Eleven ways OneBus’s partnership plans will make Greater Manchester’s buses better

Buses run on roads. So delivering better buses is as much about how the road network is managed as the services that use it. That’s why only by bus operators, the Mayor and the region’s local authorities working together, can we give Greater Manchester, its economy and its communities the dynamic bus network to shape our world-class city region.

11 simple ways that a partnership would mean better buses for our region.

Better value fares

Weekly unlimited bus travel on any bus in Greater Manchester is £19 - more than 10% cheaper than weekly bus travel in London. Under our partnership plans, there would be a two-year price freeze on multi-operator bus fares, delivering better value travel for fare payers across the region. Bus operators have worked with the Mayor to halve the cost of bus travel for 100,000 young people in the region and a partnership will allow us to help deliver his aspiration of free travel for 16 to 18-year-olds to help them access jobs, skills and training and more fulfilled lives. Congestion adds over £10m to the annual bill of running bus services in Greater Manchester, so tackling gridlock will also help reduce pressure on fares.

Simpler tickets and bus identity

People in Greater Manchester have access to a wide range of tickets which give passengers choice of either operator specific tickets, travel on any bus or other tickets which provide combined bus and tram or bus and rail travel. But we believe there can still be more flexible and simplified tickets to suit individual customers' needs. Under a partnership, we will expand the use of contactless payments, in-app purchases, mobile ticketing, and cash transactions. Across Greater Manchester, the fleet of more than 1800 buses would also have a single unified brand identity, with individual operator names clearly identifiable.

Plugging gaps in the bus network

Greater Manchester is growing, with new homes and businesses springing up across the region. We want to make sure the bus network continues to reach these new and growing locations. That's why our partnership plans include a joint bus network review to maximise connectivity for passengers, including the evaluation of the potential for off-peak, limited stop, night time or 24 hour services. Greater integration is also key to improving our bus network and our plans include exploring how integration with tram and rail can be further improved.

Better accessibility and customer information

Bus operators have invested billions of pounds in more accessible buses to make it easier for wheelchair users, individuals with mobility problems and people with pushchairs to use public transport. However, the roadside infrastructure, which is outside of the control of operators, has too often been neglected by local authorities. Under our partnership plans, at least £1m will be invested in improving accessibility by 2020 to ensure a high standard of accessible bus stops and shelters, with local authorities held to account for their delivery.

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Our plans will also see the co-ordination of data to improve journey information for passengers. All buses will be linked to a network-wide real-time information system. This will be provided primarily through a jointly-governed central facility, and a central portal that will provide accurate, up-to-date, and consistent information for passengers.

Greater accountability

Bus operators are already held accountable for their performance to the bus regulator, the Traffic Commissioner. However, despite local authorities having a statutory duty to manage traffic appropriately, similar accountability is not in place. We do not believe this is in the best interests of bus users or the efficient functioning of Greater Manchester as a whole. Under our partnership plans, OneBus partners will twice a year collectively fund customer performance monitoring research - on key factors such as reliability, punctuality and value –as part of a commitment to improving performance. We would expect other partners with responsibility for roads and other areas affecting the bus network to be similarly held to account.

Quicker journeys

Greater Manchester is gridlocked. Like all residents in our region, we’re increasingly concerned about the number of cars on our roads, and the impact on air quality and journey times. There are over 1.1m licensed cars in our region - more than 75,000 more than in 2012 - with average traffic speeds now less than 10mph in the city centre. The congestion crisis is damaging bus punctuality. Cut congestion, and you cut journey times. Greater traffic management, better planning of roadworks, as well as bus priority measures such as junction improvements, traffic light priorities and dedicated bus lanes to tackle congestion hot spots, will mean faster and more reliable bus journeys.

Better for taxpayers

A partnership would make the best use of the money available to deliver the practical improvements people want to see in their bus network. It would also deliver improvements without unnecessary extra costs or financial risks for local taxpayers. London's franchised bus network has seen bus use drop 6% in the last three years, with many bus services now being cut. London's network also costs £700m more than the money generated by passenger fares. That gap is the equivalent of £575 for every one of the 1.2m council tax-paying properties in Greater Manchester.

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Balancing the books under a franchised system can only be achieved by raising fares, cutting services or levying higher council taxes or a special extra mayoral charge. In Greater Manchester, the last time bus services were operated by local transport authorities, between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the bus network was decimated. Bus numbers were slashed by more than 20%, with 650 buses cut from the network. Passenger numbers plummeted by 35%, and between 1975 and 1980 alone, the cost of bus fares increased by 379%.

More frequent evening and Sunday bus services

We understand that a thriving and ambitious region like Greater Manchester needs transport connections that reflect the way we live our lives today, particularly to help us get to work and access education and training, as well as other key services. That's why our partnership plans would see a guaranteed minimum bus service every 30 minutes on weekday evenings after 7pm, and on Sundays between 9am and 6pm on all routes that operate at least every 10 minutes on weekday daytimes.

More investment

Public sector investment in buses in Greater Manchester was cut by 7% between 2016-17 and 2017-18, and there is a continuing squeeze on the money available to local authorities. Measures to tackle the financial waste caused by congestion will make more money available to invest in improvements. Bus operators have taken a lead by setting out a £100m partnership blueprint to revolutionise the bus network, which includes pledging to deliver 450 new buses for the region over the next three years. Investment will also deliver a better on-board customer experience, including through the extension of free Wi-Fi across the bus fleet.

Cleaner air quality

Bus operators' investment in 450 new low emissions buses over the next three years, with the first 150 delivered by 2020, will help boost our region's air quality. Already, bus operators are planning on introducing dozens of new zero emissions electric vehicles, amongst the bigest single investment in this technology anywhere in Europe. At the same time, action by the Mayor, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and local authorities to tackle the congestion crisis can also help reduce damaging pollution which is four times worse in nose to tail traffic conditions.

Faster, guaranteed improvements

Although much has already been done to improve the transport offer, such as contactless ticketing, new buses and free Wi-Fi, OneBus wants, and is ready, to do much more. By working together in a joined-up approach, all partners can make long term commitments investing time and resource to transform bus services for all in Greater Manchester.

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Our partnership plans can start to be delivered right now. There is no need to wait for any complex or bureaucratic evaluation process. In contrast, it is disappointing that close to £20m of taxpayer money in Greater Manchester is being squandered on consultant studies into nothing more than a series of reports on the future of the bus network under a franchise system. That money alone could have paid for dozens of new greener buses or extra bus services.