CTA’s Response to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Bus Consultation
by Suzanne Lau
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority recently launched a consultation on improving bus services in Greater Manchester, which closed earlier this month. The consultation set out three potential options for change, including franchising.
Greater Manchester is the first city-region in the UK to launch a public consultation on franchising, and the proposed changes have the potential to transform the way that buses are run in the region and set a precedent for how they are run elsewhere in the UK.
So, what was the consultation about, and why is it so important for bus users in Greater Manchester, as well as the rest of the UK?
All bus services outside of London are currently deregulated, with bus companies controlling the routes, timetables, fares and standards on their services. Alongside this, they receive the revenue from fares and retain the profits.
Bus services make up around 75% of all public transport trips within Greater Manchester (around 190m trips each year). Since the buses were deregulated in the 1980s, bus patronage has been falling year on year – a trend that is forecast to continue, with trips predicted to fall to around 140m per year over the next twenty years.
What does the consultation propose?
To stem and hopefully reverse this decline, GMCA are consulting on three potential options for future bus services.
Do Minimum – continuing services as they are currently run
New partnership – setting up a voluntary partnership agreement or legal scheme with commercial operators to improve services. Under this arrangement, operators and transport authorities could work together to define and agree a set of measures to improve services. This is a cheaper and potentially less risky option; however, operators would continue to take the revenue on fares and make commercial decisions on how services should be run in terms of routes, timetables and fares, and the terms of the voluntary partnership are currently unclear.
Proposed Franchising Scheme:
GMCA would specify the bus services it wants delivered and set routes and frequency of services, fare prices and types, vehicle specifications, and customer service standards. These services would then be put out for tender and operators would compete on the basis of price and quality of bids to deliver the service(s).
A service permit scheme would be in operation for some cross-boundary services, allowing operators from outside the franchised area to run services into and within Greater Manchester
It is currently unclear how community transport services will be affected by the scheme
Following a detailed assessment of the strategic, economic, commercial and financial aspects of the scheme, GMCA have concluded that the Proposed Franchising Scheme is most likely to be able to deliver the terms of their vision for the future of buses.
CTA support the Proposed Franchising Scheme as the best way of improving bus services in Greater Manchester. On top of this, we:
emphasised the value of CT services in Greater Manchester
pointed out that some of the requirements for greener vehicles may have cost implications for the community transport sector
asked that GMCA consider integrating community transport services into franchise arrangements
asked for greater clarity on how section 22 services would fit within the franchising arrangement
pushed for greater accessibility
asked that social value metrics be included in contracts
recommended a more meaningful consultation exercise for bus users
Community Transport Association UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Cardiff no. 1985361 Registered office: 12 Hilton Street M1 1JF. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1002222. Charity Registered in Scotland No. SC038518.