Bus franchising, £2 fare caps, new commissioners - it's all change for Greater Manchester's public transport

A year ago almost to the day, Boris Johnson launched his flagship National Bus Strategy calling for a “bus revolution” and promising to deliver better services for passengers across England. 

Since then we've had Andy Burnham reelected on a transport mandate, tanks (buses) on the lawns at the Conservative party conference, Chris Boardman stepping down as Transport Commissioner, the CAZ saga, Stagecoach drama and more.

People need to be able to get to where they want to go without having to spend as much as £4 on a single trip.

Today Mr Burnham announced his plans for public transport in Greater Manchester. At an event at Escape to Freight Island, saying:

"This is the start of a new era for greater Manchester... come on this journey with us. We can level ourselves up. We can make sure that all parts of manchester feel the benefit."

Andy Burnham Speaking At Escape To Freight Island In Manchester
Andy Burnham speaks at Escape To Freight Island in Manchester Image: Confidentials

  • Fare cap of £2 for adults, £1 for children
  • Plans supported by £1.2bn five-year investment programme
  • Regulated buses first introduced in Bolton and Wigan as well as parts of Salford and west Manchester from next autumn (2023)
  • Bury, Rochdale, Oldham and areas of north Manchester to follow in spring 2024
  • Final tranche covering Stockport, Trafford, Tameside, south Manchester and remaining parts of Salford to run by end of 2024

The announcement comes after a legal challenge brought by bus operators against the city region’s bus franchising plans was dismissed by the court and the transport team were finally able to initiate plans that were set in place after Mr Burnham's election.

Ahead of the announcement, Mayor Andy Burnham said Greater Manchester was "developing a blueprint" for other city regions to follow when it comes to connecting villages, towns and cities.

He added: "People need to be able to get to where they want to go without having to spend as much as £4 on a single trip.

"My ambition is that soon here in Greater Manchester it will be simpler, cheaper and more reliable to get around on public transport.

“We will make travelling by public transport more appealing, easier and, significantly, put our people before profits.

“Government has signalled its intention to support our ambitions many times over and we now need them to work in partnership with us, to help us turn our shared vision into a reality.”

02 07 19 Manchester Bus
Stagecoach lost its judicial review against bus franchising Image: Confidentials

How will the new fares work?

The new system will cap adult fares for a single journey at £2, while children pay no more than £1, on any bus.

This echoes the system in London, where you pay £1.65 for any single bus journey. As in London, you will be able to hop on and off any bus within a specified time frame, meaning changing buses will count as "one journey". The proposed time frame is one hour.

The structure for return tickets is still under consideration, though it will most likely be some sort of travel card as seen on the Metrolink at present. The ticketing system will eventually make the trams and buses part of one system.

Franchising means that individual bus operators will still operate in Greater Manchester, but that they will need to bid for routes and abide by regulations set by TfGM - such as routes and fares. Buses will also adopt the yellow and black bee network livery. 

When does it start? 

Bolton, Wigan and parts of Salford and West Manchester will the first areas to receive franchised services, in autumn 2023 followed by Bury, Rochdale, Oldham and areas of North Manchester in spring 2024. South Manchester, Tameside, parts of Salford and Trafford will follow at the end of that year.

Deansgate Castlefield Tram Station Was Closed Due To The Conservative Party Conference Coming To Manchester
The Conservative party conference disrupted travel last year Image: Confidentials

Show me the money

Improving public transport connectivity into and between Greater Manchester’s major centres and other growth locations is a key part of proposals contained within the Bee Network vision – which will be supported by an initial £1.2bn five-year programme of investment, with £438m worth of investment to improve buses, routes and services, including:

  • £205m for new electric buses and infrastructure, supporting a move to a cleaner, greener city-region;
  • £202m to improve bus services, with new quality bus lanes, corridors, and junctions to improve connectivity between towns and cities; and
  • £30m to improve bus passenger information, fares and ticketing

The funding has been initially agreed with the government after talks at last year's Conservative party conference. Mr Burnham surprised many by managing to persuade ministers to part with £1.07 billion in capital funding.

At the time, the mayor said: “As welcome as it is, infrastructure investment alone will not make levelling up feel real to the people of Greater Manchester. That will only happen when the frequency and coverage of bus services are increased and fares are lowered to London levels.”

“So we are now hopeful that the Government will soon build on this foundation and match this allocation with revenue funding to make our Bee Network vision a reality.”

While the transport infrastructure of Greater Manchester has been severely underfunded, there is concern that looking to TfL as a model ignores the fact that the London network is running at a deficit. Indeed, TfL issued this press release, warning that current funding levels are tantamount to "managed decline'.

Vernon Everitt New Transport Commsioner For Manchester Credit Tfl
Vernon Everitt, the new transport commissioner for Greater Manchester Image: TfL

Welcoming the new Transport Commissioner 

This ambitious set of plans is underpinned by the appointment of a new Transport Commissioner, Vernon Everitt. 

Mr Everitt was TfL’s pandemic “recovery” director and previously held a key role in preparing for the 2012 Olympics. His focus at TfL was exploring how technology and open data can improve journeys and customer experience. He will no doubt be looking at partnerships with Manchester's thriving tech sector to deliver improvements.

Prior to joining TfL in 2007, Vernon Everitt spent 10 years at the Financial Services Authority and 18 years at the Bank of England in a variety of banking, regulatory, corporate and communications roles. Mr Everitt, known as “Big V”, was born in Dagenham and his ascent within TfL is seen as being a testament to his talent and corporate knowledge. He was previously tipped for the role of London Transport Commissioner, so is in good stead to help Mr Burnham achieve his "London-style" transport aims.

Mr Everitt said: “It is a privilege to be given the responsibility to help write the next chapter of Greater Manchester’s ambitious and truly transformational transport story. The Bee Network vision sets out a compelling plan for better transport and I will bring all my experience to the table to ensure we deliver it.

“Our integrated transport network will unlock access to opportunity and public services, and drive reduced carbon emissions and improved wellbeing, benefitting everyone who lives, works or visits here. I look forward to working with the mayor, councils, transport operators and people across Greater Manchester to deliver a world-class public transport system.”

2019 25 07 Health And Care Board Active Soles
Staff are encouraged to wear trainers as part of Active Soles to encourage walking or running to work Image: Hayley Lever

New Active Travel Commissioner announced

While Chris Boardman was originally the Active Travel Commissioner and the Transport Commissioner, the two roles have been separated. The new Active Travel Commissioner is Dame Sarah Storey, Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian as a cyclist and swimmer. 

She has previously held the same role for the Sheffield City Region.

Dame Storey has worked as a policy advocate for British Cycling, in particular with a view to road safety and access to cycling for women and people with disabilities.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours.

Sarah said: "I’m very privileged to be coming home to work in Greater Manchester and to be building on the work of Chris Boardman. I live and breathe the benefits of walking and cycling every day."

Main image: an old orange Manchester bus courtesy of Wikicommons

Read next: Andy Burnham on Manchester's climate goals - 'I see this as an economic opportunity for us'

Read again: Opinion: 'Andy Burnham is a victim of his own popularity'

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