Publicly Controlled Buses: A 2020 Vision of Greater Manchester’s Franchised Bus Network

East of the M60 looks at how Greater Manchester’s buses will be franchised

On the 14 October (this coming Monday), the people of Greater Manchester will be able to take back control of their local bus network. From this day forward, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester (using powers vested under the Greater Manchester Devolution Agreement) will open a public consultation. This will last until the 08 January 2020.

In the consultation document, our city region’s citizens will be given the choice of a franchised system or a quality bus partnership based model. Or they could choose to keep things the way they are. Recent opinion polls has seen support for bus franchising range from 69% to 95%.

The franchised model, with integrated ticketing across modes, is part and parcel of Greater London’s system. Outside London, the only part of the United Kingdom to have a regulated bus network is Northern Ireland. Private bus operators coexist with Translink’s bus and coach operations, inherited from Ulsterbus, the Ulster Transport Authority, and Citybus Limited.

Translink is a publicly owned corporation, ran in the public interest instead of shareholders’ profit margins. Under a franchised system, Transport for Greater Manchester could have similar powers to their peers in Belfast. The only difference is they cannot buy First Greater Manchester, as the creation of new public sector bus operations is forbidden under the 2017 Bus Services Act.

As we already know, support for bus franchising in Greater Manchester is unanimous. The question is, how will Greater Manchester’s buses be franchised.


  • 14 October 2019 – 08 January 2020: Public Consultation. Citizens are given a say on the future shape of their bus services.
  • 06 March 2020: Implementation. If the people of Greater Manchester opt for the franchised model, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester will begin the franchising process.
  • 02 January 2022: Franchised buses begin operation.

The franchising process

There will be two types of franchising contracts which are as follows:

  • Large Franchise Contracts: any local service contract with a Peak Vehicle Requirement of no fewer than 34 vehicles. For example: frequent routes like the 143 and the 192.
  • Local Service Contracts: any local route that operates inside one of the three sub-areas. For example: the 330 and the 346 which operate under Sub-area C.

These are also underpinned in Section 123 of the 2000 Transport Act under Bus Services: Franchising Schemes. Local Service Contracts come under 123K. The terms and conditions of each contract entail fares, frequency, standard of service and vehicle types. In lieu of agreeing to the terms and conditions, TfGM will grant the operator an exclusive right to operate (for example) the 346 route. Or a collection of other routes in the Tameside area including the 346.

In Greater Manchester, ten Large Franchise Contracts will be offered – presumably one for each borough of our City Region. Transport for Greater Manchester will provide depot facilities, which will be leased by the franchisee. These will last for five years and likely bidders may be big bus owning groups like Arriva, Stagecoach, Go-Ahead, or Abeillo.

Under what is termed in the 2000 Transport Act as a Local Service Contract, there will be 25 such contracts across our City Region. These will last for three years, enabling local operators to gain a foothold in franchised operations. Depot facilities will be provided by the franchisee.

Both Large Franchise Contracts and Local Service Contracts come with a two-year extension option. If the Franchising Authority (whom in our case are the GMCA and TfGM) is satisfied with their performance, they may consider a two-year extension prior to re-franchising each contract.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority boundary will have three sub-areas. At one time, SELNEC PTE was split into three areas: Northern, Central and Southern (then Cheshire after the addition of North Western Road Car Company’s operations). The three sub-areas are as follows:

  • Sub-Area A: Central Manchester, Bolton, Bury, Wigan, Old Trafford and Leigh;
  • Sub-Area B: Ramsbottom, Rochdale, Middleton, Heywood, Blackley, Newton Heath, Cheetham Hill, Oldham and Saddleworth;
  • Sub-Area C: Tameside, Stockport, Irlam, Altrincham, Sale, South Manchester, Gorton and Openshaw.

Each sub-area determines the date of when Local Service Contracts will take effect. For Sub-Area A, which covers central Manchester and the whole of Bolton and Wigan boroughs, the 02 April 2021. For Sub-Area B (Ramsbottom, the Rochdale and Oldham boroughs and North Manchester), the 25 March 2022. Finally, Sub-Area C (Tameside and Stockport boroughs, and South Manchester) will follow suit on the 10 March 2023.

Nine months on from the formation of Sub-Area A, franchised operations will commence on the 02 January 2022. In Sub-Area B, 26 December 2022 (Boxing Day). Finally, in Sub-Area C, franchised operations will begin on the 10 December 2023.

In Greater Manchester, most of the routes are operated inside any of the three sub-areas. Some may cut across two or three of them and fall outside the 2000 Transport Act’s definition of a service within a Local Service Contract.

