New bus network operators appointed to run first franchised services outside of London

  • Bus operators to be held locally accountable to bus passengers for the first time – with customer complaints one of several measures to influence operator payments
  • GM plan talks with rail industry to integrate 20% of train services into Bee Network from 2025
  • Renewed focus on customer experience as raft of improvements to be delivered over next 12 months
  • Another 50 fully electric buses ordered to operate in Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, bringing total to 270 in 2024
  • Bus patronage at highest levels since pandemic following introduction of new lower fares – with new weekly capped ticket set to launch in the new year
  • More than £7m awarded to complete major cycle route connecting Chorlton and Manchester city centre and £3.5m to upgrade road safety cameras

For the first time in nearly four decades, Greater Manchester’s bus passengers will be involved in holding local bus operators to account over how they perform.

The city-region is the first to use powers contained within the Bus Services Act 2017, with Go North West and Diamond appointed to run Greater Manchester’s first locally controlled bus services since they were deregulated in 1986, signifying the biggest change to public transport in generations.

Currently in Greater Manchester, like all areas outside of London, the majority of bus services are provided on a commercial basis by private bus companies, with operators deciding on routes, frequencies, timetables, fares and quality standards.

Franchising is a more effective way of delivering bus services, where the bus network is planned and overseen by the local transport authority, with Greater Manchester now able to specify bus routes, service levels and fares. It is common in Europe but until now it was only permitted in London in the UK.  

With local control and accountability a key element of the Bee Network, customer focused performance targets, including punctuality and reliability of services and levels of customer complaints, will sit at the heart of the operators’ contracts and impact what they get paid.

To help ensure a positive customer experience for all users, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has prioritised a range of improvements to be introduced over the next 12 months, including the launch of the Bee Network Customer Contact Centre. This will provide an accessible and integrated single point of contact for customers travelling in Greater Manchester.

Improvements to passenger information will also be introduced next year, alongside a new Bee Network app, providing access to Bee Network fares and tickets as well as information to help plan your journey, including when there’s disruptions.

 Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Locally controlled bus services are fundamental to our Bee Network vision for a better public transport network for all, and as the first area to do this outside London, Greater Manchester is once again blazing a trail.

“Franchising will enable us to better integrate services as part of a joined-up network, with simpler fares and ticketing, a price cap so no one pays more than they need to, a better customer service offer and a single look for the whole network.     

“Passengers are at the very core of our Bee Network vision and when we talk about local accountability, we really mean it – that is why at the heart of our contracts with operators will be a performance regime that will influence operator payments based on those factors that we know are of most importance to customers, including punctuality, reliability and customer complaints.

“The move to franchising is the biggest change to public transport for almost 40 years and today is a significant step on our journey as we appoint operators to run the very first franchised services from  September next year and I am especially pleased that both operators provided strong social value plans, with commitments around recruitment and pay in line with the city-region’s Good Employment Charter.”

The contracts to run the first locally controlled services were signed today, Friday 23 December, meaning the first services will start on 24 September 2023, with Go North West to operate two large franchises and Diamond operating seven smaller franchises across Wigan, Bolton and parts of Salford and Bury.

Nigel Featham, Managing Director of Go North West, said: “We are extremely proud and excited to have been selected to run the first franchised bus services in Greater Manchester and to be able to play our part in delivering the Bee Network. 

“We are absolutely committed to providing the best possible service to the people of Bolton and Wigan and can’t wait to get started. This new era of public transport will not only represent major change for bus passengers, but the thousands of people working to provide these vital services.

“While change can be exciting and full of new possibilities, it can also be unsettling and I want to reassure staff working at the depots to be run by Go North West from next September that we will be working hard to ensure a smooth transition in the coming months.”

Bob Dunn, Managing Director at Diamond, said: “I am pleased that we have won seven of the eleven franchises that we have bid for and look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that the next year will bring.

“In 2023, in partnership with the Mayor, TfGM and GMCA, we will be stepping up the quality on over 40 bus routes in Greater Manchester, supported by our team of over 250 colleagues and 80 buses.  

“We cannot wait to meet our new customers, and look forward to continuing to playing a key role in the significant improvements taking place to Greater Manchester’s public transport offer.”

Greater Manchester’s vision for a truly integrated public transport network includes all modes of transport, with ambitions for services on six key routes to be integrated into the Bee Network once buses are brought under local control from 2025:

  • Wigan – Victoria, which includes the development of a new station at Golborne anticipated to open late 2025 subject to DfT and industry approvals
  • Stalybridge –Southport
  • Glossop – Hadfield – Piccadilly
  • Rose Hill – Piccadilly
  • Buxton – Piccadilly
  • Alderley Edge – Piccadilly

The move would see around one in five local train services integrated into the Bee Network, with a focus on performance and reliability, improved train station accessibility and a pilot of pay-as-you-go fares, similar to Metrolink’s touch-in/touch-out system.

