Greater Manchester’s Transport Strategy 2040 was published in February 2017. Led by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), the Strategy aims to direct the long-term shape of Greater Manchester’s transport system to 2040. With a new mayor and devolution, there is an opportunity to be bolder, to make the most of this opportunity, say Mike Hodson and Andy McMeekin.
- Connections between places are enhanced – but not evenly across the region.
- Opportunities are being missed – for example making public transport more affordable for all; extending segregated cycle lanes; dealing with air pollution hot spots and use of the Bus Services Act to create a service beyond that served by light rail.
- The strategy does not go far enough, in addressing its stated social and environmental goals.
- Economic goals assume priority.
- A greater debate on the social purpose of transport is needed.
Underpinned by a series of strategic economic, environmental, and social principles, the concept of an integrated transport system – enabling people to move seamlessly between different modes of transport, rather than using their cars – is fundamental to Greater Manchester’s Transport strategy.
Aspirations to integrate …but in uneven ways
As the dominant vision of the future of transport in Greater Manchester, the Strategy not only promotes integration of transport systems but also, perhaps paradoxically, aims to enhance connectivity but is doing so in spatially uneven ways. This raises the question of what would be integrated, for what purpose and for whom? In this light, the Strategy can be characterised as using transport to re-make Greater Manchester, as follows:
- To improve Greater Manchester’s global connectivity, by connecting the city-region to global circuits of trade and people via enhanced transport infrastructure to Manchester Airport, and also to the Manchester Ship Canal and the port of Liverpool;
- Through building inter-urban connections, via loosely specified new transport (rail and road) connections between Greater Manchester and other urban centres in a ‘new’ urban North of England;
- Compacting Manchester city centre through plans to significantly densify and extend it over next two decades with up to 50,000 more homes by 2040 and potentially 110,000 more jobs. The implications of this are that for levels of peak hour car trips to remain at current levels, by 2040, around 68,000 additional trips need to be made by public transport, walking or bike;
- In the Strategy, connections across Greater Manchester, outside of the city centre, are often less well developed. This suggests weak focus on spatial integration in the Strategy.
Current travel trends
This raises issues about how current travel trends and systems in Greater Manchester are to be reconfigured to be more integrated. Mobility in Greater Manchester is mediated through multiple rail, road and cycling transport networks. Collectively, according to the Strategy’s Evidence Base, these networks account for 37 million km of travel per day. The vast majority of travel (over 28 million km) is by car or van. This illustrates the dominance of car travel in Greater Manchester and the relatively limited role of public transport. The majority of travel is not only short distance – 87% of trips are under 10km – but within the individual districts that constitute Greater Manchester. The Strategy suggests that many of these trips could instead be made by active modes of travel, including cycling and enhanced forms of public transport.
The approach to taking currently fragmented, individual transport networks and achieving a more integrated Greater Manchester transport system appears to be primarily through building transport interchanges, implementing an inter-modal ticketing system and through an unclear use of new (smart) technologies. Yet, this aspiration for increased integration starts from a low base where the use of single modes of transport rather than multiple modes appears to dominate. Specifically, around one-third of Greater Manchester residents travel solely by car (i.e. they use no other means of motorised travel in a year within Greater Manchester). This highlights the scale of change needed. But there is also a fundamental challenge about how an integrated transport system will be achieved when the governance of Greater Manchester’s existing multiple transport networks is fragmented.
Experimenting with transport governance
The ability of Greater Manchester interests to reconfigure its transport is variable across different transport networks. The rail network, for example, is a complex mix of private and public interests where the role of Greater Manchester interests is limited. The bus system, although historically strongly publically governed locally has since 1986 been deregulated and liberalised. This has restricted the ability of Greater Manchester public actors to achieve strategic aims through the bus system. Greater Manchester interests would appear to have greater discretion in relation to light rail and active travel. Fragmentation also includes funding, where the main source remains central government.
The Strategy itself recognises that transport integration will require governance integration and therefore collaboration and experimentation in ways of governing between multiple partners. Various new partnerships and ways of governing road, rail and buses are being developed or have the potential to develop in response. This includes between TfGM and Highways England to oversee strategic responses across key roads in Greater Manchester. Transport for the North aims to set out strategic priorities for transport in the North. And also, through the Bus Services Act 2017, the potential for a new franchised model of operation for bus services is being made possible. The Devolution Deal has brought a central government commitment to provide a multi-year transport settlement, which provides some potential for more strategic planning. Greater Manchester has developed mechanisms to organise funding; through, for example, the Greater Manchester Transport Fund, which is a mix of central government funding and local borrowing. This has funded largescale infrastructure investment in Metrolink and bus priority schemes.
Can transport governance reconfigure Greater Manchester’s transport?
This raises the issue of whether these experiments with new partnerships and ways of governing will be enough to reconfigure Greater Manchester’s transport into a more integrated system. This requires further, long-term interrogation and research.
Yet, in advance of that, we can say that the most visible transport infrastructure strategies in Greater Manchester are, arguably, with light rail and cycling. Much of (though not all) this light rail and cycling infrastructure is in the city centre and to sites such as the Trafford Centre and the Airport. The strategy for many other areas of Greater Manchester appears to be to squeeze the existing infrastructure and manage demand and network flows. This raises questions that need to be satisfactorily addressed in the near future: what further changes in governing and funding architectures are needed for Greater Manchester to be able to achieve its priorities? And, in this respect, what difference will the new Mayor make?
Refocusing on missed opportunities
But, all of this is also to accept the terms of the Transport Strategy as it is set out. While the Strategy acknowledges the need to address economic, social and environmental goals, it is clear that the economic goals assume priority. Even within narrow economic and employment-based objectives, the Strategy seems to ignore travel to work patterns beyond new or enhanced economic zones. Nor does it appear to incorporate sufficient flexibility to account for potential longer-term shifts in the nature and location of work, for example through continued automation.
More broadly, the strategy needs to be bolder in addressing its stated social and environmental goals to ensure promising opportunities are not missed. This requires serious societal debate about what the social purpose of transport in Greater Manchester should be and how infrastructure development and integration can facilitate that. This means considering bolder options: making public transport far more affordable for all of Greater Manchester’s citizens; better tailoring transport infrastructure development to actual and projected mobility patterns beyond the City centre; dealing with air pollution hotspots; extending segregated cycle lanes across the region; maximising opportunities from the Bus Services Act to create a cheap, flexible and relevant service beyond the radial lines served by light rail. Providing serious alternatives to car-based travel has potential to enhance the everyday lives of all of GM’s citizens. Devolution and a new Mayor provides the opportunity.
- The ideas in this blog were developed as part of the project: Making devolution work differently: housing and transport in Greater Manchester after devolution. The project is funded by the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) Strategic Investment Fund. The project involves an inter-disciplinary team of the authors and six colleagues (Julie Froud, Mick Moran, Anne Stafford, Pam Stapleton, Hua Wei and Karel Williams).