Answers to Questions: Transport Authority

At full Council Meetings councillors have the opportunity to ask questions to the ‘Joint Authorities’ which operate at a Greater Manchester level. At the most recent meeting the Liberal Democrat team of councillors asked three questions to Transport for Greater Manchester:

Question – Using less Diesel Buses
Following the announcement in London, that no new pure diesel double decker buses would be added to the fleet from 2018, and that all single deckers in central London would be zero-emission, what action is Transport for Greater Manchester taking to ensure that the bus network is making a significantly reduced impact on air quality?

The bus market in Greater Manchester is a deregulated market, which means commercial operators are free to run services as they choose where they see a business case. Consequently, TfGM cannot control the fleet and engine standards on the majority of the bus network in the way that TfL is able to. In London, Transport for London franchise bus services, and therefore can set minimum service standards across a variety of criteria to ensure the bus network meets targets, including around air quality. The Bus Services Bill offers Mayoral Combined Authorities power to deliver bus franchising, should the Mayor choose and following a public consultation. Of the buses that TfGM own, Yellow School Buses were retrofitted with better performing engines under the ‘Clean Air for Schools’ programme, and the free city centre Metroshuttle services run on a mix of hybrid and plug in electric vehicles. Other vehicles owned by TfGM are used on subsidised services across Greater Manchester.
TfGM continue to work with operators to secure low emission bus funding when central Government funding opportunities are made available.

As a follow up we asked what Greater Manchester was doing with the bus services it DOES have control over, which is the significant number of (tax payer) subsidised services. An obvious problem is that many of these subsidised services are evening or weekend services, which would otherwise be uncommercial to operate, but understandably use the same buses that operate during the day.

Hopefully this is an issue that T4 GM can continue to take action on, and something we will continue to lobby for given the high levels of air pollution that these big diesel engines can cause.

Question – Night Time Tram Services
24 hour underground service now operate on key lines through the weekend in London providing a safer and more affordable means of night- time transport for many people. What consideration will Transport for Greater Manchester give to trailing additional late night or early morning services on the Metrolink network, particularly at weekends?

Metrolink already operate a service from Deansgate-Castlefield to Manchester Airport from 0300 seven days a week. This service benefits the late night economy as well as enabling employees of business along the Manchester Airport line to access their places of work.

Given the increasing importance of this late night economy, first and last tram times are regularly assessed to ensure they meet passenger demand, and this includes extending tram operating times for events at venues that have late evening curfews. As the number of trams increases and where passenger demand exists, Metrolink will increasingly be able to offer extended operating hours. As Metrolink currently operates without subsidy, TfGM will work with the new Metrolink operator Keolis- Amey, who begin operation in July, to extend the current operating hours, where there is demand to make the service pay for itself.

A key consideration for Metrolink is the requirement to carry out routine maintenance and cleaning of the tram fleet, which has to be done outside service hours. The time available overnight and at weekends is extremely valuable to engineering teams so that maintenance work can be completed to ensure the reliability of the network during operating hours. The balance of services offered, versus time needed to ensure the network is fully functional, is something that is considered when making these decisions.

Our view is that running nighttime services on the Manchester Airport line has shown that this can be done. Particularly at weekend later night trams could provide a safer and more affordable service not just for people who who are out late, but also the many people who work in the night-time economy in bars and restaurants who are often lower waged workers.

Question – Destruction of Rabbit Colony
What is Transport for Greater Manchester’s policy on animal welfare? Will the authority review its policy following the mass extermination of wild rabbits in February 2017 undertaken as part of the construction of the Trafford Centre extension of the Metrolink?

Protecting wildlife and habitats is a priority for TfGM. Prior to construction of the Leigh Guided Busway, TfGM carried out surveys for bats, amphibians, badgers, breeding birds and water voles.
Over 3,000 amphibians both protected and non-protected (including newts, toads and frogs) were relocated to safe sites near the Busway, and specialist amphibian fencing was erected to help prevent them accessing the Busway. Five ‘tunnels’ were also installed to enable amphibians to cross the Guided Busway and footpaths safely, and created four new ponds to provide habitat for the amphibians to reproduce. In addition, a mammal shelf was installed in a new culvert so that the Busway does not prevent water-based mammals traveling upstream past the Busway in the future.

The method recently used to clear the Parkway Roundabout as part of the Metrolink Trafford Park line works was only adopted after a range of options had been considered. Leaving the rabbits on site was not feasible due to the amount of heavy construction works, and the risk of dispersal of the rabbits directly onto live traffic lanes. TfGM was also unable to re-locate the rabbits, as neither an agency nor a suitable plot of land could be identified to rehome them. DEFRA advised TfGM that the process of relocating/re-housing rabbits causes them significant stress to the extent that they often do not survive; and their preferred method would be to dispatch the rabbits. Humane dispatch of the rabbits took place only after re-location was discounted. The rabbits were killed using a lawful method and at no time was a spade or stick used to kill or harm the rabbits during this process. The RSPCA attended the site and were satisfied that the method used was legislatively compliant.
A lessons learned exercise has been carried out to ensure that any future works are dealt with in a sensitive manner.

We asked this question following press reports that cruel and violent methods were used by contractors to kill an entire colony of rabbits during the construction of the new line to the Trafford Centre (see this press report here). Our view is that T4GM should learn from this and have a clearer policy.