Greater Manchester has made history as the first place in England to re-take control of its buses after nearly 40 years of deregulation. The launch of the Bee Network this week will mark radical improvements to the city-region’s public transport network.
As part of the Bee Network, joint tram and bus travel is now 20% cheaper with a new AnyBus + tram ticket. This comes after the Mayor announced £2 capped adult fares for all Greater Manchester bus services in 2022, making public transport more accessible and affordable for residents across the region.
The introduction of locally-controlled bus services marks the first time in England that bus deregulation, which has led to declining bus services and passenger numbers across the country, has been reversed – another Manchester first.
In the nearly 40 years since deregulation the number of bus journeys in Greater Manchester dropped from around 355m to 182m in 2019. England’s other city-regions experienced a similar downward trend in this period, with journeys more than halving, from a total of 1,810m to 845m. The number of bus journeys in London, where buses were not deregulated, roughly doubled in the same period, from around 1,164m journeys in 1986 to 2.1bn at the end of the decade.
Operating initially in Bolton, Wigan and parts of Salford and Bury, the launch of the first franchised bus services represents the start of the Bee Network – Greater Manchester’s plan for an integrated, low-cost, high-frequency public transport network, bringing together local trams, buses and bikes – and ultimately local train services – with the largest walking, wheeling and cycling network anywhere in the UK.
Passengers in Greater Manchester will see notable changes as a result of the Mayor’s decision to take control of our buses, including:
- 50 new electric buses operating in the first franchised area – with several hundred more delivered over the next few years.
- Improved services for passengers, including earlier and later, more frequent and better integrated bus services connecting passengers with first and last tram and train services.
- Improved customer services, with a new Bee Network customer contact centre and a new website and app, providing live information for all local bus, tram and train services.
- A more accountable service, with passengers able to rate their journey. Levels of customer complaints are amongst a range of customer-related performance targets used to inform what operators get paid.
- New Travelsafe Enforcement Officers to help people get used to the new system, ensure they feel safe and prevent fare evasion.
- Having a single brand identity, with new staff uniforms and a simpler, integrated fares structure.
As well as representing the biggest shake-up of public transport in almost four decades, the launch of the Bee Network is the most significant and visible change brought about through English devolution.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “For nearly 40 years we have seen worsening services and plummeting passenger numbers on our buses. We’ve had to reckon with a deregulated bus network that cuts vital services that connect communities to jobs, hospitals and opportunities on a whim – leaving local leaders with limited budgets to pick up the tab to keep these routes alive. Today marks the end of that era with our franchised system representing better value for money for city-regions and a better service for passengers.
“From today passengers will experience our new electric buses as well as earlier and later, more frequent and better integrated services. We’ve already cut the cost of public transport with the capped fares I introduced in 2022, but from today our new AnyBus + tram ticket will also make joint tram and bus travel 20% cheaper.
“We’re also putting power back in the hands of people, with passengers able to rate their journey. These ratings, combined with a range of other customer-related performance targets will be used to inform what operators get paid.
“Today is a coming-of-age moment for English devolution. With the launch of the Bee Network, Greater Manchester is blazing a trail for other city-regions who are ready to follow our lead in reversing the failed bus deregulation experiment and creating an integrated transport network that is run in in the interests of, and accountable to, our communities.
“I’d like to extend my thanks to all those who have worked tirelessly over many years to make the Bee Network possible.”
The city-region’s leaders have lobbied for change over many years, and six years on from the introduction of the Bus Services Act and election of Andy Burnham as Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017, services are once again being brought under local control.
Previously in Greater Manchester, like all areas outside of London now, most bus services are provided on a commercial basis by private bus companies, with operators deciding on routes, frequencies, timetables, fares and quality standards.
With operators predominantly targeting the most profitable routes, local authorities are left to subsidise services in less profitable areas – and in Greater Manchester that has historically been around 20% of all services. However, additional subsidy has been required recently to maintain the bus network, including additional funding needed to cover service withdrawals announced in February this year, with similar steps taken to safeguard services due to be withdrawn in autumn 2022. The cost of covering these recent service withdrawals is around 30% higher on a per mile basis than the equivalent costs of running franchised services.
