customers using Metrolink trams and buses, demonstrating high demand for safe, reliable and affordable public transport in our rapidly growing city-region.
“We will progressively make it easier for everyone to use our services with simplified and joined-up fares, ticketing and information provision across bus, tram, rail and cycle hire.
“We will also continue to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and support vulnerable people on the network in collaboration with the TravelSafe Partnership.
“We are also developing major local transport schemes at pace, with more than £100m of projects currently being delivered including new electric buses, quality bus routes and better transport interchanges.
“I’d like to thank the business community and the people of TfGM, our industry partners and many other stakeholders who are working so hard to totally transform the transport system in Greater Manchester.”
Franchising will also deliver a cleaner, more environmentally friendly bus fleet for Greater Manchester.
Following an initial order for 50 brand new electric buses to operate in Wigan and Bolton, an order for a further 50 double-deck electric buses has now been placed with manufacturer Alexander Dennis at a cost of £22.7m, to operate in parts of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham when the second tranche of franchising is introduced there in April 2024.
The buses will be funded from the government’s ‘City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement’ (CRSTS), following Greater Manchester’s award of £1.07billion earlier this year, £438m of which is already ringfenced to improve buses, routes and services.
Changing how people travel and encouraging more people to walk, scoot and cycle is a key part of delivering the city-region’s ambition to have half of all journeys made by public transport or active travel by 2040.
Greater Manchester is delivering the UK’s largest cycling and walking network and through the Mayor’s Cycling and Walking Challenge £3.5m will be spent on the renewal and replacement of 91 speed cameras across Greater Manchester, around three-quarters of which are to be positioned on Bee Network active travel routes to help keep cyclists safe.
Leaders also agreed funding to complete the Chorlton Cycleway – a continuous 5km cycle route connecting Chorlton with Manchester City Centre. The £7.2m project will deliver almost 3km of the route from Seymour Grove to Sandy Lane, including Brooks Bar junction. The full scheme includes four innovative Cycle Optimised Protected Signal junctions (CYCLOPS) junctions as well as 11 cycle bypasses at bus stops and new and improved crossing facilities.