Greater Manchester to take control of buses

Bus franchising given green light despite Stagecoach claiming the consultation process was unlawful

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has made the decision to proceed with plans to franchise the city’s bus network. It will mean Greater Manchester will be the first city-region outside London to have buses that are under local control, allowing local leaders to set routes, frequencies, fares and tickets.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) undertook a public consultation in December 2020 and January 2021 after re-evaluating its previously announced franchising plans in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The change faces a legal challenge from Stagecoach.

The proposed scheme would be introduced in three phases in January 2023, January 2024 and January 2025.

Stagecoach believes that GMCA’s consultation process has failed to meet the standards on proper process, evidence and analysis required by law. In February 2021, Stagecoach submitted an application for a judicial review on that basis and that application is now scheduled to be considered by the court on 27 and 28 May 2021.

A statement from the operators said: “We are disappointed and surprised that the Mayor has chosen to push ahead with these proposals and not wait a short time for the outcome of the judicial review process before making any final decisions.

“The UK Government’s recently announced National Bus Strategy for England has outlined a route-map and funding for regions across England to secure the immediate future of local bus networks. The strategy also encourages bus operators and authorities to work together to plan a package of improvements for customers and local communities. The planned franchising scheme in Greater Manchester would incur £135m of transition costs that would not deliver any new buses or new services and, under GMCA plans, would see above-inflation fares increases for customers.

“We believe a better approach in line with the government’s bus strategy would be to work together and focus precious taxpayer funding on practical improvements for customers and local communities.

“While we await the decision of the court, we remain ready to work collaboratively with the Mayor and the Combined Authority to get through the pandemic and ensure the region has a sustainable, high quality bus network for the long term.”

Further responses

A spokesperson from Manchester-based Go North West responded to the announcement: “Go-Ahead Group operates buses in a wide variety of regulatory environments across the UK. We are liaising with Transport for Greater Manchester on creating a system that works best for passengers.

“Arrangements for a smooth transition will be needed, and we have suggested that as an interim step, TfGM and all operators come together to create a partnership to rebuild passenger numbers after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Go North West is currently in a dispute with members of trade union Unite over pay and work practice changes.

Unite North West regional secretary Ritchie James said: “Bus franchising in Greater Manchester will go a long way to creating a level playing field for passengers and workers.

“It is essential that franchising contracts include strict rules on minimum employment standards so that bus companies can’t undercut each other by cutting workers’ pay and conditions and creating a race to the bottom.

“What is beyond doubt is that Go North West’s bully boy fire and rehire tactics will have no place in a bus franchising operation and the days of running round Manchester in entirely inadequate vehicles which don’t meet established standards, are at an end.

“Unite is committed to working with the mayor Andy Burnham to ensure that the franchising system is a success for passengers and bus workers.”


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