Manchester bus franchising debate continues

A bus franchising scheme in Greater Manchester could be given the go-ahead in spring 2021.

Greater Manchester is preparing to hold a further consultation on its proposals to reform the bus market following work to understand the potential impact of Covid-19. At a planned meeting on 27 November, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) will be asked to give the go-ahead to a consultation on the potential impacts of Covid-19 on both Greater Manchester’s bus market and its proposed franchising scheme. This follows an earlier consultation, held between October 2019 and January 2020, on the introduction of the proposed franchising scheme. A final decision on the proposal was planned for spring 2020, but this was delayed due to the impact of Covid-19.

Under franchising, bus services would be brought under local control. GMCA would coordinate the bus network and investment in the bus market. The operators would be contracted by GMCA to run the services. Of the 8,500 individuals and organisations who responded to the previous consultation, eight-out-of-ten said they would support the proposed franchising scheme. However, the proposed franchising scheme would mean more of the financial responsibility and risk would belong to GMCA and the public sector.

A decision on this is anticipated to take place in spring 2021.

If a franchised bus network was introduced, it would take place in several phases.

Recovery Partnerships recommended

Stagecoach has suggested the GMCA considers Recovery Partnerships as a means of improving Greater Manchester’s bus services post-pandemic.

Recovery Partnerships would involve an agreement between bus operators and local transport authorities to work together to deliver a new post Covid-19 bus network, including short and long-term measures to deliver a sustainable system to meet passenger priorities. Under the proposal, which has been submitted by bus operators to the DfT, Recovery Partnerships would be allocated ring-fenced funding focused on passenger improvements. There would be clear goals, incentives and measures of success for all parties, as well as the flexibility for local solutions to take account of local circumstances. These partnerships are designed to act as a bridge from the current interim arrangements to a longer-term commercially sustainable system.

Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach Chief Executive, said: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on all public transport networks across the country, regardless of how these systems are structured. The key lesson has been the positive impact from government, local authorities and public transport operators working in partnership to deliver the vital services that customers and communities need in very challenging circumstances.

“We believe there is a major opportunity to build on this strong collaboration to put in place new Recovery Partnerships to rebuild bus networks and attract passengers back. These would provide the framework, funding and flexibility to ensure bus networks coming out of the pandemic meet the changing needs of local communities, get people back to work, and maximise the power of buses to drive a green recovery.

“Our priority before and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been to provide safe, high quality and accessible public transport built around the needs of local people. We will continue to work constructively with stakeholders in Greater Manchester and elsewhere to deliver the best and most sustainable bus networks for communities for the long-term.”

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