Bus franchising consultation to begin in October
Next month, the people of Greater Manchester will be involved in a far-reaching consultation to transform the city region’s bus routes.
From the 14 October 2019 to the 08 January 2020, Greater Manchester’s citizens will be able to decide as to whether London-style bus franchising or a partnership model would be the way ahead. In the consultation, passengers may choose the following options:
- No Further Changes: which allows bus operators to chop and change fares and services as of now (and probably lead to fewer areas being served by service buses in 2025 – or after twenty five past eight).
- A Partnership-Based Model: bus operators work in cooperation with TfGM to maintain routes though retain control of frequencies and some fares. A similar model is in operation in Sheffield where the city’s trunk routes are part of a common pool of services.
- Greater London style franchising: with this approach, TfGM sets vehicle standards, fares (possibly with a Metrolink style zonal model), timetables and awards franchises to private operators for a set period. Franchises could either be based on individual routes or a package of routes – similar to today’s TfGM tendered services, though with more powers for Transport for Greater Manchester and the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester.
According to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority website, none of Greater Manchester’s operators have come forward with an effective partnership model. First Greater Manchester, now down to a depot in Oldham, seems to be contracting its operations. Like Stagecoach Manchester, it is a member of Onebus, headed by Gary Nolan. Onebus favours a partnership model where its members are free to set their own fares.
Therefore, an independent assessor has recommended a Greater London style franchising model. This would give TfGM and the GMCA powers to integrate ticketing with other modes.
Unlike commercial operations, profits will be reinvested across the network. Under the deregulated model, commercial services stand on their own two feet through farebox revenue and ENCTS reimbursements. A shrinking number of socially necessary tendered services are funded by your Council Tax bills. With cross-subsidisation returning to the fore, Stalybridge could see the return of evening journeys on the 343 route. With this model, farebox revenue from trunk routes help to support socially necessary routes.
In addition to today’s GetMeThere and System One season tickets, their through-ticketing benefits could be extended to single and return fares. For example, a journey from Ashton-under-Lyne to Manchester could be done by bus and train, or tram and bus, or tram and train without being penalised for changing modes.
In Greater Manchester, 75% of public transport journeys are made by bus. Where parts of Greater Manchester aren’t served by regular trains or trams (i.e.: Dukinfield, Heywood and Leigh), they are a lifeline. With The Free Trade Experiment bus deregulation has resulted in swingeing cuts to secondary routes over profitable trunk routes. Nowadays, today’s trunk routes have seen cuts to their frequencies.
Like many parts of the UK, patronage has fallen. In 1986, 350 million journeys were made by bus in Greater Manchester. Though up from 342 million in 1982, patronage had almost halved from 1969 figures (nearly 600 million). Today, around 196 million journeys are made by bus in the city region.
At this time of writing, central government has pledged support and funding for Greater Manchester’s franchised operations. If additional government funding isn’t available, the Greater London style network will be funded by three sources.
One is Earn Back Funding, provided by central government as per GMCA’s devolution agreement. Another source is the Mayoral Precept on your Council Tax bills. The third source would be a one-off contribution from the ten Metropolitan Boroughs that make up Greater Manchester. For an average household in a Band B property, about £14.20 per annum by 2024 – 2025 (which might buy you a pint of beer in Central London by then).
After January 2020, the findings of the consultation will be published by Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Thereafter, the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester will make their recommendations.
If the franchising model is chosen by the general public and our Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, it will be phased in several stages. The process will be completed in 2023. By then, timetables and routes will have been drawn up, and contracts will have been awarded. So far, recent opinion polls have seen 69% of respondents favouring the franchised model.
Before I go…
Will you be taking part in the consultation? Are you in favour of a Greater London style franchised network, or happy with the way bus services are at present? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 27 September 2019.