A franchised bus network is also a better proposition for passengers, as it enables the city-region to plan services in the interests of the communities they serve, and it represents better value for money, with customer-focussed targets around performance and reliability built into franchised contracts. A franchised network also safeguards against short-notice service withdrawals by operators and in Greater Manchester has enabled the introduction of the new AnyBus + tram ticket that makes travel 20% cheaper.
It is these measures collectively that seek to address the decline in bus use and help Greater Manchester meet ambitions to increase the number of journeys made using public transport and active travel by one million a day by 2040.
In April 2022, Greater Manchester was awarded £1.07bn from the Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS) to help deliver Bee Network, with £438m set to be invested to improve buses, routes and services.
Roads Minister, Richard Holden, said: “This Government has worked hard to provide £1.1 billion to boost and decarbonise transport in Greater Manchester with a sustained 5 year investment, almost half of which to support local buses. The launch of the Bee Network is the culmination of our joint efforts with the Mayor to provide local residents with a transport system they can be truly proud of.
“Our unprecedented £3.5 billion investment since 2020 to improve and protect bus services while lowering fares clearly shows that we back our buses, and we will continue working with local authorities and industry. We are delivering a more integrated, sustainable and affordable transport network for the first time in decades and will continue to work with local leaders to do that across the country.”
The Bee Network is being delivered in three phases, with bus services in Rochdale, Oldham, Bury and parts of Manchester, Salford and Tameside to come under local control from 24 March – and the rest of the city-region from January 2025. Transformed bus services are part of a wider plan for a more accessible and integrated network, bringing together buses trams – and ultimately local rail services – with the largest cycling, walking and wheeling network in the UK. Integrating all these modes will enable passengers to make seamless journeys across the public transport network.
Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester, Vernon Everitt, said: “The return of locally controlled bus services provides the platform for transformation of public transport and active travel in the region. It’s the path to safe, reliable and affordable transport for everyone, growing in a sustainable way Greater Manchester’s economy and productivity and access to new jobs, homes and opportunity.
“As well as a range of service improvements and new cheaper combined bus and Metrolink fares from today, this also represents a move towards London-style ‘tap and go’ ticketing when the final tranche of bus franchising is introduced in January 2025. Integration of train and cycle hire payments will form part of this system as soon as possible after that. The new Bee Network app will also be constantly developed with new features such as journey planning including active travel and lift availability.”
Once franchising is complete passengers will be able to touch in and out on any bus or tram service in Greater Manchester and have their fare automatically be calculated up to the daily cap. Work is also already underway to bring local train services under local control by the end of the decade. The first step will see a payment pilot on train services between Stalybridge and Victoria, and Glossop and Piccadilly that will, for the first time, allow passengers to touch-in and out at the start and end of their journey and have their fare automatically worked out for them.
Enabling people to walk, wheel and cycle is also a key part of the Bee Network, with Greater Manchester aiming to connect every area and community with 1,800 miles of safe routes and 2,400 new crossings. One complete, the routes and crossings will form the biggest cycling, walking and wheeling network in the country.
Since 2019, more than 50km of high-quality walking and cycling routes have been built across the 10 boroughs, with a further 50km due to be delivered by the end of 2024.
In Bolton, work to connect cycling and walking infrastructure to the main transport interchange is already underway. In 2021, the UK’s second Cycling Optimised Protected Signals (CYCLOPS) junction opened at the corner of Newport Street and Trinity Street, providing segregated crossing points for pedestrians and cyclists travelling to and from the rail station and interchange.
Additional CYCLOPs junctions are in development to support wider, improved active travel links around the town centre (see map). This brings the total number of operational CYCLOPs junctions to 15 in Greater Manchester.
Elsewhere in Wigan, more than 17km of new active travel routes have been delivered as well as the transformation of the Bridgewater Canal Towpath in Astley, plus upgrades to the Standish Mineral Line to make it hard-wearing, wider route for cyclists and pedestrians.
Active Travel Commissioner, Dame Sarah Storey, said: “Today marks an historic moment for the Active Travel Mission in Greater Manchester.
“Public transport can only be successful if it is properly integrated with walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure that enables people to move with ease. I’m pleased so see the progress already being made in Bolton and last week visited Wigan to speak to people who are already benefitting from the cycle lanes that have been built in recent years.
“With bus franchising enabling so many more journeys to be taken by public transport, I am looking forward to continuing to work with local authorities, stakeholders and partners to improve active travel facilities that serve the whole network.”