Have Your Say on Bus Franchising in Greater Manchester

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.

Funding

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).

Where next?

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.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Leeds says:

    Stop Press: Sorry to put this here, but I’ve been shown a document that states there are huge changes planned soon for Saddleworth services, sorry can’t remember the date. Basically the 425 will see massive route and timetable changes, including I think a split, the 81, 81A and others will see route and timetable changes, including cuts to routes, and the 180/4 will be curtailed to run Huddersfield/Greenfield to Oldham only, each hourly, with a new 84 replacing the Uppermill to Manchester section at similar frequencies to the current 184 between those points. Note as well the 84 replaces the 184 through to Huddersfield on Sundays.

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    1. Hi Leeds,

      This has been mentioned in TfGM’s Forthcoming Changes to the Bus Network document, which will be discussed on the 11 October. Yes, the plans entail splitting the 425 with the Oldham – Fitton Hill section of the present route becoming the 426.

      As for the 184/84 split, that also makes the 184 more akin to the pre-deregulation 365. Any 184s that terminate at Uppermill and Grotton will be renumbered 84.

      Greenfield passengers will be given the shortest straw with the 180 losing its Manchester link and Sunday/Bank Holiday service. Instead, the 180 will terminate at Oldham, severing Greenfield’s links with Hollins, Hollinwood and Failsworth as well as Manchester.

      Just to make things worse, the 180 will be cut from half hourly to once hourly. Therefore, the 350 will be Greenfield’s only full time route and – worse still – no direct links to Grasscroft, Lees and Clarksfield on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

      It is clear that First could be rejigging its network again to prepare for a possible sale of Oldham depot. Could the ‘new’ 180s and 184s be transferred to First West Yorkshire? One never knows, but it looks like they are severing some iconic routes for a future sale. In about six to twelve months, I think Saddleworth could be a First free zone.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Leeds says:

    Hello, I’m now thinking they’ll eventually merge the 184 and 180 so both can operate from Huddersfield depot on a sustainable footing. Wouldn’t take much of a diversion for the 184 to run from the main road into Greenfield, and only add on about 12 mins to the journey time.

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