Last week consultation began over the future of buses in Greater Manchester. Since deregulation in the 1980s bus usage has declined while prices have risen. Change is needed and there are two main options to choose from. Re-regulation in the form of franchising or a private bus company backed partnership model. This is the case for franchising in five points.

Greater Manchester is undertaking the first public consultation in decades over the future of public transport in the city.  A new direction for Greater Manchester’s bus system is to be decided on, after decades of deregulation which has resulted in fewer passengers travelling by bus, declining services and rising fares.

Since the Bus Services Act 2017 was passed local authorities, and metro mayors such as Andy Burnham, have been considering how to make use of these new powers to exert public control over public transport. The consultation offers Greater Manchester (GM) the opportunity to be like London in a good way – having affordable and functional public transport.

Since the bus system was deregulated, outside London, in the mid 1980s passenger numbers have declined continually. Since deregulation there has been a 40% drop in the number of bus journeys made in GM, while London’s franchised bus network model has seen a doubling of passenger journeys in the same time. Since 2005 alone, journeys in the capital have grown by 23.5% with passenger satisfaction remaining high.

Public opinion has moved decisively toward a desire for reform, with a recent poll showing 69% of residents across the UK thought “local councils should be the main decisions-makers on bus services”. A survey carried out in Manchester by Survation showed that the desire for local authority control over buses is even greater with 82% agreeing that they “should have more control over bus services”.

Campaigners centered around Better Buses GM, who support re-regulation through the franchising model, and OneBus, a collective effort by bus companies to oppose reform, have mobilised to fight for their respective corners.

Read: 76% in favour of re-regulating bus services in Greater Manchester poll results show

After a long period of legal formalities and technical proceedings the reform process has finally reached the public consultation stage, running until 8 January 2020. Public input could be a crucial deciding factor in pushing either a re-regulation franchising model or slightly tweaked deregulation partnership model over the line.

A franchising model would involve the local authority taking control of setting routes, times, ticket prices and working conditions for staff. Bus operators would have to bid to operate portions of the network with authorities able to choose the best one.

A partnership agreement would include joint public and private investment into new buses, but bus companies would still have control over levels of investment, route setting and ticket prices. Many suggested improvements by the mayor’s office would still need to be negotiated for with operators.

So here are five substantial reasons to support bus reform and the franchising model over the corporate grotesquerie presented by OneBus as a “partnership”.


1. No more lost routes & accountable transport

Franchising gives overall control of the bus system to the GM metro mayors office, currently headed by Mayor Andy Burnham. They would have power over choosing the routes, frequency of service and capacity of buses running on it. Currently private bus companies make those decisions and this would not change under a partnership model.

Over the last four years Manchester has seen eight million miles of bus routes cut in part because operators deem them ‘not viable’. This is while Greater Manchester Central Authority (GMCA) spends £27.6 million subsiding routes that are socially essential but aren’t commercially viable for bus companies. Under Franchising our elected representatives would run the bus system, the buses would run the routes we want and need.

2. Profits made by GMCA will go towards new services or cheaper fares

The benefits of transport run in the public interest is that the profits will go back into the service. GMCA plans to run the buses to be revenue neutral – any surplus made would be either be reinvested in more services or put into reducing fares. In London, a single fare is £1.50 and valid across all city zones for two hours. Passengers can use as many buses as they want within this time. Taking the No 83, run by First, from Manchester to Oldham is £4.40 for a single fare.

Bus companies in the North West have handed out, on average,  £18.4 million every year over the last decade to shareholders. This is mainly money we have paid through exorbitant ticket sales, or public money used to subsidise routes.

3. A properly integrated network of public transport

At the moment more than 20 different companies operate in Greater Manchester each with their own tickets. Under franchising we could integrate buses into the tram and train networks providing faster commutes and fully integrated ticketing via the Get Me There smart card.

4. Better public transport, not deadly air and clogged streets

Manchester has illegal and deadly levels of air pollution. A big part of the solution is regular, safer, cleaner, good quality public transport. Franchising will allow co-ordinated investment and greater control over the bus service, also allowing the GMCA to specify what low emission buses are used by the franchises. Under private bus companies, changes to improve the bus fleet have been piecemeal. Manchester has one of the most polluting bus fleets in Europe, a product of decades of under investment.

5. Better conditions for passengers, better conditions for drivers

In the UK people with mobility difficulties make 42% fewer trips than people without. In Greater Manchester buses don’t have important disabled access feature such as audio-visual announcements.

Bus companies have also been found paying inconsistent wages across different depots in Greater Manchester. Franchising will allow us to set better working condition and pensions rather than leaving workers to fight for better pay.

Franchising will make bus operators accountable for the services they run, if they fall short they can be fined or lose their contracts.


Nicholas Prescott

To see the consultation documents and submit your suggestions – click here

Better Buses for Greater Manchester, a campaign group backing the franchising model, have created a quick and easy form to help you submit your suggestion’s to the consultation – click here

Feature image: Wikipedia Commons

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  • Nick Prescott

    Nick is a writer and researcher from Kent who has lived in Manchester since 2014. He heads up the Communities Team which works on facilitating engagement with co-op members and under-represented communities around Manchester. Alongside editing the monthly newsletter he writes on housing, development, environment and local democracy.

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