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Doing buses differently in Manchester

More passengers use buses than any other form of public transport, to get to work, education, appointments and leisure interests. But are those bus networks delivering services in a way that works for passengers?

Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s ambition is ‘Doing Buses Differently’. It has just closed a public consultation on proposals for a franchised bus network across the city region – this could potentially lead to the first franchised bus network outside of London.

Transport Focus made a submission as part of the consultation. From our perspective the key challenge is whether the proposal reflects the needs and priorities of both existing and potential passengers. The closer that the specifications and targets reflect people’s needs, the better the chance that they will deliver the type of services that people want and value and will draw in new users to grow the market.

So what are passengers’ key priorities for improvement in Greater Manchester?

Back in 2016 we did some research that showed improvements to the core service are vital – better value for money topped the list, closely followed by a need for more frequent buses, running more reliably to more destinations.

We delved into our back catalogue of extensive bus passenger research to help set out other important areas that the proposed franchise scheme must address:

  • tackling the barriers that prevent people making more bus journeys
  • the importance of a stable network that passengers can depend on
  • delivering a more simplified and integrated fares offer.

Our Bus Passenger Survey provides a wealth of evidence of bus passengers’ experiences of their service. In Greater Manchester we have asked passengers each year since 2011 to rate their satisfaction with the bus journey they are making across a wide range of aspects.

These results show that for key aspects over this period, passenger satisfaction has gradually gone up. However, the results are extremely sensitive to the impact of road congestion caused by issues such as roadworks and other big building developments that a growing, successful city experiences. Once again, the core service elements of punctuality, journey time and value for money are all vital ingredients in delivering satisfactory journeys.

Overall, in response to the ‘exam question’ about support or opposition for the introduction of the proposed franchising scheme, Transport Focus agrees that the scheme would deliver benefits for passengers, although the test will be in assessing delivery of resulting services.

We feel franchising provides additional flexibility when specifying routes and times and helps address ‘gaps’ in the network that impact on existing users and act as a barrier to new users. Franchising would seem to also provide the most flexibility when it comes to providing a simplified and integrated fares and ticketing structure – another key passenger aspiration. The franchising proposal could also deliver customer experience benefits – though we acknowledge that some of these could be provided through partnership working. This could include a consistent set of standards across all routes and services as well as a more unified real-time passenger information service.

However, what is less clear is how proposals will influence the key drivers of passenger satisfaction in tackling punctuality and reliability. The scheme needs to include robust measures for providing the reassurance of consistently reliable and punctual journeys across several modes and from door to door, to deliver an attractive network that fosters growth and trust. The proposed scheme has the potential to improve the bus journey experience, through new arrangements – and hence satisfaction for bus journeys, alongside making the bus network more attractive, driving up demand amongst current non-users. Transport Focus insight, policy and ability to represent the passenger interest at a local level can help realise that potential.

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