Transport for Greater Manchester is conducting a further consultation following one last year on plans to franchise the city’s bus network, to assess whether the pandemic has changed people’s minds.
The franchising proposals are part of Greater Manchester’s 10-year Our Network plan to improve and integrate the city’s public transport network and make journeys easier and more affordable.
Currently in the city-region, the private bus companies decide the routes, frequencies, fares and standards and there is no coordination or links between the different services.
Under franchising, bus services would be brought under local control, with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority responsible for the network. It would coordinate and invest in the network based on the services passengers need, with bus operators contracted to run the service.
Although the GMCA would take on greater financial risk under the franchise model, it would also have the freedom to run the network in the most cost-efficient way possible, based on demand.
The last consultation on the proposals, conducted between October 2019 and January this year, received 8,500 responses, with four-out-of-five respondents supporting the franchising scheme.
Launching another round of public consultation this week, TfGM noted that, depending on the impacts of Covid-19, the authorities might have to make “difficult choices” about the network in future to manage the risks.
However, it added: “Despite the additional financial risks, the net benefits of franchising for Greater Manchester are still likely to be higher and more deliverable than other options – such as entering into a partnership with bus operators, or making no change to the bus market – and so will provide value for money.”
Both before and during the pandemic, 75% of public transport journeys in the city-region have been made by bus, and the network provides a crucial link to work, education and essential services, especially for some of the city-region’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, TfGM added.
The new consultation, accessible through gmconsult.org, seeks the public’s updated views on the proposals, in light of the pandemic and following a ‘Covid impact’ report produced by TfGM. The consultation runs until midnight on Friday 29 January 2021.
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.
“Covid-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty over how people will travel in future. So, TfGM has looked at the impact of Covid-19 on both the bus market and our proposed franchising scheme, and we’re now consulting on our proposals in light of this report.”
Should a franchised bus network be introduced, it would be rolled out in several phases, TfGM said.