Much has been said about Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s perceived “cop out” over the Clean Air Plan published at the end of February. Specifically, the Plan proposes a Clean Air Zone in which there will be charge of £100 per day for HGVs and buses built before 2013 to use Greater Manchester’s non-motorway roads, with minicabs, taxis and vans due to accrue smaller charges of £7.50 each. Crucially, the proposal fails to include charges for polluting private cars.

There are various angles to this decision, most of which are entirely unrelated to Burnham’s flawed reasoning as voiced to the press – his logic that charging cars would affect the poorest in society fails to consider that the poorest in society would not be able to afford a private car in the first place, so would instead use the bus, which is now subject to charges, which it is feared would be passed onto passengers through fare increases.

When viewing it in spatial and numerical terms, Burnham’s decision seems perverse. Naturally, one bus can move far more people than one private car.

But a key part of the issue is that too many Greater Manchester buses are far too polluting, a state of affairs that everywhere outside of the south-west has had to endure while Transport for London has rolled out its latest fleet of green buses.

Bus companies operating outside the capital have been dragging their feet with new, cleaner technology; even holding the city to ransom over introducing new greener buses. But last month Stagecoach Manchester was among the bus companies to secure Ultra Low Emission Buses funding, enabling them to pursue a plan to upgrade their fleet, as revealed last summer, to the extent that they needn’t worry about the pre-2013 vehicle charges – and any additional charges should not be passed onto passengers.

The Bus Services Act 2017 provides legislative grounding for metro mayors outside of London to implement the mechanisms to reverse the damage done by more than 30 years of deregulated bus services. Burnham has made a habit of complaining about his lack of power to affect the change within his campaign pledges, but this is undeniably within his power.

The options read as jargonised buzzwords: Advanced Quality Partnership, Enhanced Partnership or Franchising. The table on page 17 displays how only Franchising will allow for a set-price, single-operator ticketing system.

Along with environmental concerns such as air quality, the 2017 Act guidance considers inclusivity, safety, social value and congestion.

The Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign has recognised the opportunity to redress imbalance in the north-south divide where financing cleaner, more affordable transport options is concerned, and have been arranging meetings with the 10 Greater Manchester council leaders in order to present the case for Franchising and apply pressure to Andy Burnham.

On 5 March, campaigners met with Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese and Executive Member for Environment, Planning and Transport Angeliki Stogia (pictured). Leese is known to be a supporter of the change, together with other high-profile local politicians including Ashton MP Angela Rayner and Salford Mayor Paul Dennett.

Better Buses Manchester

While the Clean Air Zone represents a small step in the right direction, there is a requirement for political will to ensure the best possible outcome for Greater Manchester’s air quality and, by extension, the population’s overall health outcomes.

You can sign the Better Buses for Greater Manchester petition here.

Ian Pennington