Local bus services need improvement. They are pricey, not joined up, and, most frustratingly of all, routes and timetables are subject to change without consultation. With great respect to all who work hard driving and providing the existing services, users and employers know that relying on buses for work, education, visiting relatives etc can at times be problematic.
Greater Manchester’s bus service absolutely pales in comparison to London’s. We know part of this is due to respective populations and demand, but the gap in quality is still unacceptable to me. That is why, alongside councillors, fellow MPs and volunteers, I’ve spent over 5 years campaigning for better buses for Greater Manchester (as you can see from the fresh faced photo!). In the past week, we’ve had three brilliant pieces of news that take us closer to better buses being a reality not a pipedream.
Firstly, following a judicial review brought by operators Stagecoach and Rotala, a judge ruled in favour of Mayor Andy Burnham’s bid to bring GM buses back under public control. This is the result we were praying for, but which, in an area of legal complexity, was far from guaranteed.
Secondly, Andy announced that all GM bus fares will be capped at £2. Three years ago I asked how the Prime Minister could justify some GM bus fares being more than double that of London, and I am thrilled to see this finally corrected. I once worked out that per mile, travelling from Mottram to Hyde was as expensive as Concorde. This is essentially a regressive tax. Bus users are as diverse as any other part of the population, but in many cases, low earners are being charged more per mile than users of any form of travel, and that is not ok in a progressive society that wants to encourage use of public transport.
Thirdly, it was revealed that all Greater Manchester boroughs will be franchised by 2024. This is much faster than previously predicted, and fantastic news for Tameside, where we have suffered terrible bus services and route decisions too long. We can’t expect a completely new bus service overnight, but we can now be boldly ambitious in laying out what we want it to look like.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve debated the need for better buses in the North in parliament, often late into the night. This week it all feels worth it. We need better rail and roads too, things I continue to call for. So much of not just our economy but also our quality of life relies on being able to travel locally and further afield without stress or obstacle. I’m really proud that we have made tremendous progress this week.