Greater Manchester is set to greatly overhaul the way bus services are run by re-taking control of the region’s services back from private companies.
In a meeting on October 7th, leaders of Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) are expected to set in motion a public consultation into bus franchising.
The plan would see the implementation of a London-style bus system across Greater Manchester over the next five years, with private companies contracted to run the services, but any profits made would be reinvested back into the buses.
It is hoped that the changes, if implemented, will increase routes around the region, cap fares, and improve services all around for residents.
However, private companies such as Stagecoach have opposed the move in favour of a partnership approach, which they claim would address “car congestion and air quality, which everyone agrees are two of the biggest challenges facing the region”.
In a statement, Stagecoach also highlighted the cost of transforming the bus network, writing: “The mayor has provided no evidence to support his claim that franchising is better than a partnership approach and he is keeping Greater Manchester’s taxpayers in the dark about the massive bill they would have to pay for a London-style bus system.
“People in Manchester and districts across the region must be asking why Transport for Greater Manchester has needlessly spent £23m of taxpayers money on consultants’ reports assessing franchising, when practical improvements have been delayed and the partnership solutions are already staring politicians in the face.”
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, deputy mayor Sir Richard Leese disputed this, saying: “One of the things that bus companies have said previously was that franchising was going to cost a small fortune, and yes it’s going to be expensive to implement but nothing like the cost they were predicting.
“It will be a more effective way of doing things that ought to make it easier and have more routes for residents.”
An independent audit has estimated the cost of implementing the plan between now and 2024/25 at £134.5m, a cost that the audit concluded GMCA and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) could afford.
The funding is currently being budgeted locally, although local media has cited “positive” talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson, transport secretary Grant Shapps, and Mayor Andy Burnham, about government funding.
If the plan goes ahead, it would see Greater Manchester become the first region other than the capital to regulate its own bus services since Margaret Thatcher privatised all bus networks outside of London in 1986.