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The Greater Manchester bus franchising consultation: HCT Group responds

We believe that the franchising proposals are the only way to ensure a comprehensive, affordable and integrated network which serves local residents.

Posted: 14 Jan 2020

HCT Group has long been an advocate of bus franchising. We believe it will be of huge benefit to our communities – and particularly the most vulnerable in our communities.

In 2019, Greater Manchester became the first city region to consult on a proposed bus franchising scheme. HCT Group looked carefully at the proposals put forward by Greater Manchester, evaluating them from three complementary perspectives:

  • through our direct experience as an operator in Manchester (as Manchester Community Transport)
  • through our direct experience in other franchised bus markets – in particular Jersey in the Channel Islands, but also in London and in Guernsey
  • as a social enterprise – we believe that a bus service is more than taking people from A to B. It a direct opportunity to create significant economic, social and environmental benefits for our communities.

Overall, we are strongly supportive of the franchising proposals as presented – we believe that they will create significant benefits for residents of the city region.

The status quo cannot stand. Incumbent private operators have sliced the city into regional monopolies, over-bussing on commercial routes and neglecting passengers on socially necessary ones – and the interests of citizens are always secondary to those of operators’ private shareholders. Franchising will create a better, more reliable, affordable network.  As this happens, ridership will increase and this modal shift will reduce congestion.

We do not believe that these benefits will be achievable with a Voluntary Partnership. Such a scheme cannot compel operators to meet the city region’s needs. The incumbent operators have agreed little and committed to even less - their Voluntary Partnership option amounts to little more than they would do in the course of their normal business. It is not enough, not nearly enough, to meet the aspirations of Greater Manchester.

Even as we strongly support the franchising proposal, we have one point of contention – we had hoped for a deeper exploration of the potential benefits in the consultation. We know from our direct experience that franchised bus services can have a positive impact on people’s lives – supporting access to facilities, services or opportunities and connecting people in ways that reduce social isolation, social exclusion and loneliness. We think that the proposals as they stand have missed a trick by not fully considering wider positive social impacts.

You can download our full response to the consultation here.