Stage­coach plans more elec­tric buses just don’t pull plug

Glossop Advertiser - - News - Charlotte Cox @ccox­men­media

STAGE­COACH bosses plan to roll out 105 elec­tric buses across Greater Manch­ester – but only if they keep power over the net­work.

The firm has ap­plied for £21.5m in gov­ern­ment fund­ing to launch the new ve­hi­cles by 2020.

Stage­coach plans to put in £34.6m from its own cof­fers, but only if it strikes a deal to share con­trol over buses with our re­gion’s lead­ers.

Bosses say that if they get fund­ing, the elec­tric buses would run on routes con­nect­ing Manch­ester city cen­tre, Manch­ester Air­port, Manch­ester Pic­cadilly rail­way sta­tion, as well as six hos­pi­tals, two uni­ver­si­ties and Ox­ford Road.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Martin Grif­fiths in­tro­duced plans for the new fleet as part of the ‘part­ner­ship pro­posal’.

A part­ner­ship model would be the al­ter­na­tive to fran­chis­ing, in which the net­work would work in a sim­i­lar way to Lon­don, where Trans­port for Lon­don gov­erns how buses are run.

Fran­chis­ing would take power away from op­er­a­tors such as Stage­coach.

The fu­ture run­ning of Greater Manch­ester’s bus net­work is still up in the air, with mayor Andy Burn­ham yet to make a de­ci­sion.

But lead­ers of both po­lit­i­cal groups have pre­vi­ously ex­pressed their views in pub­lic meet­ings that fran­chis­ing would be best for pas­sen­gers.

Mr Grif­fiths said the plan would mark the big­gest sin­gle in­vest­ment in ‘e-bus’ tech­nol­ogy any­where in Europe, adding: “Our plans will put Greater Manch­ester at the fore­front of the drive to im­prove lo­cal air qual­ity, and help ce­ment Bri­tain’s po­si­tion as global leader in man­u­fac­tur­ing lowe­mis­sion ve­hi­cles.

“It is also part of our wider part­ner­ship pro­pos­als.”

Asked what would hap­pen if a fran­chis­ing model was cho­sen, a spokesman said: “The cost of the kind of ma­jor in­vest­ment pro- posed by Stage­coach would be borne by the tax­payer, rather than the bus op­er­a­tor, as the com­bined author­ity would be re­spon­si­ble for the full costs of the bus net­work.”

A TfGM spokesman said no de­ci­sion had yet been made on how the bus net­work will be run in fu­ture, adding: “If any of these op­tions are pur­sued, en­sur­ing fair com­pe­ti­tion will be a key con­sid­er­a­tion, so that bus op­er­a­tors of all sizes can ac­cess the mar­ket.”

The power to re­form Greater Manch­ester’s dereg­u­lated bus net­work – which has largely been con­trolled by in­di­vid­ual com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors since the 1980s, leav­ing lo­cal lead­ers with only a lim­ited de­gree of in­flu­ence through a di­min­ish­ing pot of pub­lic grants – was a ma­jor strand to the re­gion’s de­vo­lu­tion deal of 2014.

TfGM has bid separately for £12m from the same ‘Ul­tra-Low Emis­sion Bus Scheme’ for elec­tric Metro-shut­tle buses, yel­low school buses and ve­hi­cles to run on the guided busway.

Stage­coach has 750 buses in Greater Manch­ester, 144 of which are hy­brids.

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