French transport giant set to take over Metrolink from Stagecoach?
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.