French transport giant set to take over Metrolink from Stagecoach?

3002 Flexity Swift Metrolink tram

The balance of power for our trams could move from Perth to Paris if Stagecoach agrees to relinquish its 13 year franchise with TfGM.

Stagecoach is already into the third year of its contract to operate Greater Manchester’s light rail system. This would last till 2021, covering its new extensions to Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden, Oldham, Rochdale, Wythenshawe and East Didsbury. An announcement will be made on the London Stock Exchange this Tuesday.

In recent years, RATP have had experience of UK city centre operations, holding franchises for some of London’s bus services. In the North West, they are a recent addition to the transport scene, following their acquisition of Transdev. These include Manchester’s X43 Witch Way route to Nelson (Burnley and Pendle) and Lancashire United’s X40 route to Great Harwood. In Burnley, RATP’s Burnley and Pendle subsidiary run a variety of services in the East Lancashire town stretching from Preston to Todmorden.

The Metrolink network is profitable with a pre-tax profit of £4.1 million and has a steady patronage of around 20 million journeys per year. At the moment, there in nothing definite about this, it is still mere speculation. If this was true, I suspect they may be running scared of competition issues.

My main reason is that South Manchester’s bus network is dominated by Stagecoach Manchester, and that Stagecoach running the trams and buses may be seen as anti-competitive by some overzealous bods at the Competition Commission. Yet, in Sheffield, Stagecoach’s Supertram service co-exists with its bus operations with bus/tram integration and through-ticketing the norm. Unlike Manchester, Sheffield’s main operator is First South Yorkshire (though Stagecoach Yorkshire – through acquiring the Yorkshire Traction Group – has chipped away at FirstGroup’s fiefdom).

In East Manchester, particularly Droylsden and Clayton, Stagecoach enjoys a virtual monopoly, and tram operations would exacerbate this. Besides Stagecoach Manchester, a handful of tendered services and the 53 service (First Manchester) are operated by companies other than Stagecoach. These include JPT’s 217 and 218 routes (Sundays and Bank Holidays; the former also evenings) and SpeedwellBus’ 188 route. Evening journeys along the 220 route, terminating at Dukinfield are operated by First Manchester.

Supposing Stagecoach wishes to retain its franchise (in other words, if this exclusive story turns out to be absolute pish), I would like to see greater bus/tram through-ticketing, as seen in Sheffield. It would be a boon for passengers aboard the 76 route (for example) from Limeside who wish to continue their journey by tram from Hollinwood. Likewise, Chorltonians who would like to go from Chorlton-cum-Hardy to Oldham Mumps. Now, if the smart card system proposed for adult bus passengers are used, we could be on to a winner.

S.V., 30 July 2011.

Postscript: RATP only has a stake in Veolia Transdev. Therefore, Lancashire United isn’t directly owned by RATP.

6 thoughts on “Metrolink Takeover Plans: Hardly Under RATPs?

  1. I’m a bit confused by all this – correct me if wrong. – RATP have a stake in Transdev Veolia, the merged entity that owns Blazefield Holdings, but don’t own it all. They do, however, fully own the former Transdev companies in Bournemouth and London.

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    1. That’s correct; therefore RATP only has a small stake in Transdev. So contrary to my third paragraph, neither Burnley and Pendle nor Lancashire United are directly owned by RATP and remain part of the merged Veolia Transdev company. Apologies for any confusion which I may have caused.

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    1. That’s right! The merger with Veolia was completed in May 2010. It began with RATP taking a minority share in Transdev at the start of the noughties. Gradually they increased their share prior to the merger. Some Transdev operations were hived off to RATP.

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  2. How many British companies have stakes in French trams or buses? The answer is none because, unlike other European countries, the government in Paris continues to bar foreign involvement in all sections of public transport. Until they change their ways and open the door to outsiders, the UK government should be very reluctant to shortlist SNCF/Keolis for the West Coast franchise.

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    1. Hi Mike,

      The greater problem lies within three decades of UK governments subscribing to a neoliberal economic consensus, which has led to a ‘devil may care’ attitude regarding the privatisation of public assets. As a cop-out (or perhaps a bid to privatise key services), governments of whatever colour in Britain since 1981 would claim ‘it’s against EEC/EC/EU competition rules’ whereas such ‘protectionist’ rules are used in mainland European countries with impunity.

      Though not an eyelid was bat over Stagecoach dumping its Metrolink franchise, we went ballistic when Cadbury was sold to Kraft – with whisperings of a ‘national interest’ style rule regarding takeovers. That has come to naught.

      I firmly believe local transport undertakings should be the preserve of local government, as wholly owned municipal concerns, or part of Passenger Transport Executives as per the 1968 Transport Act. The free market model of bus deregulation also inhibits integrated transport/land use policy making for a start. If overseas involvement is a major issue in rail franchising, why can we not consider management led bids or allow a British Rail Part 2 to bid for franchises?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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