Multimillion-pound order placed for first 50 Bee Network buses

First glimpse of the new bus fleet

A multimillion-pound order for 50 new double deck electric buses for Greater Manchester has been placed with manufacturer Alexander Dennis.

Less than a year before the first locally controlled bus services in 36 years is set to take to the road, Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, has revealed the distinctive black and yellow design – featuring the new Bee Network logo – for the first time, as he unveiled what the 50 new buses will look like.

Powered by electric batteries and built in Britain, the new buses will produce zero local emissions, supporting Greater Manchester in building a sustainable future for public transport.

Due to operate across Wigan and Bolton from next September, they will be the first to bear the branding of the new Bee Network – Greater Manchester’s ambition for a fully integrated, London-style transport system comprising buses, trams, walking and cycling, and eventually trains.

The new bus order and brand preview come as Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) confirm receipt of 33 bids from operators vying to run the first locally controlled bus services in 36 years. The bids have come from nine different operators and relate to 11 different franchises that will operate across Wigan and Bolton from next September.

Andy Burnham said: “The countdown to bringing buses back under local control for the first time in 36 years is well and truly on. With the order placed for our first 50 new electric buses and strong interest from operators who want to run the first franchised services a year from now, the Bee Network is gathering real momentum.

“We’ve already seen a positive response to our call for people to get back on board, helped by the successful introduction of cheaper bus fares across Greater Manchester to help residents cope with the cost-of-living crisis and I’m pleased to announce that we have commenced engagement with operators about the potential to cap weekly bus tickets from early next year.”

He added: “The previous government bought into what we are trying to do, and I underlined the importance of this partnership approach continuing during my meeting with the new Transport Secretary yesterday (September 21). By working together, we will realise our ambitions and deliver a network that will transform how people get around our city region – not just in the years ahead but for future generations.”

Bus franchising will be rolled out in phases, starting in Bolton and Wigan as well as parts of Salford and West Manchester on September 17, 2023, followed by Bury, Rochdale, Oldham and parts of North Manchester from the end of March 2024, and Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and South Manchester as well as the remaining parts of Salford from January 5, 2025.

The 50 new buses will be funded from the Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS), with around 300 more electric buses to be delivered from 2024 through to 2027. A further 170 electric buses, funded from the DfT’s Zero Emission Buses Regional Area (ZEBRA) scheme, will run in Stockport from 2024. The move will singlehandedly reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 million tonnes.

Clr Andrew Western, chair of Greater Manchester Transport Committee (GMTC) and clean air lead for the city region, said: “The transformational Bee Network will be integrated and accessible, easy to understand and offer great value with capped daily fares and tickets.

“Not only will this be a significant step in improving bus services for passengers in Greater Manchester, with cleaner vehicles and better cycling and walking infrastructure it will accelerate our ambition to deliver a sustainable public transport system and become carbon neutral by 2038.”

To ensure transport links are maintained as Greater Manchester works towards reforming bus services and delivering the Bee Network, TfGM earlier this month confirmed contracts had been awarded to save more than 60 bus routes earmarked for withdrawal, a reduction in frequency or route change.

Without the intervention, some communities would have been left with much reduced – and in some cases a complete lack of – bus services, adversely impacting their ability to reach a range of critical services, including employment and education opportunities, as well as family and friends.