Manchester operators propose £100m investment to stave off franchising

Greater Manchester’s bus operators have made a pre-emptive strike in the battle for hearts and minds as the region’s mayor Andy Burnham considers bus franchising plans. Under the OneBus umbrella, the consortium of 18 operators have proposed a partnership which they value at £100million involving 450 new buses over the next three years with a third delivered in 2020.

The operators’ plans also calls a two-year price freeze on multi-operator bus fares, and an action plan for Transport for Greater Manchester and other agencies to tackle congestion hotspots, speed up journeys and cut gridlock. The operators have also conceded one of Burnham’s possible demands, the idea of a single unified brand identity for all bus services, albeit with individual operator buses identifiable as part of the partnership.

On congestion, the operators claim that it is already negatively impacting on bus punctuality, costs and fares, while also damaging public confidence in buses, and they point out that more than a third of the vehicles are diesel cars, contributing to the growing air quality crisis.

“Buses are central to the future of Greater Manchester and this positive package of proposals can make a real difference to tackling the biggest challenges facing our communities: road congestion and air quality,” says Gary Nolan, chief executive, OneBus. “Building on the significant investment already made by operators, there is a window of opportunity for everyone to work together to deliver a revolution in the region’s bus network that puts customers first and offers excellent value for both passengers and public investment.

“Franchising is being presented as a zero cost guaranteed route to better bus services, but this is a myth. The major investments we are proposing can be delivered far quicker through a partnership approach and without the risk and extra cost under any alternative model.”