First of Greater Manchester’s re-regulated bus contracts awarded
Disappointment as next steps made towards bus franchising in Greater Manchester
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has awarded the first of its re-regulated bus network contracts to Diamond Buses and Go-Ahead Group.
Go-Ahead’s Go North West operating company beat off competition from eight other operators bidding to run bus routes in both Wigan and Bolton from 17 September 2023.
The buses will be part of Manchester’s new Bee Network, which will have a common brand and integrated ticketing across the city’s public transport. Under the deal, Go North West will run 55 routes to the north and west of Manchester.
Go North West will be paid a fee to operate the buses and all fares collected will go to TfGM. Around 750 people will transfer to Go North West from existing bus operators.
Diamond Bus North West has been selected to operate seven of the 11 franchises issued by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in the north western part of Greater Manchester.
Diamond Buses is disappointed that after three years of investing in its Bolton depot and Greater Manchester fleet that it has not won a large franchise opportunity in this first tranche of the franchising scheme.
A statement from the operator said: “Having recently won Bolton Large Business of the Year and numerous awards at the 2022 UK Bus Awards, we had hoped this would have been the beginning of our journey to a successful operating partnership as a large franchise operator in the region. We feel our bid provided a strong, viable proposal, which included the provision of new modern and environmentally friendly vehicles for the people of Greater Manchester. Although we are disappointed, we respect the decision of TfGM/GMCA and will work closely with them to ensure a smooth transition to the new franchisee who will commence operation in September 2023.”
Under the Franchise framework, some of Diamond’s employees will be subject to a TUPE process. However, the operator is hopeful that it can retain as many as practically possible to continue its franchise work, which will operate from its depot in Eccles. Additionally it is anticipated that those in regional group roles will be retained to support the smaller North West and Preston Bus businesses.
The depot in Eccles is to be relocated to a new, purpose built state-of-the-art site nearby. The new depot will have capacity for over 100 vehicles. Due to the length of time in purchasing a site, obtaining planning permission and constructing the facility, additional parking, office and workshop capacity has been secured in the vicinity of the operator’s current site on an interim basis to enable the operation of the new franchises from September 2023. Over 60 brand new buses are expected to be delivered over the summer, for use on the new franchises.
Rotala has agreed in principle to sell the Bolton bus depot to the GMCA. In the interim period from completion of sale to GMCA and the commencement of the new successful franchise winner, Diamond will continue to operate from the Bolton depot in order to carry out all the bus services currently run from that site.
Diamond Bus North West intends, in September 2023 to dispose of the majority of the bus fleet currently based at the Bolton depot by placing these vehicles into the notional asset pool, from which GMCA will allocate vehicles to the new franchises. The incoming franchise operator will then purchase the vehicles allocated by the GMCA from Diamond Bus North West.
The statement from Diamond continued: “Diamond North West has been successful in the pre-qualification stages for participation in two further franchise rounds in the GMCA region. The second tranche of franchise awards is expected to be released later in 2023, and we look forward to a positive outcome from these.”
Biggest change in 40 years
The move towards a re-regulated bus network in Manchester is the spearhead of a wider interest in bus franchising across various local authorities.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Franchising will enable us to better integrate services as part of a joined-up network, with simpler fares and ticketing, a price cap so no one pays more than they need to, a better customer service offer and a single look for the whole network.
“Passengers are at the very core of our Bee Network vision and when we talk about local accountability, we really mean it – that is why at the heart of our contracts with operators will be a performance regime that will influence operator payments based on those factors that we know are of most importance to customers, including punctuality, reliability and customer complaints.
“The move to franchising is the biggest change to public transport for almost 40 years and today is a significant step on our journey as we appoint operators to run the very first franchised services from September next year and I am especially pleased that both operators provided strong social value plans, with commitments around recruitment and pay in line with the city-region’s Good Employment Charter.”