Transport User Voice November 2023 – Bus franchising in the headlines

01 November 2023

Manchester Bee network launches

Bus franchising has been in the headlines in recent weeks with the much-anticipated launch of Greater Manchester’s Bee Network.

The Liverpool City Region announced that it will also seek a return to controlling its bus network and West Yorkshire Combined Authority has launched its public consultation on how local buses should be run.

Franchising offers greater local control, local planning and the chance to change delivery across modes. Regionally it could make public transport and active travel a more realistic alternative to the car. Faced with the somewhat unpredictable demand, we are speaking to operators in these areas to ensure plans deliver what passengers need, improve the passenger experience and attract new passengers onto bus.

Franchising explained

  • A franchised model (most notably in place in London), is where the authority specifies the bus services to be provided, determining the routes, timetables and fares.
  • Services are then operated under contract by private companies through a competitive tendering process.

The ambitions of franchising both in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and elsewhere will need to fit with what bus passengers have been telling Transport Focus. In our most recent research passengers tell us they want better value for money fares, more buses more often, buses running on time and tackling anti-social behaviour on the network.

The changes that franchising brings will also need to overcome perceptions amongst those who don’t use buses and that taking the bus is inconvenient, takes too long, has unpredictable timetables and a lack of useful routes.

Tackling these barriers needs investment and a commitment to improving services including an easier system for passengers to plan, buy and track their journey – something which any new bus strategy needs to acknowledge. But vital that frequent and reliable services are at the heart of plans too.

Value for money fares are key in getting people to back on the bus, and our research shows that the introduction of the £2 bus fare has influenced some new bus passengers onto the network. A commitment to affordable fares is one that is clearly important during this cost-of-living crisis.

So as the Bee Network spreads its wings, time will tell if the franchising model is the most effective way to take our bus networks into the future. Passengers must be at the heart of the change and those areas choosing the franchising model will need to understand their changing demands.

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