The government announced more than £1 billion of transport funding for Greater Manchester on Monday (4 April) – but how that will be spent is not yet clear.
Three separate pots of funding which will benefit the city-region have been confirmed by the government as part of a £7bn package to ‘level up’ transport.
Labour mayor Andy Burnham welcomed the news, calling it a ‘vote of confidence’ in his vision for a London-style public transport system.
However, he warned that Greater Manchester will only receive half of the money it requested to cover the ongoing costs to run a better bus network.
This means the £1.50 ‘hopper fares’, new ten-minute bus services and more 24-hour routes which were proposed in the original plan might not happen.
Burnham also called for clarity on Covid recovery funding for buses, warning services could get worse before they get better if the cash is not confirmed.
He said: “On the face of it, it looks good.
“£1bn for capital and just under £100m for bus revenue.
“However, as ever, the devil’s in the detail.”
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester’s Bus Service Improvement Plan asked for £308m to cover revenue costs over three years including £90m of recovery funding.
This recovery funding is supposed to help services survive while passenger numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels – around 75 to 80 per cent for buses.
The government had already announced a national pot of more than £150m to support bus and trams services across England for six months – and the latest announcement reveals Metrolink will receive £20.5m of this recovery funding.
However, the Department for Transport has still not announced how much money each area will be getting for bus services from this national package.
And the indicative allocation of up to £94.8m until 2024/25 announced by the government this week is less than half of the remaining £218m requested.
Greater Manchester also bid for more than £600m in one-off capital costs as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan over the next eight years – but it was later told that this cash would come from another pot it already bid for.
The £1.07bn City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement for Greater Manchester first announced in the Autumn budget was confirmed this week.
But since the bid was submitted, Greater Manchester was told this cash must also cover capital costs requested in the Bus Services Improvement Plan bid.
Capital costs were therefore ‘reprioritised’ and included in the £1.07bn bid.
This investment includes £205m for new electric buses and infrastructure, up to £202m for bus lanes, corridors and junctions to improve connectivity and up to £30m to improve bus passenger information, fares and ticketing.
Funding will also enable work to start on a new interchange at Bury and a new train station at Golborne, subject to approval by the Department for Transport.
Approximately £175m will be spent on highways maintenance over five years too.
Greater Manchester has also recently secured £35.8m to enhance its green bus fleet with the introduction of 170 zero emission buses – equal to 10 pc of the whole bus fleet in Greater Manchester – running from Stockport by 2024.
Burnham also announced at a press conference on Monday (4 April) that the new regulated bus system will launch in Wigan and Bolton from September 17, 2023 when at least 50 new zero emission buses will be brought into service.
It comes after a judge ruled in favour of Mr Burnham bringing buses back under public control following a judicial review brought by two bus operators.
Rotala – one of the bus firms – has now appealed this decision, but Greater Manchester is sticking to the same timetable for the new franchising system.
The mayor committed again to capping bus fares for single journeys at £2 for adults and £1 for children – but he could not guarantee a £1.50 hopper fare.
He said: “We are confident that we can deliver that simpler fair structure and an improve service from day one.
“We are going to get on now with procuring the buses that will be needed to deliver the first regulated services.”
He added: “It’s a big day for us. We’ve been working a long time to this.
“We’ve put forward the vision. The government have bought into the vision.
“We just need to work with them on the pathway from where we are today to get to that point in September next year when the new services are coming in on the back of a stabilised bus system.”