I rise to support this enabling Bill, which has the potential to reinvigorate bus services across the UK and in Greater Manchester. Bus use has changed over the past 30 years. Since 1985, usage has fallen by half in metropolitan areas and by 30% in Greater Manchester. Meanwhile in London, where the franchising of routes was introduced, the number of bus journeys has increased by well over 200%. For almost a generation, service provision has been based on commercial profit-making routes, with local authorities being able to subsidise loss-making but socially critical routes. However, such services are increasingly under threat. In Cheadle, the X57—a vital service for my constituents that runs from the centre of Manchester to the small rural village of Woodford—has been all but lost. Various reasons have been cited, including falling passenger numbers on a service that is bedevilled by congestion along its route, which causes problems for the timetable.
When people move from buses to cars, congestion increases and services ultimately suffer. It is therefore imperative that we take the opportunity afforded by the Bill to reinvigorate our bus services. The Bill will enable local authorities—particularly Greater Manchester, with its devolved powers—to address current service shortfalls, to tackle congestion on our roads, and to provide a vital link for people to access work and town centre facilities. All that will further support our local economies.
Work is ongoing throughout the Greater Manchester area to encourage greater public transport usage. While I look forward to an extended Metrolink in the long term, I welcome the recent opening of the £165 million Second City Crossing, which is part of the Government’s £1.5 billion expansion plan for bus, cycle, rail and tram. In the short-term, however, introducing a smarter, cheaper, and more extensive bus service could have real benefits for constituents such as mine.