Mayor of GM
Andy Burnham has announced that he will bring forward plans to reduce bus fares across Greater Manchester.
The new fares - capped at £2 for an adult and £1 for a child for a single bus journey - will come into force from 1 September 2022, pending agreement from the bus companies. There will also be a multi-operator ticket, similar to AnyBus, available at £5 for one day.
Use the buses and help us build the Bee Network that the city region desperately needs
Mr Burnham brought forward the plans by a year in order to help with the cost of living crisis, stating: "Myself and the 10 leaders of Greater Manchester have agreed this change, to respond to the cost of living crisis.
"We think it's incumbent on us all to do everything that we possibly can to help people at this particular moment in time, and we're confident that a flat two pound fare for a single journey in Greater Manchester will massively help people.
"We are doing our best to help in these difficult times and we hope this offer will put money in people's pockets, particularly ahead of rises in energy bills in October."
The first day of fully reregulated services is due to be 17 September 2023. It is then that we can expect further developments regarding ticketing integration with the tram and the full hopper ticket.
Reregulation, or franchising, is the process whereby the GMCA can exert control over timetables and fares on the bus networks, which have been deregulated since 1986. Currently, fares and routes are set by private bus companies. Due to the scale of the change from the current deregulated market to a fully franchised system, franchising will be introduced in phases across a number of years in different areas of Greater Manchester.
The virtuous circular
Key to Mr Burnham's plans is increasing the number of people choosing to use public transport. Describing the effect as "a virtuous circle", the mayor outlined how attracting more passengers meant that fares could be kept low, and in time the scope and frequency of routes could be improved.
The pandemic caused a wobble as the numbers of public transport users plummeted. The numbers of bus users are now around 80% of the pre-pandemic total and it is key to the virtuous circle effect to keep that figure increasing.
Last year, Confidentials wrote: "The secret ingredient to making Manchester's public transport great is encouraging attitude change. Put simply, we need to think of ourselves as a city of bus and tram users rather than car drivers."
Mr Burnham appealed to GM residents to help him secure the new, lower prices permanently, saying: "My big message today to the people of Greater Manchester - your city region needs you. Use the buses so that we can make these lower fares a permanent feature of our city region, use the buses and help us build the Bee Network that the city region desperately needs."
While the headlines are rosy, the details are yet to be fully secured. As the ticket changes come ahead of full reregulation, the new fares are dependent on reaching an agreement with the bus companies.
As the companies will not make a financial loss from the plan Mr Burnham is confident that they will come to an agreement, arguing that it is in everyone's interests to increase bus usage.
Another potential fly in the public transport cure-all ointment is the threat of legal challenge that still hovers over the process. Mr Burnham's franchising plans were challenged by Stagecoach and Rotala last year., and were dismissed by the courts. While Stagecoach opted not to pursue any further legal action, Rotala launched an appeal on four grounds.
On 5 May, the Court of Appeal dismissed two of those appeals as "hopeless", however Rotala was granted leave to appeal on the other two technical points. This appeal is due to be heard soon.
At a recent meeting of the GM Transport committee, members asked whether the Court of Appeal could add any further delay to the process. It was confirmed that despite this legal action, progress was being made on the current tranche, however, re-phasing may have to be considered if necessary.
Funding and fares
The GM Transport Committee meeting noted several worries, including the reduced levels of public transport use and the fact that promised levels of funding have not yet been delivered by central government.
Funding for the mayor's ambitious transport plans draws mainly from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (£1,070m over five years) and funding for Bus Service Improvement plans. The Government has made it clear that lowering fares and investing in measures to improve bus journey times are the two key priorities for BSIP funding.
However, as Greater Manchester only received around half of the BSIP funding it needs from the Government, the fare caps will need to be reviewed annually, with the first review in September 2023.
Mr Burnham recently gave evidence to the Lords' Built Environment Committee inquiry on public transport in towns and cities. The Lords praised the work carried out so far and especially lauded the mayor's decision to appoint Vernon Everitt as the new Transport Commissioner.
While buses are moving ahead, it is felt that active travel needs to keep up, as recent travel plans showed that the scale of GM's ambitions for walking and cycling had reduced.
The final message from the mayor? "Use the bus. Use the tram. It's a pretty simple message. We are taking a risk, by going early on the lower, flat fare structure but it's the right thing to do because people need help now."
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