BUS companies have been accused of "running scared" as they claim that plans to reform the region's network would result in "inflation-busting" fares and higher taxes.

OneBus, a consortium of bus operators in Greater Manchester, claimed the cost of the proposal is now double the level originally suggested at £266m. It also said that one in four passengers would "desert" buses under the new system, with 45m fewer customers by 2040.

The figures come from a report by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) which wants to introduce a franchising scheme.

This would mean that bus services would be under the authority's control allowing it to decide which services would be provided.

Deputy mayor Sir Richard Leese said that claims made by OneBus were full of "distortions, misconceptions and downright lies".

He said: “The independently audited assessment is quite clear that the transition costs up to 2025 will be £134.5m, with the vast majority of this being paid for by earn back funding from central government. This figure does include the costs of the depots and the repayment and interest that fall within this period."

Since the assessment was completed, the government has said it will support Greater Manchester to deliver a London-style bus system, which could reduce the cost for the city-region even further, according to Sir Richard.

He added: “The fall in passenger numbers cited is actually the forecast of what would happen if nothing is done to improve our bus network. Passenger numbers would be higher under a franchised system and it also provides us with the best platform to invest in the bus market to increase patronage in the future."

A public consultation on the GMCA's proposed bus franchising system is currently underway and ends on January 8.

But OneBus chief executive Gary Nolan said the consultation documents, which are hundreds of pages long between them, are "indecipherable" for most people.

He said: “Residents are already realising that they will ultimately pay to run the service, but likely have no idea of the additional funds that will be needed for the council to acquire bus depots, deliver greener buses, or even to pay interest payments on the borrowing required. It is very concerning that these points have remained hidden until now.”

To participate in the consultation, visit www.gmconsult.org or call 0161 244 1100.