Non-charging plan in Salford delivers cleaner air faster than charging zone, modelling shows

Building on the transformational Bee Network, and using clean air funding already awarded by government, Greater Manchester’s proposal includes a £51.2m investment in zero-emission electric buses for the Bee Network, £30.5m to fund grants for cleaner taxis, and £5m for measures to manage traffic flow on some roads in the centre of Manchester and Salford.

Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities are legally directed by government to bring nitrogen dioxide within legal limits as soon as possible and by 2026 at the latest, and are preparing to submit evidence to government in December in support of their preferred investment-led, non-charging plan, benchmarked against a charging Clean Air Zone in the centre of Manchester and Salford.

Greater Manchester’s preferred plan would mean that no vehicle would be charged to drive in a Clean Air Zone in Greater Manchester. Modelling shows this would bring air quality within legal limits for nitrogen dioxide on local roads in 2025.

Modelling of a charging Clean Air Zone in the centre of Manchester and Salford shows it would not achieve compliance by 2026, failing to meet the government’s own compliance date.

It is for government to decide the measures that get the green light – Greater Manchester’s preferred investment-led, non-charging plan, or a charging Clean Air Zone.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Cleaning up the air that people breathe is a priority for Greater Manchester and we have already started to do that through investment in the Bee Network, which saw the first buses brought back under local control in September.

“By accelerating investment in the Bee Network to create a London-style integrated public transport network, and upgrading GM-licensed taxis, we can improve air quality faster than if we introduced a Clean Air Zone, and without causing hardship to our residents or businesses.

“Since the first bus services came under local control, we have listened to feedback to make improvements and deliver change and are already seeing the benefits the Bee Network brings, with more people getting on board with lower fares under a locally controlled service, with new, state-of-the-art electric buses.

“I’d also ask government to urgently consider allowing Greater Manchester local authorities to remove charging Clean Air Zone signs, as modelling shows that only Greater Manchester’s investment-led plan can meet the legal test placed on the 10 councils to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time and by 2026 at the latest.”

Bringing buses back under local control means that Greater Manchester can run the cleanest vehicles where they are most needed to tackle poor air quality and has already seen the introduction of zero-emission electric buses.

At the request of government, benchmark modelling for a charging Clean Air Zone tested the potential impact on air quality of introducing charges for some non-compliant vehicles – buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs and light goods vehicles (LGVs) – in the centre of Manchester and Salford. GM’s non-charging plan

Details of the plans will be published this week in a report to the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee. The committee will be asked to approve the submission of Greater Manchester’s evidence to government when it meets on 20 December.

The investment-led plan includes:

  • A £51.2m investment in 64 zero-emission electric (ZEB) buses and upgrades to electric vehicle charging infrastructure at bus depots in Manchester, Bolton and Middleton. Bringing buses back under local control through the Bee Network allows Greater Manchester to run ZEBs on routes where they can have the biggest impact on improving air quality. The 64 electric buses would be in addition to the 85 currently in operation and, with 50 due to come into service in March 2024 would bring the fleet total to 199 next year. Under current plans, Greater Manchester would have 369 ZEBs operating in 2025 and 619 by the end of 2027. Greater Manchester is on target for 50% of its bus fleet to be electric by 2027, with an entirely electric fleet by 2032.
  • A £22.5m Clean Taxi Fund providing grants of between £3,770 and £12,560 to help all taxis (Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles) licensed with a Greater Manchester local authority meet a new minimum emission standard by 31 December 2025.
  • An £8m Electric Hackney Upgrade Fund providing grants of between £7,530 and £12,560 to help owners of GM-licensed Hackneys who meet the minimum emission standard help upgrade to a Zero Emission capable vehicle.
  • A £5m investment in measures to manage traffic flow on roads in Manchester and Salford, including Regent Road and Quay Street.

Modelled charging zone

Modelling for the regional centre Clean Air Zone ‘benchmarked’ at the request of government was based on the introduction of charges for non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, HGVs, vans and minibuses.

It suggests that the benchmarked approach would not address all the locations above the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide until after 2026, with eight locations exceeding legal nitrogen dioxide limits in 2025.

Once we have had full, formal government feedback on our Clean Air Plan following the submission of this additional evidence, we will consider timescales for a public consultation on the plan.

Leader of Bury Council and Clean Air lead for Greater Manchester, Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, said: “We know that there are very serious consequences of dirty air in Greater Manchester and that the health impacts are not always felt equally.

“We want to do the right thing in the right way, using an investment-led, non-charging plan to clean the air in a supportive and transitional way, that does not create the risk of financial hardship. While we can now prove our case for an investment-led plan, modelling shows that we can’t achieve compliance through a charging Clean Air Zone by 2026. There is now a compelling case for what Greater Manchester has set out – a plan that is fairer, cheaper, more affordable and more democratic.

“Subject to the approval of the Greater Manchester Air Quality Administration Committee at its meeting on 20 December, this evidence will be submitted to government. It is then for government to determine which scenario Greater Manchester is to implement – an investment-led, non-charging plan, or a charging regional centre Clean Air Zone.”

The Bee Network

On 24 September, Greater Manchester ushered in the Bee Network by becoming the first place in England to re-take control of its buses after nearly 40 years of deregulation.

Despite higher volumes of road traffic year-on-year, the performance of franchised bus services is as good as, if not better, than before. Weekend traffic is up 12 per cent in parts of Manchester and Salford in 2023 versus 2022, the equivalent of an additional 80,000 vehicle movements.

However, bringing bus services under local control and ensuring that franchised operators are accountable to local people means that Greater Manchester can respond quickly to improve services through timetable changes, including:

  • More buses on some routes: 11 additional buses have been deployed to enable punctuality improvements over the afternoon-evening period in the run up to Christmas. This will be funded by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).
  • Permanent timetable changes to the first 10 routes from January 2024.

In addition, measures are in place to improve the management of incidents and events, including increased customer communication via social media for issues relating to problems with specific franchised bus services.

Bee Network TravelSafe Support and Enforcement Officer activity so far includes 5,000 patrol hours, 313 incidents dealt with, 639 buses boarded, and 29 safeguarding incidents dealt with.
TfGM is working with operators to strive for operational excellence by providing customers with a continually improving offer. Using customer feedback, several improvements have already been introduced, including changes to the Bee Network app – with more features launching next year – and a new Bee Network bus family ticket, giving one or two adults and up to three children unlimited one day off-peak travel for £9.

Regular network reviews will ensure bus services continue to work efficiently and for the benefit of the people they serve. The comprehensive process will allow for engagement and consultation with customers, communities and key stakeholders and is already underway, with TfGM working with Go North West to review 10 Bee Network services to see if improvements can be made.

Improvements are also being delivered for Metrolink customers, with the later running weekend services continuing in 2024, additional capacity with more double trams and more frequent services from the city to Velopark, ahead of Co-op Live opening next year.

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