Greater Manchester is launching a further public consultation on its proposals to reform the bus market; following a new report on the impact of Covid-19.
People and organisations from Greater Manchester and beyond are being encouraged to take part in the consultation at gmconsult.org.
The consultation runs until midnight on Friday 29 January 2021.
Buses will be central to “Our Network”, Greater Manchester’s 10-year plan for a its integrated public transport network.
Both before and during the pandemic, 75% of public transport journeys in the city-region have been made by bus and they provide a critical link to work, education and essential services, especially for some of Greater Manchester’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Currently in Greater Manchester the bus companies decide the routes, frequencies, fares and standards.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) said this is done with “no coordination and limited oversight”.
It said that where bus companies decide not to run services, where necessary, “the public sector pays to fill in the gaps”.
Under franchising, bus services would be brought under local control.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) would coordinate and invest in the bus network based on the services passengers need.
The bus operators would be contracted by GMCA to run the services.
Last year, between October 2019 and January 2020, Greater Manchester held a consultation on a proposed bus franchising scheme.
Over 8,500 individuals and organisations from across Greater Manchester and beyond responded to the previous consultation, with four-out-of-five respondents, who answered the relevant question, supporting the proposed franchising scheme.
“…Franchising is still the best option…”
In June, GMCA noted the results of the consultation and that, before a final decision was made, TfGM would produce a Covid-19 Impact Report considering how the pandemic had affected the bus reform process.
TfGM has used four scenarios in the report that look at potential future travel demand in Greater Manchester and what it could mean for GMCA’s proposals to change how buses are run.
Under all scenarios, TfGM’s report proposes that “franchising is still the best option to achieve Greater Manchester’s long-term ambition for a fully integrated public transport system and GMCA still has funding available to pay for the transition to franchising”.
Under franchising, GMCA would be responsible for the bus network and that means it would have more of the financial responsibility and the risks.
Depending on the impacts of Covid-19, GMCA said it might have to make “difficult choices” about the bus network in the future to manage these financial risks - such as providing further funding or making reductions to the network.
However, GMCA said that even if it entered into a partnership with bus operators or making no change to the bus market – there would still be difficult choices as GMCA would need to pay to fill more of the gaps in the commercial bus network.
GMCA said it would also have to do this with no overall coordination and none of the other benefits of franchising.
Sir Richard Leese, deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Buses are at the heart of our public transport network.
“They are an essential part of people’s lives and during the pandemic, they ensured key workers could get to their jobs and others could travel to work and education or help those in need.
“However, our buses could be better.
“We want them to be part of an integrated transport network, so getting around Greater Manchester is easy, accessible and affordable, with simple fares and customer information and a better experience for customers.”
Following the consultation the responses will be independently analysed and reported to GMCA, who will consider the responses alongside the outcome of the previous consultation.
The outcome of both consultations would then be considered as part of the final decision by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on whether or not to implement the proposed franchising scheme.
The decision is anticipated to take place in spring 2021.
If a franchised bus network was introduced, it would take place in several phases.
Greater Manchester would coordinate the bus network and contract bus companies to run the services.