New Transport Secretary Louise Haigh will visit Greater Manchester’s pioneering public bus network on Thursday as Labour pledges to start a “bus revolution” and allow services to be taken back under local public control.

Ms Haigh will meet Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to discuss how the area’s Bee Network can be replicated across the country to improve services and grow passenger numbers.

The Bee Network, launched last September as the first bus franchise in England outside London, has since seen passenger numbers grow by five per cent in the first area to be franchised, with revenue following suit.

Mr Burnham pushed through a franchising model for bus services in the region, after what he called a “36-year fight” to bring them back under public control following deregulation under the Thatcher government in the 1980s.

Transport Secretary Louise Haigh
Louise Haigh, the new Transport Secretary, will visit Greater Manchester to discuss its ‘pioneering’ Bee Network of buses (UK Parliament/PA)

Bus passenger figures fell sharply afterwards with two billion fewer annual bus journeys in 2023 than in 1985.

And Greater Manchester until recently had 830 bus services run by 30 operators with 150 different ticket types with some routes near universities and city and town centres over-supplied and more rural areas under-supplied.

The mayor has promised the new system will give public control over fares, routes and frequencies, with financial penalties for poor performance written into the five-year contracts for services, provided by 50 new electric-powered buses, all with the same Bee Network yellow livery.

The new network is currently rolling out across the region.

Labour now plans to remove barriers so Local Transport Authorities across the country will be empowered to take back control of buses.

Ms Haigh said: “Buses are the lifeblood of communities, but the system is broken.

“Too often, passengers are left waiting hours for buses that don’t turn up – and some have been cut off altogether.

“Change starts now. This new Government will give local leaders the tools they need to deliver better buses up and down the country.

“Our plan will create and save vital bus routes by giving every community the power to take back control of their bus services through franchising or public ownership.

“We are already seeing how the Bee Network is delivering for people across Greater Manchester – we will ensure every community can enjoy the same benefits.”

Mr Burnham said: “Properly integrated public transport is the key to unlocking growth and opportunity across our city-region, improving the lives of our residents, supporting businesses and delivering greater value for money.

“The numbers speak for themselves – our Bee Network has more passengers than ever before and is providing a better service for residents.

“Greater Manchester has shown that our pioneering approach works and we look forward to working with the Government to put power back into the hands of local communities.”