Stagecoach proposes £142m Manchester partnership

Stagecoach Manchester has proposed a radical 10-year, operator-funded profit-sharing partnership agreement for bus services in the south of the city.

If accepted, the plans will see Stagecoach invest £142m in a package of improvements to deliver what it calls “a step change” for the region’s buses.

The plans were developed after “extensive engagement” with Transport for Greater Manchester officials. They are part of Stagecoach’s response to the consultation into the future of the region’s bus services and will see some profit above a certain level ring-fenced for service improvements.

Contracted delivery for proposed Stagecoach Manchester partnership

Stagecoach’s proposed partnership agreement would be delivered under a contractual arrangement with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). It involves a single bus brand, with the identity applied to vehicles along with all customer contact channels.

The operator says that its plans will deliver the key objectives of GMCA’s 2040 transport strategy. They also represent a reduction in cost and financial risk to GMCA and taxpayers when compared to franchising, it adds.

If the partnership agreement is accepted, Stagecoach will commit to start delivering improvements from May. More than £130m of its investment would be directed towards around 500 new buses, among other areas.

Through a partnership investment fund, profits above an agreed benchmark would be split three ways. One-third would go into the fund and of that, two-thirds would be ring-fenced for service initiatives specifically in South Manchester. The remainder would be available for the whole city region.

Of the other profits above the benchmark, one-third would be retained by Stagecoach and the remainder would go to GMCA.

The arrangement in South Manchester would be open to any other operators. It will “seamlessly integrate with any franchised or partnership scheme that may be adopted in North Manchester, delivering one easy to use network,” says Stagecoach.

Major commitments from Stagecoach Manchester

Other commitments made by Stagecoach in its partnership proposals include:

  • A better-integrated bus, rail and tram network
  • One main customer contact point for all bus services in Greater Manchester
  • A new performance regime and congestion-busting measures to deliver faster journeys#
  • Open data on operational and financial performance and customer complaints
  • A commitment to paying staff the Real Living Wage, plus investment in training and apprenticeships.

Additionally, Stagecoach says that through the operation of socially necessary services without subsidy, its plans will generate up to £25m of taxpayer savings.

It also promises capped fares and that all buses will be fitted with audio-visual announcements within three years. 100% of its 750-strong fleet would meet Euro VI standards or better by September 2021, and all new buses will be ultra-low- or zero-emission from that point.

Operator ‘ready to deliver’ from May onwards

Says Stagecoach Manchester MD Elisabeth Tasker: “Our plans will mean that the region shares in our financial success; that there is greater public influence over the bus network; that operators are even more accountable for performance; and that there is more transparency around decisions.

“We are ready to start introducing these improvements within a matter of months, working constructively with politicians across Greater Manchester to deliver on our promises.”

Elected Mayor Andy Burnham will decide on the future of bus services in Greater Manchester in due course after analysis of all consultation responses.