Manchester sets out on the road to bus franchising

May 7, 2018

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is sounding out bus operators about the possibility of introducing a franchising scheme.

The regional transport body said it is carrying out a ‘wide-ranging market engagement’ as part of its ongoing work to prepare an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme for Greater Manchester, in line with the Bus Services Act 2017.

It has invited 35 local, national and international bus operators give their views through a detailed questionnaire.

Michael Renshaw, executive director at TfGM, said: ‘Our work to prepare the assessment of a franchising scheme is underpinned by Greater Manchester’s ambitions for bus to play a fuller role as part of an integrated transport system.

‘This market engagement is an important stage in the ongoing dialogue we’ve kept with bus operators throughout the process.

‘We want to make sure that, if the proposed scheme is implemented, it would deliver tangible and enduring outcomes for passengers and the local economy.’

TfGM said its questionnaire covers such areas as the proposed design and structure of franchises, commercial parameters, and the procurement process and that it hopes that this will help further refine its assessment by obtaining operator feedback on a potential commercial model for franchising.

TfGM said that in considering a commercial model for franchising has followed several guiding principles, including how the model would:

  • generate competition and reduce barriers to entry;
  • create an enduring market;
  • manage risk and drive value for money;
  • give enough flexibility to respond to changing demands; and
  • consider how small operators would have access to the market.

TfGM said it is undertaking the assessment on behalf of its parent body, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), but that no final decision has yet been taken on how to reform the local bus market.

It added that that while preparing the assessment, it has been in ongoing dialogue with bus operators to explore other ‘realistic options’ for improving local bus services, such as partnership proposals.

Source: Transport Network


Bus services in St Helens could be franchised as part of “radical” Merseytravel shake-up

April 7, 2018

BUS services in St Helens could be franchised as part of a “radical” service change across the city region.

Merseytravel is looking to take advantage of new devolution powers that allow local authorities to take back control from the bus companies.

The transport authority will now explore intervention options after getting the green light from Liverpool City Region’s transport committee on Thursday.

Matt Goggins, head of bus for Merseytravel, told the committee that services will be “severely compromised” if the authority does not act.

The transport boss said the transport authority plays a “critical role” in the sustainability of the bus network and offer, adding that it allocated around 80 per cent of its budget on supporting bus services in 2017-18.

“The contribution we make to bus operator income is around a third of the total operator income,” Mr Goggins said.

“However, our reducing budget over recent years has meant that we’re spending less and less money on bus services.

“So, our ability to retain the same level of service on that basis given the contribution in the public sector is, bluntly, severely compromised without doing something about it.”

Merseytravel identified five possible intervention strategies and following approval from the transport committee, will now proceed with detailed assessments of three of them.

One is a franchising model, which Mr Goggins described as a “much more radical” option than the others mooted.

He said this, in effect, would be a suspension of the current deregulated market.

The second option is to create an Enhanced Partnership (EP), which encourages collaboration between transport authorities and bus operators. In an EP, all members are bound by the terms of the partnership.

The third option is to continue the current intervention, working with the Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance, a partnership between Arriva, Stagecoach and Merseytravel.

Mr Goggin said an Enhanced Partnership and to a greater extent franchising, would potentially give Merseytravel and the Combined Authority more ability to influence what happens on the bus network.

“Franchising in particular means a greater financial stake for the public sector in the system,” he said.

“This in-turn may come with greater risks and significantly higher costs, in particular around implementation and the upgrade and management of the system.”

Mr Goggins said Merseytravel forecasts that without “effective intervention”, operating costs for bus operators will grow at a faster rate than passenger revenue over time.

Subsequently, the transport authority expects services to be cut to maintain profit margins.

He said: “In the past Merseytravel would have been in a position to step in, in this scenario, providing supported bus services.

“But we are increasingly unable to do this now due to our funding position, which means our objectives, things like access to opportunity, the things that are highlighted in the Transport Plan for Growth and the Bus Strategy, are compromised going forward.”

Cllr Les Rowlands, from Wirral Borough Council, said the intervention should help to “readdress the balance” between the public and private sector.

“I, for a long time have wondered about our losing influence over the bus companies,” he said.

“As a Merseyside travel authority, our responsibilities are to try and put in the best services we can for our travelling public.

“Some of that has been lost, and this report shows a way we can actually start to readdress that balance.”

The outline business case for assessment of the three options will return to the committee at a later date.

Liverpool City councillor Liam Robinson,  who is chairman of the transport committee, said: “Effectively where we are moving to now is really the very detailed phase of the work that we expect will take some months really, looking at all of those options.

“So, what does re-emerge back to us will be a very strong, evidence-led recommendation, which we look forward to receiving.”

Source: St Helen Star