The state of Greater Manchester’s bus fares before and during franchised bus operations

Greater Manchester has over thirty different bus operators. At present, this means over thirty different fare tables. Over sixty should you count half fares within the City Region. Once you get into cross-boundary operations, there are two or more sets of concessionary fares to deal with. The 358 route has three sets of concessionary fares: Cheshire East and Derbyshire rates as well as TfGM’s fares.

Sometimes, your route may be served by more than one operator. Unless you buy a System One or GetMeThere season ticket or day rover, this could be expensive. If you are making a short return journey that you feel is too short for a day rover, two singles may suffice. A single operator day rover may be fine, but expensive for two short hops.

Using the 237 route for example, say our passenger wanted to get from Mottram Road/Grey Street to Stalybridge railway station. If s/he is making an occasional journey, s/he might get a Stagecoach Greater Manchester bus on the outward journey. Supposing s/he is running late on their return journey, our passenger might miss the last Stagecoach journey and catch one of MCT Travel’s later buses. Two single fares on top of the train fare to his/her desired journey.

If a frequent passenger on Greater Manchester’s railways, s/he might be the proud owner of a System One Countycard and also use the pass for non-work journeys. Passengers that only work limited hours or make short distance journeys are losing out.

Single fares

January 2020

At present, most of Greater Manchester’s single fares are staged fares. For example, the fare stage might be every three to five stops depending on the operator’s fare tables. One fare could be £1.70 for up to three stops, then £2.00 for two stages (up to six stops), £2.30 for three stages (up to nine stops) and £2.60 for four stages (up to twelve stops). If you only paid single fares, there may be slight variations with one operator’s set of fares compared with another one.

Operators reserve the right to set fares where they see fit. Some corridors might have lower fares than certain other routes. Operator A might wish to undercut Operator B with lower fares on the same corridor. At one time, this worked on the Wilmslow Road corridor where Stagecoach faced competition with the likes of First, Finglands, Walls and UK North. Soon, the value-led ASDA Smart Price market that UK North once had – was outmuscled by Stagecoach’s Magic Bus.

Unlike season tickets and day rovers – single operator or multi-operator – you cannot break your journey on a single fare. By rail, you can break your journey on an Anytime or Off Peak single or return fare. On the Metrolink system, you have up to two hours to complete your journey irrespective of distance. You could travel from Audenshaw to Edge Lane on a single fare at 10am and break your journey at Droylsden. So long as you return to Droylsden and get to Edge Lane for 12 midday. (Which is fine if you need to go to the Post Office or call in to TESCO for some bits).

If you tried to repeat the above journey on the 216 or 217 routes, you would need two singles or a day rover ticket.

January 2024?

Throughout Greater Manchester, 30 – 90 fare tables could be replaced by one fare table across the City Region. On cross-boundary routes, permit-holding operators would retain their own fares outside Greater Manchester. Though a £1.50 fare could cover the same distance in Worsley as well as Woodley, modest cross-boundary journey fares could be more complicated. On the 184, Diggle to Marsden could have a single fare based on GMCA/TfGM fare tables up to the Great Western Hotel with First Huddersfield’s fare for the journey up to The New Inn.

Should GMCA opt for a franchised network and go for a fully integrated Oyster style card with single fares, the penalty for breaking a modest journey may be eliminated. Zonal fares – like the Metrolink system – could be considered, again with a two hour window for your single journey.

Season tickets

January 2020

Since 1995, System One Travelcards’ products have established themselves as a must-have accessory for seamless bus and train travel across Greater Manchester. Its predecessors include the Saver Travel Club’s SaverSeven, SaverMonthly and SaverAnnual passes. Each of Greater Manchester’s bus operators have a stake in Greater Manchester Travelcards Limited, the company that sells and promotes the season tickets.

Today’s System One and GetMeThere tickets are commonly purchased online or via TfGM Travelshops. Some are purchased from convenience stores with PayPoint facilities, sometimes with a 50p charge for using your debit card.

Since the start of bus deregulation, single operator season tickets have been a useful weapon in maintaining each company’s market share. One of the first things that Stagecoach Manchester after the acquisition of GMS Buses (in 1996) was cut the price of the Network 7 ticket from £10.00 to £5.00. The impact it had was immediate. By the turn of the 21st century, buying a weekly ticket on the bus became the norm instead of an exceptional case. Much to the chagrin of drivers trying to keep to the schedules on Mega Rider Monday (as well as the traffic).

Whereas First, Go-Ahead, Transdev, Rotala, Stagecoach and Arriva all have single operator season tickets, some of Greater Manchester’s operators do not have them. If your regular bus is operated by Stott’s Tours or MCT Travel for example, you are covered by the System One/GetMeThere passes. Which is useful if you also travel on other operators’ buses, though expensive if you only use MCT Travel or Stott’s Tours routes.

January 2024?

If you regularly commute between Horwich and Chorley, or Oldham to Huddersfield, single operator season tickets may still be available. Subject to the operator’s discretion and GMCA permit clauses, the area inside Greater Manchester may be covered.

For travel within Greater Manchester, most single operator season tickets may be superseded by System One/GetMeThere tickets. It is anticipated that 2024’s multi-franchisee season tickets would be the same price as the lowest priced single operator ticket.

