Tameside’s bus services are infrequent, unreliable, expensive, behind the times with technology, and subject to route change at little notice. That’s why I am proud to join campaigners from across the constituency and beyond to call for better buses for Greater Manchester. I know that bus regulation doesn’t sound like a very jazzy subject, perhaps, but the quality of buses in an area is fundamental to people getting to work, getting to school, getting to shop, and to our local economy. It’s also a big issue in my mailbag -late buses, cancelled buses, dropped bus routes- and I absolutely share resident’s frustrations. It’s time for the bus system we deserve.
What I want to see is for the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to hasten forward the kind of bus regulation that other parts of the country already enjoy, particularly London, because we know that is fundamental to getting better bus services in our area. At the moment, we’ve barely any regulation at all – bus companies have the power to chop and change services with no consideration of community need. As part of the devolution deal that gave us the Mayor we got the law changed to allow this regulation; now we need to get on with it.
Being towards the edge of Greater Manchester, our area has seen a reduction of services, particularly in neighbourhoods like Carrbook, Hollingworth, and parts of Mossley, which bus companies have reduced to concentrate on more profitable lines. This is unacceptable. Chopping and changing routes not only hits our local economy by making it harder for people to hold down a job or get to the shops, but it also leads to social isolation, with citizens paying the price through loneliness and ill health, and the tax payer ultimately picking up the bill via the NHS and other necessary services. When this happens, the truth is at present there is very little I, or the Council, can do about it.
In addition, whilst some local bus companies now finally accept contactless payments, we still can’t do sensible joined up ticketing with Oyster-style card, phone or debit card tickets. This is because bus companies here can’t currently be made to share day rates etc across company lines. So while in London, paying by debit card, Apple Pay etc means at the end of the day you’re automatically charged the fairest fare for the journeys you made, there is just no mechanism to do that in GM. The spiralling costs are also unregulated. I once calculated it cost me more per mile to get the bus from Stalybridge to Hyde that it did by taxi. When times are tough for many and we are trying to encourage people to leave their car at home and use public transport, to provide a lesser and lesser service for a higher and higher price is not ok.
I’ve campaigned for better buses for years, including speaking in Parliament repeatedly. I am a great believer in better transport. Sometimes when I get the bus from my house in Stalybridge to my office in Hyde people look amazed that their MP is getting the bus. But good bus services can be the transport mode of choice. When I look at a city like London, I see a labour market that is open for employment to more than a fifth of England’s population because the transport system is so good. I want that for the North.
Regular readers will know that working towards major transport projects is one of my top priorities. The Mottram bypass—a £170 million road scheme—is due to commence work next year; we are making progress towards Metrolink for Stalybridge; the trans-pennine rail service will be upgraded; HS2 will be a major boost for all of GM; and a new Trans-Pennine tunnel has gone from my pipedream to a serious costed proposal. I consider better buses equally important to these big infrastructure schemes. They are essential to our economy, our communities, and our connectivity.
Now it’s time for our Mayor to make real progress on this issue. Will you join me in the campaign? Get involved here: https://betterbusesgm.org.uk/better-buses-manchester-homepage