Franchising appears to be only one of the options Transport for Greater Manchester is considering as part of a strategy to increase bus use by 2040.
In its wide-ranging 23-year transport vision, TfGM says: ‘We will seek to make best use of any powers included in the Bus Services Bill, as well as our existing powers, to give effect to our vision for the bus. Advanced quality partnerships, bus franchising, advanced ticketing schemes, better information and enhanced partnerships…may be beneficial in achieving our vision.’
Although TfGM had been expected to take advantage of the franchising powers that will become available to combined authorities with elected mayors, the front runner in this year’s mayoral election, Labour MP Andy Burnham, is believed to be keen for changes that will bring quicker results than a protracted move to franchising, with likely legal arguments between the authority and existing large operators.
In the Commons debate on 1 March on the second reading of the Bill, Burnham described bus deregulation as ‘an experiment’ that has been ‘a total disaster’ in which ‘fares have gone up and services have been withdrawn from poorer, often isolated communities’.
TfGM contrasts a stagnant market for bus travel over the past 15 years with a 50% growth in ridership on regional trains and its expanded Metrolink tram system.
‘The multiplicity of operators means that the bus network lacks a consistent identity and cannot be marketed either as a recognised commuter brand, like Metrolink, or as part of a wider public transport network.’
It aims to create a unified brand for bus services, integrate them with each other and other transport modes, with simplified and integrated fares that offer value for money and what it calls ‘a great customer experience’ with high standards of on-board and passenger waiting facilities.
The strategy envisages buses feeding into trams and trains. ‘Appropriate levels of bussing provided on routes will be aligned with levels of demand. Frequencies will be increased on some routes and at some times of day to better meet people’s needs, particularly for access to work and training.’