As the Greater Manchester mayoral office deliberates on how best to organise bus services across the region a poll has shown that 76% of those questioned would prefer bus services to be re-regulated, on a model similar to London’s. The poll also showed that 82% agreed that local authorities “should have more control over bus services.
Currently local authorities have no control over setting the fares, ticketing and routes of around 80% of bus services in Greater Manchester (GM). Yet 40% of bus companies revenue is public money. Running bus services is a lucrative business for the private operators. In the North West alone an average of £18.4 million has been paid to shareholders every year for the last ten years. Over the last four years time 8 million miles of routes have been cut across GM.
Bus operators in the region such as Stagecoach and First Bus are opposed to the re-regulation of bus services, in a London style franchising model, and are pushing for a bus partnership model involving local authorities and the bus operators. Bus services in the UK (outside of London) were deregulated by the Thatcher government in 1986, allowing private firms to bid for routes previously run mainly by municipally owned bus operators. Since deregulation there has been a 40% drop in the number of journeys made in GM, while London’s franchised bus network model has seen a doubling of passenger journeys.
The survey, carried out by Survation in January 2019, involved online interviews of a representative sample of 1019 adults living in Manchester, in January 2019. The poll was commissioned by Better Buses for Greater Manchester (BBGM) who are campaigning for the adoption of re-regulated bus services in the region. Pascale Robinson, a spokesperson for BBGM, is critical of the bus partnership model proposals by the private operators:
“The proposals were full of short term sweeteners, as well as some misleading claims, which show how scared bus companies are of the reduced profit margins they make under regulation. Regulation forces bus companies to deliver more, partly because they are contracted out to deliver the services we need, so they make lower profit margins, meaning more can be invested into a good service. Bus company fat cats would instead prefer to carry on giving out £1.49 billion [nationally] to their shareholders over ten years”.
Both Stagecoach and First Bus have increased some bus fares for the second year running, some by as much as 6.6%. In London buses have a three year freeze on fares until 2020. Of those polled 77% indicated that the increase in fares in GM was not justified, while only 9% thought the rise was justified. When presented with information on private bus companies profits and the fare increases they have imposed, 63% indicated it was unfair that the companies were profiting so much at the expense of the public using the bus services (see graph below).
It is the GM Mayor Andy Burnham’s role to decide between regulation and partnerships over the next year, which could possibly set a precedent for other combined authorities to follow. Regulation offers local combined authorities control over fares, routes and timetables and the ability to introduce a simple smart card, as London’s Oyster card offers to passengers. The ability to cross-subsidise is also provided by regulation, funds from busy bus routes can be used to pay for socially necessary routes, meaning routes could be reinstated and the bus network expanded.
Robinson is keen for Burnham to heed the voice of the people when coming to his decision, saying:
“When Andy Burnham makes the decision on bus reform, we need him to listen to what people in Greater Manchester are saying clearly: we want and deserve a much better, regulated bus network. The deregulated system has left us with an expensive, stripped-back, fragmented bus network. A regulated network will mean a bus network run for communities, not shareholders.”
OneBus is a company representing 18 operators across Greater Manchester, that is backing the partnership model for GM. A spokesperson for OneBus said:
“A positive partnership between the Mayor and the region’s bus operators would deliver a winning package of improvements: one network, with a simple fares and ticketing system, which puts customers first and offers good value for both passengers and public investment.
“Manchester’s bus operators have proactively presented the Mayor with a package of benefits which could be delivered from 2019, far quicker than under any alternative franchise approach.”
The poll results show that, for those surveyed, a 75% majority favour local authorities being responsible for coordinating bus transport in GM, with 10% favouring central government, 9% favouring private companies (see graph below). And 72% of respondents said private bus companies should not try to influence public decisions around whether or not to regulate the bus network.
Better Buses for Greater Manchester has called a public meeting to discuss the issues surrounding bus regulation, with Jennifer Williams, politics editor of Manchester Evening News chairing the panel. The event will be on Wednesday 6th February, 6:30-8: 30PM, at the Manchester Art Gallery.
Public meeting Facebook page – click here
Better Buses for GM website – click here
Featured Image: Wikipedia Commons
Full list of poll questions and results:
Q1. In January 2019 some bus fares in Greater Manchester for both Stagecoach and First have increased for the second year running, some by as much as 6.6%. Comparatively, London’s buses have a three-year freeze on fares until 2020. Both First and Stagecoach say the increase in fares is due to rising costs. Campaigners argue this is unjustified as Greater Manchester’s bus network has lost 8 million miles of routes since 2010.
Which of the following comes closest to your view?
