Two-year bus programme would assist pandemic recovery, claims group

Stagecoach has pledged an accelerated roll out of electric buses in Greater Manchester as part of its proposals

Stagecoach has set out a package of proposed partnership measures in Greater Manchester to help the post-Covid acceleration of bus use in the region and act as a trailblazer for other locations across the country.

The group has proposed a two-year programme of measures delivered jointly by the public and private sector to help Greater Manchester’s economy recover from the pandemic.

Stagecoach believes a series of pilot projects in the region could help deliver the planned National Bus Strategy for England, which is due to be published within the next few months, and act as a blueprint to speed up bus use across Britain.

The Department for Transport strategy is expected to include a focus on measures to help tackle greenhouse gas emissions and air quality, deliver better passenger information, innovative new services, fares and ticketing initiatives and an extension of bus priority to speed up journeys.

Before Covid, buses accounted for around 50% of all journeys on public transport, with over 4 billion journeys a year made by bus in England. In Greater Manchester, some 75% of all public transport journeys have continued to be made by bus despite the pandemic. This reflects the critical role of buses locally in helping people access jobs, education, training and essential public services.

But car use has returned rapidly in regions around the country and, despite the latest lockdown measures, is at 57% of pre-Covid levels, compared with 27% for bus use. As the UK gets ready to host the COP 26 climate change summit in November, the focus is now turning to how more people can be convinced to swap the car for public transport and active travel.

Stagecoach believes Greater Manchester should be the pilot for an integrated package of joint interventions and investments that can deliver national and regional government objectives. The programme proposed by Stagecoach to help kickstart a rapid growth in bus use includes:

A combined public and private sector ‘Partnership Board’, chaired by the mayor to develop bus improvement plans in the Greater Manchester city region.

  • Faster bus journeys in the city centre through bus infrastructure improvements such as:
  • Traffic light improvements at Crown Point, and on Ashton Old Road and the A6 through Salford;
  • Improved road junctions on Stockport Road West in Bredbury, New Bailey Street/Bridge Street in the city centre, Hindley centre and Mottram Moor;
  • An accelerated rollout of more electric buses and associated depot infrastructure;
  • Offering green mobility credit  to city centre car users to incentivise bus use and encourage people to reduce unnecessary car trips;
  • Making buses easier to access by expanding flexible ticket options to reflect changed travel patterns during Covid-19, simplifying fare types and further integrating bus tickets with tram;
  • Better connected communities by expanding Stagecoach’s successful Stagecoach Connect demand-responsive transport solution in Sale and Altrincham with connections through to Manchester Airport;
  • Improved end-to-end journeys by testing first and last-mile extensions to the bus network using e-bikes and e-scooters in Ordsall, Salford Quays and Media City, with journeys purchased in one transaction. This would also include expanding bus depot facilities to accommodate e-bike and e-scooters; and
  • Clearer customer information through a common platform for all timetable and real-time journey data across the region.

These measures would be supported by a proactive joint bus marketing campaign, both to rebuild consumer confidence and to promote the wider green credentials of travelling by public transport.

Stagecoach said the blueprint could be delivered as part of a Recovery Partnership approach, which is supported by the UK Government and which involve an agreement between local transport authorities and bus operators. Ring-fenced funding would focus on passenger improvements, there would be clear objectives for all parties, and the approach would have the flexibility to deliver local solutions to tackle local priorities.

Lee Wasnidge, managing director of Stagecoach Manchester, said: “There is a huge opportunity for the bus to drive a re-energised country coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve seen in 2020 what our country can achieve when we all pull together. We can build on that spirit of partnership as we move forward in 2021 and beyond.

“As the UK Government looks to finalise its National Bus Strategy, we believe an innovative package of partnership initiatives in Greater Manchester, one of the most important regions in the country, can show the way to boost bus use across the country.

“More electric buses, mobility credits incentives, and new innovative on-demand services to meet people’s changing lifestyles, combined with better infrastructure and more bus priority, can deliver greener and more connected towns and cities.

“This comprehensive approach will not only help Greater Manchester truly deliver on its huge potential, it is a blueprint for other regions to accelerate bus use and build more sustainable communities.”

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