Manchester launches first locally controlled bus service in four decades

“I hope it signals the start of a public transport revolution across the whole of England," says Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham.

Bee Network buses

Greater Manchester has retaken control of its buses after almost 40 years of deregulation.

As bus services were deregulated across the UK in 1986 – except in London where services remained under local control – the move represents the biggest change to public transport in a generation.

The privatisation of Britain’s bus sector was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government. At the time, the government predicted that the move would lead to “lower fares, new services, and more passengers,” while removing “any potential liability on the taxpayer.”

Instead, bus use has been in decline ever since, and today, much of the sector is in crisis, with taxpayers subsidising corporate profits. In Greater Manchester, the number of passengers using buses has fallen from 355m in 1986/87, to just over 182m at the end of 2019, just before Covid.

From September 24, a fleet of 50 zero-emission Bee Network-branded buses (ZEBs) will be in service. The buses offer a range of improved features for passengers, including two bays for wheelchair users, anti-slip flooring, audio and visual announcement systems, and hearing induction loops. Over the next two years, existing buses in Greater Manchester will be gradually upgraded to Bee Network buses.

A Bee Network app enables customers to have access to live departure times, see where their nearest bus or tram stop is, and rate their journey. The app also provides access to the new AnyBus + tram ticket, which makes travel 20 percent cheaper.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), said that bus franchising signifies the start of the Bee Network – Greater Manchester’s plan for an integrated, ‘London-style’ transport network. “It is the first step in reversing decades-long decline in bus use, with the recently published GM Bus Strategy setting out how the city-region aims to deliver 50 million more bus journeys each year by the end of the decade.”

Ahead of the launch, Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has been campaigning for cheaper, more efficient public transport in Manchester for years, said: “By this time next week, Greater Manchester will have retaken control of our buses after almost 40 years of deregulation.

“I hope it signals the start of a public transport revolution across the whole of England.”

Norman Baker, from Campaign for Better Transport, described Greater Manchester’s Bee Network as “groundbreaking.” 

“It’s fantastic to see how this will benefit Manchester,” he said.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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