Day rovers

January 2020

Since 1981, the Greater Manchester Wayfarer ticket has offered unlimited off-peak travel on buses and trains and (from 1998) trams across the City Region and most of the Peak National Park boundaries. This was followed by the Sunday Rover ticket that offered unlimited bus travel on Sundays and Bank Holidays in Greater Manchester.

Today’s System One Any Bus Day Saver is the spiritual successor to the Sunday Rover, launched in September 1998. This was also followed by Any Bus and Tram, Any Bus and Train, and Any Bus, Train and Tram day tickets.

Utilising a similar premise to the single operator season ticket is the single operator day saver ticket. Again, these are priced accordingly to maintain market share. In Greater Manchester, the average price of a single operator day rover is a fiver, which in some cases is less than two single fares. For another £1.00 (from the 05 January 2020), you could add another 30 operators to your ticket by opting for System One’s Any Bus Day Saver.

In addition to standard single operator day rover tickets like First Greater Manchester’s FirstDay, some operators have special rovers for specific routes. On two of First Greater Manchester’s three Tameside routes (the 348 and 350), you can a get a special ticket for travel within the Tameside area. For certain routes there is added variety, but the benefits of any special offer is eroded if one route is operated by another company after 7pm.

Once again, if your regular bus company does not issue its own day rovers, you have the System One/GetMeThere tickets to fall back on. Which is expensive if you only use a single operator that does not issue its own day rovers or season tickets.

January 2024?

If you planning a cross-boundary day out from Oldham to Huddersfield, it should be business as usual if you only want to board FirstGroup’s trans-Pennine bus route over the tops. Likewise with operators of other cross-boundary services. Supposing you want to go to Derbyshire or parts of Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire, TfGM’s Wayfarer ticket should still be with us in 2024.

For bus travel within Greater Manchester, most single operator day rovers may be superseded by System One/GetMeThere tickets. 2024’s multi-franchisee day rover could be the same price as the lowest priced single operator day rover.

Multimodal ticketing

January 2020

Following the introduction of Saver Travel Club’s SaverSeven pass in 1975, there has been some degree of multimodal ticketing for 45 years. Before the Wayfarer ticket was introduced in 1981, it was the preserve of SaverSeven pass holders.

For a modest journey like Glossop to Stalybridge, the Wayfarer ticket can be overkill when a single operator ticket would suffice in most cases. From Castleton [Derbyshire] to Castleton [Rochdale], a boon. Hence the introduction of more pocket friendly bus/train/tram day rovers in 1998.

Unless you have a Countycard or a multimodal System One day rover or a TfGM Wayfarer, changing modes for a short journey can be expensive or unwieldy. Say for example you live in Micklehurst and need to go to Stalybridge. Before 6pm you could catch the 343 bus, no hassle whatsoever.

After 6pm, you need to catch a 350 to Mossley station and take the train to Stalybridge. For casual users, this means a Bus and Train day saver – for the price of a single taxi fare from Winterford Road to Armentieres Square. Or you could change at Ashton, but you need an Any Bus Day Saver. This is fine if you are making a return journey or wish to travel further afield. It is expensive and unnecessarily unwieldy if you are only making a single journey.

Ideally, there should be a bus from Mossley to Stalybridge after 6pm, but that option hasn’t existed since April 2019 thanks to cuts to tendered services. Post-6pm journeys on the 343 would have made our passenger’s life easier – without having to change modes.

For longer multimodal journeys in Greater Manchester (say, Appley Bridge to Partington) the System One Train and Bus Day Saver is a no brainer. If you wish to go from Stalybridge to Mossley by bus one way and take the train on your way back, two single fares for each mode. Plus you need to wary of the AM and PM peak hour restrictions on weekdays.

In London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (yes, under a deregulated bus network as well via the Transfare ticket) and many European cities, short distance multimodal ticketing is the norm.

January 2024?

It is hoped that the simplification of fare tables to one City Region table may improve multimodal ticketing. Further to Greater Manchester’s present and future multimodal offerings, single fares could follow suit by being transferable on local trains and trams. If you travel from Mossley to Stalybridge by bus and train, the fare could be the same across any mode. Audenshaw to Clayton? The same by tram as well as along the 216 bus.

Where next?

For travel within Greater Manchester, the benefits of a more simplified fares system may win friends among casual and regular passengers. As for a standard set of bus, tram and train fares across the whole of the City Region, even more so.

Understandably there may be some confusion on cross-boundary routes. Like concessionary fares, adult fares (say east of Woolley Bridge) will vary outside of Greater Manchester. Unless concessionary bus fares in Glossop fall into line with present-day System One boundaries, which cover Wilmslow, New Mills, Hayfield and Tintwistle.

As today’s operators of cross-boundary routes offer season tickets for use outside Greater Manchester, I could still see there being a case for their retention in 2024. They might only be valid on specific cross-boundary routes rather than local routes they may operate inside Greater Manchester. Which in the short term might cause some grief among passengers.

As for boosting cross-boundary bus travel, here’s another argument for another blog post.

From the 02 to the 05 January 2020, some of Greater Manchester’s bus operators will be revising their fares. System One and GetMeThere travel card prices will also be revised on the 05 January 2020.

S.V., 31 December 2019.

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