Proposed cuts to bus services in Stockport could have a ‘devastating’ effect, a borough transport chief has warned.
Government funding helped to keep bus services going during the pandemic, as plummeting passenger numbers put them at risk.
But that emergency cash is set to be pulled from October – and commercial operators in Greater Manchester have identified dozens of unprofitable services they intend to axe completely or run less often.
In Stockport, nine services are earmarked for the chop, while a further five would operate at a reduced frequency.
However, a plan to save the routes and maintain services levels has been hatched by local leaders. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is currently working on retendering contracts, with funding from existing budgets and the government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan.
Proposals go before the Greater Manchester Transport Committee (GMTC) for sign off on Friday.
But Stockport councillor – and GMTC member – Coun David Meller says the rescue package is entirely dependent on successfully retendering the contracts – leaving vital bus services in the borough ‘under serious threat’.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service losing the services would be ‘devastating’.
And finding new operators to take the routes on may not be easy. A report to the transport committee acknowledges that rising costs – including fuel and driver wages – have ‘further undermined the viability of the network and continues to do so’.
Coun Meller said: “By not supporting bus routes fully and effectively asking operators to ‘pick and choose’ the routes they can operate for profit, it not only makes a mockery of this government’s plans to boost buses nationally but, during this cost of living crisis, means people will be forced into cars many are struggling to fill with petrol.
“With inflation set to rise to 13% and a recession now on the cards, cutting these routes could force people into more debt and having to make heartbreaking choices at home. We’re facing a race to the bottom and this government isn’t doing anything to reasonably help. We need action – now.”
Which services are affected?
Services due to go out for retender include the 42B, which links Cheadle up to Manchester, the 313 that connects Stockport to Manchester Airport and the circular 328 service which serves areas of Cheadle, Adswood and Edgeley.
The rescue plan seeks to ‘ensure transport links are maintained as Greater Manchester works towards reforming bus services and delivering the Bee Network – the city-region’s vision for a more integrated and accessible ‘London-style’ transport system’.
But Coun Meller fears cuts now could jeopardise the future of Greater Manchester’s bus network, with the first franchised routes little more than a year away.
He points to a section of the report that says ‘degradation of the network’ would hinder further recovery in revenue and patronage whilst undermining future opportunities for network growth and development’.
However, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham appeared to be more optimistic about the region’s bus network – at least in the short to medium term.
“The proposed withdrawal and reduction of dozens of bus services – that will be relied upon by our residents to access jobs and key services – is not in keeping with our vision and why we will intervene to save them and ensure our communities are not cut off,” he said in a recent statement.
“However, Government need to recognise the ongoing impact of the pandemic as we will not be able to sustain these services forever without financial support.”
Councillor Andrew Western, chair of the Greater Manchester Transport Committee, acknowledged there was ‘still a lot of uncertainty’, but insisted leaders were ‘resolutely committed to delivering the Bee Network and will continue to work closely with operators and other partners to ensure we have a stable network to build from’
“Tangible benefits will start being delivered in a month’s time when new and lower bus fares are introduced and, in little over a year, with the first franchised bus routes in operation, we will begin to integrate our value for money fares offer across Metrolink and buses to make everything simpler to use,” he said.
“We will only reach our end destination if our communities join us on this journey, and I’d encourage everyone to make the most of the reduced fares and help us build the transport system you want and deserve.”
TfGM says it has been working with operators to understand the impacts of coronavirus – and other factors, such as increased energy and other operating costs – on the future sustainability of public transport services.
It is continuing to make the case to government for continued funding as an integrated plan is developed to promote growth of public transport across Greater Manchester through to 2025 and beyond.
Greater Manchester Transport Committee meets on Friday at Manchester Town Hall on Friday.