Stagecoach could face major upset in final franchising phase

Bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis is in the process of delivering 67 Enviro200 buses to Rotala subsidiary Diamond Bus for use on Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 services of Greater Manchester’s franchised Bee Network

As Greater Manchester’s franchised Bee Network prepares to launch its second phase, speculation is mounting regarding who the successful bidders for the third and final phase will be.

Industry rumours hint at a potential shake-up for Stagecoach in Tranche 3, which takes in the south of Greater Manchester with five large and four small franchises that cover Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and the rest of Manchester and Salford.

While Stagecoach currently holds a dominant position in the deregulated setup of the area, speculation suggests it could walk away with just one of the large franchises

While Stagecoach currently holds a dominant position in the deregulated setup of the area, speculation suggests it could walk away with just one of the large franchises. First Manchester and Rotala’s Diamond Bus operation are expected to make strides with the small franchise contracts. Additionally, there are murmurs of a newcomer to bus operation in the region clinching some or all of the remaining large contracts.

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has refused to be drawn on the speculation. A spokesperson added that an update on Tranche 3 will be provided in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the second phase of the Bee Network will launch on March 24, pushing the franchised portion of the bus network to about 50%. Tranche 2 encompasses three large franchises and three small franchises across Rochdale, Oldham, and the remaining parts of Bury. These contracts cover 30% of the Greater Manchester bus network, including 500 buses, approximately 1,000 drivers, and three depots transitioning into franchising.

Stagecoach has secured the three large franchises based on operations from First Manchester and Go North West’s depots at Oldham and Queens Road respectively, plus its existing Middleton depot. First has secured two of the three small franchises in Rochdale, while Rotala subsidiary Diamond Bus has been awarded the Oldham small franchise.

TfGM has provided updates on depot acquisitions and improvement plans. The Oldham and Queens Road depots have been purchased, while the Middleton depot acquisition via lease is progressing. Plans for Oldham and Queens Road include short-term improvements such as enhanced toilet facilities and roof repairs at Queens Road. TfGM admits the latter depot will eventually need a replacement roof.

Electrification efforts at the Oldham depot are progressing well, with infrastructure commissioning slated just before the second tranche of contracts launch. However, industrial action at ADL’s Falkirk factory has delayed the delivery of 50 zero-emission Alexander Dennis Enviro400EV double deckers. Only two buses were delivered by January 26, with 26 to 32 expected by March 24. To mitigate this, a small fleet of Bee Network specification Euro 6 buses will temporarily supplement the new zero-emission fleet.


Similarly, the small franchises have faced delays in vehicle production, prompting the acquisition of an interim fleet to maintain services until new buses arrive between March and June 2024. Overall on March 24 60% of vehicles will have, as a minimum, external Bee Network Livery.

Stagecoach does not expect any agency drivers will be required, but TfGM has said a risk remains that the number of staff who have indicated they are willing to transfer to the new operators via TUPE will change as the operational commencement date approaches. To mitigate this risk, Stagecoach has seconded 80 members of staff from elsewhere within the group to operate on the network if required.

The group has also launched a comprehensive training package for staff in partnership with trade union Unite and TfGM and is seconding 60 drivers to both First Manchester and Go North West to ensure drivers can be released for training ahead of the launch of the Tranche 2 contracts.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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