So, with 4:1 majority support for the No vote, the Transport Innovation Fund money Greater Manchester was a stone's throw from getting is lost. There's no doubt it's a wasted opportunity but now the 'Yes' campaigners, and anyone else who wants to improve public transport in the region, need to regroup and work out exactly where we go from here.
As much as we supported the Yes campaign here at Manchester Buses, we did feel that there were flaws with the package of transport improvements on offer. The bus improvements would have been difficult to regulate under existing legislation. With no central control over bus services, what would stop an operator cutting services if it felt like it? It's not new for operators to withdraw commercial services only for them to successfully bid to run the replacement service the local authority put on out of public money. The TIF bus network would have been based on paper-thin agreements between operators and GMPTE that could have fallen apart at any time.
How about the Metrolink improvements? A tram from the Airport to Manchester would be full before it had got all the way through Wythenshawe, let alone reached the proposed Park & Ride at Sale Water Park or the busy urban area of Chorlton. There would be a lot of angry passengers sat around waiting as over-filled trams passed them.
That's not to say the 'No' campaign didn't have their flaws too. Many of them said they wanted the transport improvements but didn't agree with a TAX (it was always capitalised) on their cars to pay for it. It was a "We want to have our cake and eat it" argument that ignored the social responsibility of car drivers - an ever-increasing horde who clog up our roads, one to a vehicle, causing congestion and polluting our environment. Most of the 'No' campaign seemed to be doing so for purely selfish reasons without a thought for the future or the bigger picture.
So, how about the future? Well, the Metrolink extensions to Chorlton, Droylsden, Oldham, Rochdale and Mediacity:uk will still go ahead and there are new trams and ticket machines on the way but that's it. There'll be no extra train carriages or bus services and the other Metrolink lines won't be built. (Actually, something we'd missed is that local TOC, Northern, will actually be getting 182 new carriages in a recently announced package from the Department for Transport. First Trans-Pennine Express will also be getting some, so at least that's something positive on the train side of things. Thanks to Andrew at GMPTE for letting us know!
Does it really need to be this way? There are two ways more of the improvements could still go ahead:
1. Government Money: Why can't we have some of the TIF money anyway? It's sitting there doing nothing an the Road Pricing it was supposed to encourage is obviously a political lead balloon so let's have some of the 'grant' side of the money (not the 'loan' bit - we won't have a charge to fund it) so we can help beat congestion?
2. Commercial Innovation: Okay, this isn't the time in the economic cycle when Chief Executives like taking risks, but why don't bus operators try launching some of the proposed new bus routes? Marketed in the right way they could be a success. First have been planning to launch the 'ftr' service between Manchester and Leigh/Wigan for several years. Hopefully that will still go ahead as that would most likely be a success just the York and Leeds ftr services have been.
So, there's lots of room for optimism as long as the right people in the right positions have the will to continue the good fight for the public transport network that Greater Manchester deserves.
[Image credit: Frankie Roberto on Flickr]