Bus franchising moves one step closer

One of TfGM's "green" yellow buses now operating in Wigan
One of TfGM's "green" yellow buses now operating in Wigan

Ambitious plans to make Wigan part of a London-style franchised bus system have cleared another major political hurdle.

The Bus Services Bill, which would give Greater Manchester’s elected mayor the power to end deregulated services in the region, had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday.

The legislation will allow for a region-wide integrated network with simplified ticketing systems and consistent quality standards and is being backed by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).

Transport bosses hailed the latest step in Parliament and said franchising bus services was a vital part of the Government’s devolution process to transfer powers from Westminster to local authorities.

Those supporting the bill says the regulated bus service in the capital city makes a very clear case for introducing the same thing in Greater Manchester.

TfGM committee chair Coun Andrew Fender said: “This is a very important day because the bill is fundamental to the Greater Manchester devolution deal.

“We’ve made it clear that the elected mayor must have the power to introduce franchised bus services.

“We want to put Manchester on the same footing as London, which has never been regulated. Since deregulation was introduce bus ridership in London has doubled and we’ve lost 40 per cent of our passengers.

“We need to rebuild our bus patronage by having a more equitable distribution of services across the region.”

Bus franchising has been strongly backed by Leigh MP and Labour candidate for the region’s elected mayor Andy Burnham, who issued a strongly-worded warning to private operators in Wigan and surrounding areas.

Mr Burnham said: “This calls time on a 32-year failed Tory experiment. Deregulation of the bus services has been a complete and utter disaster for the travelling public.

“Fares have gone up, service quality has gone down and the system is chaotic. Services are chopped from areas which need them and buses are nose-to-tail on lucrative routes.

“The public has been subsidising a poor service and time is up on it, basically.

“I’m not putting all the bus operators in the same bracket but I’m serving notice on the companies that if I am elected things will not be going on as they have been.”

The bill will now continue to the committee stage and the House of Lords has also tabled some amendments to the legislation which MPs will have to consider.

The legislation will then return to the House of Commons for a vote which will decide if it becomes law or not.

Currently around 80 per cent of the region’s bus services are provided by commercial operators who have the power to set timetables, fares and routes and monitor quality standards.

More than 210m journeys were made by bus in Greater Manchester in 2015, which means they accounted for 79 per cent of all public transport trips in the region.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) requested the option to franchise bus services as part of the Greater Manchester Devolution Agreement signed with the Government in November 2014.

The idea enjoys cross-party support among local authority leaders in the region’s 10 town halls, including Wigan.

Supporters of the regulated bus service also hope that Wigan and surrounding boroughs will eventually enjoy an card fare system similar to Oyster in London.