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‘Critical for a liveable, prosperous and sustainable city’: Manchester City Council leader weighs in on bus reform

As public support grows for bus regulation in Greater Manchester, campaigners from Better Buses for Greater Manchester this week have been taking local council leaders for a ride… on a bus.

Throughout Better Buses Action Week local residents have been inviting council leaders onto their commutes to convince them to support bus regulation and to call GM Mayor Andy Burnham to do the same.

After a successful public meeting which packed out the Manchester Art Gallery, the campaign is mobilising Manchester residents in petitioning councillors and local leaders to address an unequal bus system by pressing ahead with radical change.

New polling by Survation, for Better Buses for Greater Manchester, shows that re-regulation is popular, with 76% of participants supporting re-regulation of buses in Greater Manchester, bolstering campaigners’ calls for publicly controlled bus services.

Currently, local authorities have no control over the fares and routes of around 80% of bus services in Greater Manchester, despite the fact that some 40% of bus companies’ revenue is public money.

Regulation gives local combined authorities control over fares, routes and timetables, as well as the ability to use funds from busy routes to pay for socially necessary routes, reinstate cut routes and expand the network. It would also make it easier to introduce a simple smart card, as London’s Oyster card offers to passengers.

In the current convoluted system where upwards of 40 companies offer over 200 different tickets, a simple travel card is impossible without regulation.

Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, met campaigners on Tuesday and expressed his support.

“Buses are the backbone of our transport network and are critical for a liveable, prosperous and sustainable city. What we saw since deregulation has been a reduction in the number of services, a year-on-year hike in the fares and a decline in services. Taking control of our buses will help us improve the deal our residents get. I urge everyone to support the Better Buses Action Week.”

It appears that Burnham will choose between regulation vs. partnerships in the next year, which would set a precedent for other cities to follow. Buses were deregulated in the 1980s and this has seen usage decline by 40% in Greater Manchester. Meanwhile, London, whose services went untouched, has seen its usage double.

Pascale Robinson of Better Buses for Greater Manchester noted:

‘When Andy Burnham makes the decision on bus reform, we need him to listen to what people in Greater Manchester are saying loud and clear: we want and deserve a much better, publicly controlled bus network, as they have in London.”

In the North West, £184 million has been paid to shareholders over the last 10 years on average, while eight million miles of routes have been cut. Bus company consortium OneBus have released their proposal for partnerships (an alternative to franchising where bus companies volunteer certain improvements).

But Stagecoach and First bus have been accused of holding the public to ransom over regulation in Greater Manchester, by threatening to withhold funding and investment.

Pascale Robinson said the proposals were full of “short term sweeteners, as well as some misleading claims, showing how scared bus companies are of the reduced profit margins they make under regulation. Regulation forces bus companies to deliver more, meaning more can be invested into a good service. Bus company fat cats would instead prefer to carry on giving out £1.49 billion to their shareholders over ten years”.

Nicholas Prescott

The Better Buses campaign is running petition signing and outreach events this Friday 9 March outside the University of Manchester and on Saturday 10 March in St Peter’s Square. 

You can find out more about the campaign at: www.betterbusesgm.org.uk

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