Greater Manchester plans to explore these proposals with the rail industry as part of discussions about longer-term devolution of rail to the city-region, which would see larger parts of the network integrated into the Bee Network by the end of the decade.

Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Vernon Everitt, said: “Today’s announcements on bus franchising and our ambitions for local rail services demonstrate further strong momentum towards delivery of the Bee Network – an integrated London-style transport system.

“We are seeing a strong increase in the number of customers using Metrolink trams and buses, demonstrating high demand for safe, reliable and affordable public transport in our rapidly growing city-region.

“We will progressively make it easier for everyone to use our services with simplified and joined-up fares, ticketing and information provision across bus, tram, rail and cycle hire. We will also continue to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and support vulnerable people on the network in collaboration with the TravelSafe Partnership.

“We are also developing major local transport schemes at pace, with more than £100m of projects currently being delivered including new electric buses, quality bus routes and better transport interchanges.

“I’d like to thank the business community and the people of TfGM, our industry partners and many other stakeholders who are working so hard to totally transform the transport system in Greater Manchester.”

While the move to franchising will better enable integrated fares across other modes of transport, bus passengers have been benefitting from new lower fares since September, when they were brought in a year ahead of schedule to help with the cost-of-living crisis.

With an estimated 3.5 million bus journeys each week during November, the number of people using commercial bus services in November was 7.5% higher than November 2021 and is now at its highest level since the pandemic.

The bus cap will be extended to weekly tickets from January, meaning adults will pay no more than £21 to make unlimited journeys on any bus in Greater Manchester over seven days (£10.50 for children).  While this is a small increase on existing prices, given current rate of inflation, it is lower than expected increases to the any bus 7-day ticket and will ensure customers aren’t impacted as much as they would otherwise have been.

Franchising will also deliver a cleaner, more environmentally friendly bus fleet for Greater Manchester. Following an initial order for 50 brand new electric buses to operate in Wigan and Bolton, an order for a further 50 double-deck electric buses has now been placed with manufacturer Alexander Dennis at a cost of £22.7m, to operate in parts of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham when the second tranche of franchising is introduced there in April 2024.

The buses will be funded from the government’s ‘City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement’ (CRSTS), following Greater Manchester’s award of £1.07billion earlier this year, £438m of which is already ringfenced to improve buses, routes and services.

 Changing how people travel and encouraging more people to walk, scoot and cycle is a key part of delivering the city-region’s ambition to have half of all journeys made by public transport or active travel by 2040.

Greater Manchester is delivering the UK's largest cycling and walking network and through the Mayor’s Cycling and Walking Challenge £3.5m will be spent on the renewal and replacement of 91 speed cameras across Greater Manchester, around three-quarters of which are to be positioned on Bee Network active travel routes to help keep cyclists safe.

Leaders also agreed funding to complete the Chorlton Cycleway – a continuous 5km cycle route connecting Chorlton with Manchester City Centre. The £7.2m project will deliver almost 3km of the route from Seymour Grove to Sandy Lane, including Brooks Bar junction. The full scheme includes four innovative Cycle Optimised Protected Signal junctions (CYCLOPS) junctions as well as 11 cycle bypasses at bus stops and new and improved crossing facilities. 

Active Travel Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Dame Sarah Storey, said: “It's good to see the funding approval for the upgrade to safety cameras. I've placed a big emphasis on road danger reduction in my recent Refreshed Mission for Greater Manchester's Active Travel Network – with a big part of this being for the region to adopt Vision Zero.

“With speeding being a leading cause of injury and death in collisions, utilising safety cameras like these are one of the tools we have to enforce the speed limits and keep people on all modes safe. The value of preventing these deaths and serious injuries to the Greater Manchester economy is estimated to be in the region of £4.5 billion by 2040.

“Connecting the network and delivering longer routes was another key focus in my priorities and so the funding approval for the completion of the Chorlton Cycleway is great progress. The Bee Network's success lies in having a mix of modal options for different journey types and users, so having longer routes for cycling that are connected through safe junctions and delivered to a consistent and high specification, is key and is also one of the initial statements from the launch of the region’s active travel ambitions in 2017."

Bus Franchising announcement video from Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham

Article Published: 21/12/2022 15:50 PM