It was supposed to have improved services through competition. There was even talk of drivers owning their own buses. Even fare levels were supposed to have fallen, as power moved from the monolithic PTEs and the National Bus Company to the little.
How wrong they were, and how right were Greater Manchester PTE nearly 20 years ago.
Between 1986 – 1993, there was plenty of competition between GM Buses (then a publicly owned Limited company) and the likes of Citibus, Bee Line Buzz Company and other PTE companies. Thirteen years later, we have now seen bus ownership in the UK concentrated between three major companies. As for drivers being owner occupiers of their own vehicles, this never happened. So much for competition and added choice.
Of course, there were some improvements to services, with some operators running minibus services via streets that tested the bigger buses. However, most of these improvements have been undone by rationalisation of evening and Sunday services or withdrawal. Most of the investment in new buses have been designated to profitable routes like the 135, 216 and the 192. It has also become commonplace for other routes to receive older buses, with many being step entrance rather than low floor.
Fare levels have actually increased rather than fell since 1986, except in some cases. The exceptions to this rule are Stagecoach’s ‘Magic Bus’ and ‘Megabus’ service. A shift towards bought on the bus season tickets has seen increased boarding times and longer journeys. One example of this increase is a nine stage fare on the 346 (Ashton – Hyde – Gee Cross), which has increased from 30p under Greater Manchester Transport to £1.50 under Stagecoach Manchester (or £1.30 on First Pioneer).
Rather than increased services, bus deregulation has seen strategically important routes withdrawn. Examples of these are the 400 (Trans-Lancs Express), 562 (Oldham – Halifax) and the 153 (Manchester – Mossley). Only the Wilmslow Road and A6 corridors have seen an increase, with a staggering 30 buses an hour. In the Tameside area, there are few services with 30 buses a day each way.
Over the last two weeks, the Wilmslow Road corridor has become the subject of controversy over competition on the 85/86 routes to Chorlton. This has resulted in Metrolink trams being blocked in Mosley Street, people cutting their journeys short and walking the rest of the journey. There has been some good news over a leaked memo, stating that the buses will be reregulated within two years. This was revealed in the Manchester Evening News (13/09/2006 edition):
The article is also an indictment of how the then Conservative government forced Greater Manchester, other PTEs and local councils to disintegrate in several weeks an integrated and affordable transport system which has served Britain for the best part of fifty years.
Though there has been improvements in information, through ticketing and integration in the last five years, these have come too late to avert a 45% drop in patronage since Sunday 26th October 1986.
Franchising should involve: participation in timetable compilation between councils and bus users; a long term goal towards a standardised bus design; minimum passenger service requirements (including full Bank Holiday services) and a standard livery.
This should be the case in Greater Manchester and the other PTE areas, notably South Yorkshire, where fares have gone from being the cheapest to being more expensive than Greater Manchester’s.
In Greater Manchester, the future was, is, and remains white, orange and brown.