Bus reform takes centre stage in Liverpool

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The ‘Vision for Bus’ is based on the 1,500 public responses received to an online survey that formed the first phase of the Liverpool City Region’s ‘Big Bus Debate’

The Liverpool City Region has placed bus reform firmly on the combined authority agenda, announcing a range of new proposals called the ‘Vision for Bus.’

Key goals include 24-hour buses on main routes, at least one bus an hour on all routes between 0500 and 0000hrs and zero-emission fleets.

On Friday 26 July, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and City Region leaders will be asked to approve the principles of the ‘Vision for Bus’ at a Combined Authority meeting, and will receive an update on the different options available for bus reform.

The ‘Vision for Bus’ is based on the 1,500 public responses received to an online survey that formed the first phase of the Liverpool City Region’s ‘Big Bus Debate’ which was launched by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram in November 2018.

Queen Square Bus Station, Liverpool
Merseytravel. Queens Square bus station refurb reopening.
Pix for Lee Rooney.

Punctuality, reliability, ticketing complexity, the overall cost of travel and service frequencies, coverage and hours of operation were all key themes identified for improvement.

The report highlights that even without meeting the ambitions of the new ‘vision,’ keeping bus services at even a static level under any of the three models could require up to an additional £35m of public subsidy a year by 2030 through the Combined Authority.

The current subsidy, around £60m a year, funds concessionary travel and supported services (those which are not commercially viable for private bus operators).

The estimated additional investment factors in naturally increasing costs as well as forecasting a need to plug more gaps in commercial operations as less profitable routes are cut in response to operator costs rising faster than passenger revenues.

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said: “We have big ambitions for bus in the Liverpool City Region.

“The Bus Alliance has allowed us to make good progress in modernising our bus network but, as the ‘Big Bus Debate’ has shown, we have to go much further and faster, ensuring bus services are developed around people, supporting them getting to and from work, accessing health care and enjoying all the City Region has to offer.

“Eight out of 10 public transport journeys are made by bus. The network has to be robust and sustainable, otherwise we’re putting economic growth at risk.

“We need to put people with opportunities and deliver our commitment to air quality and health improvements.

“It’s clear that whatever bus reform option is right for our City Region, there will be additional and significant cost to the public purse.

“We have to meet this challenge head on and work through it. Doing nothing is not an option.”

The Combined Authority is expected to receive a recommendation on the preferred option in early 2020.

The next phase of the Big Bus Debate will take place later this summer, with more detailed face-to-face surveys and further community engagement planned in the autumn.