Greater Manchester buses could go public again

Greater Manchester will consult on bringing the region’s bus network back into public control – making it the first place in the country to use new powers over buses.

Council leaders gave their unanimous support to their franchising plan, which could cost more than £134 million to implement.

Bus operators such as Stagecoach have long opposed reform, while Labour politicians and unions have given their backing.

And it has been suggested that a move to a London-style bus network could be also supported with government funding.

Under the proposals, mayor Andy Burnham and fellow Greater Manchester leaders would take over route planning, fare setting and connecting the bus network with other forms of public transport through a franchised system.

A public consultation on the plans will start on October 14, with members of the public urged to have their say on the matters.

If approved, Greater Manchester would be the first region to bring back regulation since Margaret Thatcher privatised all bus networks outside of London in 1986.

At a meeting of the combined authority on Monday, Trafford council leader Andrew Western said: “I think it’s absolutely right that we have a transport system in Greater Manchester that is fit for purpose.”

Oldham council leader Sean Fielding added: “If it’s good enough for London, it’s good enough for Greater Manchester.”

With the government recently announcing a ‘long term funding package’ for authorities with aspirations of franchising, Coun Fielding said prime minister Boris Johnson ‘gets it’ having served as the capital’s former mayor.

“I hope that he does follow through with the money it seems like he’s pledging to support,” he said.

Councillor Fielding also said bus operators are currently unaccountable, telling colleagues how as a council leader he is reduced to ‘tweeting like a troll’ at First in order to get answers about basic service problems.

He asked: “If I can’t even get accountability and get First to act upon the concerns I’m raising, then what hope does a member of the public have?” 

Bus regulation has been high on the agenda of regional Labour politicians ever since the signing of the devolution deal in 2014.

The cost of transitioning to a regulated service, from now until 2024/25, is estimated at £134.5m. 

Most of the funding is expected to come from the government, but just under £23m is expected to come from council tax rises – equating to an £18.20 hike for Band D properties by 2024.

But the bus industry consortium OneBus has estimated that tax rises will go up to £68.10 a year for the average household.

Gary Nolan, chief executive of OneBus, says their own £100 million partnership proposals would ‘deliver the transformation people want to see far quicker than a franchising model, and without additional cost for taxpayers’.

But Salford’s deputy mayor John Merry suggested ‘disinformation about the alleged cost of franchising’ had been spread by objectors.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, he said: “I know that the system as it stands at the moment is fragmented and chaotic and I’m looking to a franchised system to bring a degree of stability and order.”

The consultation will go live at 12pm on October 14 at www.gmconsult.org .

 


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