January 27 2021

Our Head of Policy Alison Edwards writes about the need for a partnership approach to improve bus services for passengers.

It is vital that any change to bus services has passengers at the heart so that the services will suit their needs.

Under bus franchising, local authorities have control over all bus routes and operators must bid for contracts to run their buses on these routes. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is closing their franchising consultation this week, which proposes switching from the current system to a franchising model. This would be an expensive, lengthy process that risks delaying improvements to services whilst increasing costs to the taxpayer.

We agree with the outcomes the GMCA wants to deliver for bus passengers - a joined up, integrated bus network, simple fares and ticketing and an improved customer experience – but along with our members believe we can get there quicker and more effectively through a partnership approach.

There are huge transitional costs involved in the move to a franchising model, which could ultimately end up being funded by the taxpayer. In 2019, a YouGov poll found that 76% of people in Greater Manchester do not want public transport improvements to result in higher taxes. We believe that money should instead be better spent on investments in bus priority measures that will make a real difference to passengers’ journeys by making them faster, more reliable and accessible to all.

Switching to a franchising system would also be a lengthy process and instead we should focus on delivering real improvements to bus services as soon as possible. Congestion slows bus journey times and so is currently a major deterrent from catching the bus, but by implementing bus priority measures in transport planning we can keep buses out of traffic. There are a range of measures that could achieve this, including bus lanes, bus only roads and park and ride.

We know that a partnership approach works. Bristol’s bus partnership has seen passenger numbers grow by 52% since 2013, and over the past seven years, Sheffield’s bus partnership has delivered more than a million extra adult journeys by bus. Throughout the pandemic it has been clear that bus operators and local authorities can work together for the good of the communities they serve. They have worked collaboratively to change services, often at short notice, to make sure that essential journeys could continue in a way that best suited passengers’ needs.

We urge the GMCA and other local authorities to look at working collaboratively with bus operators to deliver real, value for money improvements for passengers and drive growth in patronage instead of switching to a franchising system.