The increase in bus fares is justified 9%
The increase in bus fares is not justified 77%
Don’t know 14%
Q2. In the last ten years, shareholders of bus companies received £149 billion in dividend pay-outs. This is equivalent to one-tenth of the public money that goes into supporting bus services. In the North West, an average of £18.4 million has been paid to shareholders every year over the last ten years. Some have said this is unfair as fares have increased by 55% in the last ten years, while 8 million miles of bus routes have been cut in Greater Manchester since 2010. Private companies have argued that dividend payments are a fair return for investments in improving the network. £9 million was invested by Stagecoach in 2016 in Greater Manchester for new buses.
To what extent do you think it is fair or unfair that the shareholders of bus companies have received these yearly dividend payments?
Very fair 4%
Quite fair 12%
Neither fair nor unfair 16%
Quite unfair 33%
Very unfair 30%
Don’t know 5%
Q3. Currently the bus market in Greater Manchester is deregulated, meaning that private bus companies set the fares, routes, timetables, and have various ticketing structures. They are not required to run routes they do not want to. In London where the market was never de-regulated the local transport authority, Transport for London, sets the fares, routes, timetables and ticketing.
Which of the following bodies do you think should coordinate local transport in Greater Manchester (e.g. deciding the routes, prices and timetables and decide what company runs which services)?
Local Authorities 75%
Central Government 10%
Private companies 7%
Don’t know 8%
Q4. The 2017 Bus Services Act allows combined authorities like Greater Manchester to re-regulate their bus networks. Re-regulation gives local authorities the ability to plan the bus network, specifying fares, routes and a standard ticketing system. Private companies would compete for contracts to provide services. This is how the bus network is run in London and Jersey. Some in the bus industry have stated that re-regulating the network is complicated and costly. While Transport for Quality of Life has argued that re-regulating bus networks could generate up to £340 million a year in the UK, due to capturing the ‘excess profit’ of bus companies.
To what extent do you agree or disagree that the bus network in Greater Manchester should be re-regulated?
Strongly agree 41%
Somewhat agree 35%
Neither agree nor disagree 13%
Somewhat disagree 3%
Strongly disagree 1%
Don’t know 6%
Q5. An alternative to re-regulating the bus network would be partnerships between local authorities and commercial bus operators. The services would be operated by commercial bus operators, but new standards would be decided, which bus operators within the partnership agree to abide by. Supporters of partnerships say it would be a quick way of improving the network, and that congestion is one of the biggest factors driving down bus use. Opponents have argued that compared to re-regulation, individual private bus companies would still have the freedom to decide ticketing, routes and fares and that there would be no overarching, accountable body designing an integrated bus network.
Which option for running the Greater Manchester bus network would you prefer?
A bus partnership proposal 23%
Re-regulation of the bus network 58%
Don’t know 14%
Q6. There are currently 140 different types of tickets available in the Greater Manchester bus network. If the network was re-regulated, local transport authorities could set prices and develop standard ticketing systems. This could result in simpler forms of ticketing, such as area-wide zonal tickets valid across all forms of local public transport and a pay as you go smart card ticket like London’s oyster card where fares paid for multiple trips in one day are automatically capped. To what extent would you support or oppose the introduction of pay as you go area-wide ticketing with an automatic daily cap on spend on buses in Greater Manchester?
Strongly support 44%
Somewhat support 36%
Neither support nor oppose 11%
Somewhat oppose 2%
Strongly oppose 1%
Don’t know 5%
Q7. In places like Greater Manchester, the majority of bus services are commercially run, which local authorities have no control over. The remaining services are subsidised by Transport for Greater Manchester to run services where there is demonstrable need, but operators are unwilling to operate otherwise. In the UK around 40% of the bus companies’ revenue comes from public money.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “As local authorities provide public money for the bus network they should have more control over bus services including routes, fares and timetables in Greater Manchester.
Strongly agree 49%
Somewhat agree 33%
Neither agree nor disagree 10%
Somewhat disagree 3%
Strongly disagree 1%
Don’t know 4%
Q8. Bus companies have been accused by some of holding the Greater Manchester Combined Authority ‘to ransom’ on whether they go ahead with re-regulating the bus network. Firms including First have said they will not invest in new buses until the decision is made over whether to re-regulate the bus network. Stagecoach have also said that the costs for their proposed electric bus investment ‘would be borne by the taxpayer’ if re-regulation were to go ahead. However, OneBus, which represents 18 different operators across Greater Manchester and supports partnerships, denied accusations of holding any council to ransom.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “Private bus companies should not attempt to influence public decisions on whether to re-regulate Greater Manchester’s bus network
Strongly agree 44%
Somewhat agree 28%
Neither agree nor disagree 16%
Somewhat disagree 4%
Strongly disagree 2%
Don’t know 6%