Take the 409 route for example: most of its mileage forms under Sub-Area B, with the last ten minutes of its journey under Sub-Area C. Under the 2000 Transport Act, Local Service Contracts on the 409 route wont be effective till franchised operations commence in Sub-Area C.

Instead of waiting, a Service Permit could be issued to cover the whole of the 409 route. Supposing our bus route was a cross-boundary one like the 184 or the 237, a Service Permit would be required for operating into Greater Manchester. On the 184 to Huddersfield, this would take effect from the 25 March 2022 (as the boundary point of Sub-Area B is the former Great Western Hotel in Diggle). With the 237 to Glossop, 10 March 2023 (our Sub-Area C boundary is near Arnfield Reservoir).

With 123J, Section 3, Subsection b of the 2000 Transport Act, these issues could be mitigated under 123O Interim Services and Replacement Services. For just under a year, the conditions of one sub-area could apply to a route that operates outside another one, without the need to apply for a Service Permit.

Temporary exceptions

By 2023, most of Greater Manchester’s bus routes will be regulated under the 2017 Bus Services Act and the 2000 Transport Act in relation to bus franchising. From 2022, the 409 route will fall in line with the 2000 Act up to the River Medlock. South of the River Medlock – for another year at least – the 1985 Transport Act may fall in line.

As a temporary exception, fourteen bus routes within the Greater Manchester area will fall outside the franchised model till 2023. Therefore, they will temporarily fall under the 1985 Transport Act. In Tameside, five routes that begin under Sub-Area B would be outside the franchised network till Sub-Area C comes online. These will affect the 343, 353, 354, 396 and 419 routes – all of which are present-day TfGM tendered routes.

Therefore, the fourteen routes under Annex 4 in GMCA’s document will have to wait a year till TfGM’s standardised fares come online.

School services

School services will fall outside the franchised regime from Day One of franchised operations. Whether in Sub-Area A, B, or C, they fall outside what is known as a Local Service Contract as they are not classed as routes serving the general public.

Cross-boundary routes

Within Sub-Area C, there are several cross-boundary routes that may fall outside the franchised network. In the GMCA’s document, they are represented by their boundary point in Greater Manchester. In Tameside and Stockport, this is seen with the 236, 237 and 358 routes (down as terminating in Hollingworth and Strines respectively). Some, like the Witch Way X43 to Burnley and Skipton are not denoted.

Therefore, any operators running cross-boundary services would need to apply for a Service Permit. In doing so, a standardised fare system would apply within the TfGM/GMCA boundary – for example, up to Prestwich TESCO on the X43, or Woolley Bridge on the 236. Outside the boundaries, the operator’s fares may apply.

Who could apply for a Local Service Contract?

Any person with a PSV operator’s licence or a community bus permit could enter into a local service contract with Transport for Greater Manchester over a given period. In other words, whoever runs First Greater Manchester’s or Stagecoach Manchester’s operations or Mr. A. Stott of Stott’s Tours. With community bus permits, a third sector operator could run a franchised service.

What about vehicle standards?

In relation to Standard of Service, both the 2017 Bus Services Act and the 2000 Transport Act refer to the use of suitable vehicles, plus fuel, power and emissions standards for any given route. If you are used to travelling on Transport for Greater Manchester tendered services, TfGM set minimum standards already. For example: the age of the vehicle (no older than fifteen years old) and type of bus (minibus, single or double decker) as well as timetables.

One of the reasons for favouring a franchised model of bus operation is environmental issues. Though Stagecoach Manchester and First Greater Manchester have succeeded in introducing electric buses in a deregulated environment, there is potential for more improvement. By 2022, the 216 could be an all-electric route again – for the first time since trolleybuses ceased operation.

What if operators refuse to toe the line?

If the franchise holder isn’t fulfilling any of its agreed terms and conditions, underperforming or endangering the travelling public, you may see a change of franchisee. Transport for Greater Manchester will have powers revoke or suspend a service permit or local service contract. The franchisee could appeal to the Traffic Commissioner who may quash or uphold the original decision or suggest alternative measures.

Where next?

The next few months will be pretty interesting. From the 14 October onwards, there will be much talk about the legal complexities and how it will affect passengers. Not to mention a shedload of subsequent articles on this blog.

S.V., 12 October 2019.

One thought on “Publicly Controlled Buses: A 2020 Vision of Greater Manchester’s Franchised Bus Network

  1. GMPTE only offers consultation when they have already made their minds up … and they offer loaded questions to get the responses they want.


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