A bus operator who lost a legal battle to stop Major Andy Burnham taking buses in Greater Manchester back under public control is appealing the ruling. Rotala, which owns Diamond, has lodged an application to the Court of Appeal.
It comes after a judicial review brought by bus firms Stagecoach and Rotala, who claimed Burnham’s bid to move to a franchising system where operators have to bid to run services under public control, was ‘irrational’ and ‘unlawful’. However, the judge ruled the decision and the process followed were lawful.
The first phase of the new franchising scheme is set to start in Wigan and Bolton by autumn 2023 and rolled out to the rest of the city-region in 2024. Burnham announced adult fares for single journeys will be capped at £2 and £1 for children under the new system in which all buses will be one uniform colour.
READ MORE: Bus passenger fares to be capped at £2 as part of sweeping reform to public transport in Greater Manchester
Greater Manchester Combined Authority chief executive Eamonn Boylan told the transport committee on Thursday (March 24) that all bus operators have now been invited to enter negotiations in order to meet this ‘ambitious’ target. But the appeal by Rotala could delay the rollout of the new franchising system.
He said: “We have written to the court giving our view that there are no grounds upon which the appeal could be upheld, but clearly we’re in the hands of the court awaiting a decision on that. We’re going to work very , very hard to make sure the whole of the franchise across all three tranches [is rolled out] by the end of 2024.
“Having said that, that’s an ambitious timetable. But it’s one that we are currently working to.”
He added: “We are proceeding with the franchising process through the issue of the invitation to negotiate. We haven’t waited for the outcome of the consideration for the Court of Appeal. We’re fairly confident but we can’t be certain.
“So if there is a further intervention from the courts in the form of a prohibition on further work, we’ll have to replan and rephrase. We’re not anticipating that being a problem at the moment.”
The transport committee was also told that Greater Manchester is waiting for further details about the government’s bus improvement funding programme. But Boylan said on Friday (March 25) that an announcement on the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement – worth more than £1bn – is due next week.
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The government has confirmed that emergency subsidies for public transport will be extended for six months from April – but it is expected to end after that. He said: “Funding will be available for the next six months.
“What we’ll need to do is agree with the Department for Transport how we utilize that six-month period in order to make any modifications to the network that we might need to make it affordable and sustainable beyond that six-month period.
“What government have said is that they do not intend to provide any further recovery funding beyond the first six months of the next financial year. We still await confirmation of the actual quantum, but we are confident there will be support for both light rail and bus in Greater Manchester.”
Rotala has been contacted but declined to comment.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.