Papers published by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) on 20 February recommend that bus franchising is supported as the emerging ‘leading option’, amongst others, for the future of the city region’s bus network and services and that a detailed and independently audited assessment is now completed.
The recommendation is based on two years of work, including a year-long ‘Big Bus Debate, in which local people shared their current experiences of bus travel and what they’d like to see in the future.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: “Our communities rely on buses to connect them to work, education and training, family, hospitals and other public services, but too often the current, deregulated system is letting people down. People have told me through our Big Bus Debate, that buses don’t run at the times they need them, especially early in the morning, late at night and at weekends, and that too many people find the current system to be confusing, unreliable and expensive. This has to change.
“I am determined to deliver a London-style integrated transport system for the Liverpool City Region. There are a number of ways we can achieve that through the powers in the Bus Services Act, but I am clear that whichever model we choose the outcome must be the same: a bus service that is simple, punctual, reliable and affordable. A system that is designed around what we know our communities and our local economy needs, provides people with a genuine quality alternative to the car and helps to tackle the climate emergency.
“Doing nothing is simply not an option. That’s why next week we will ask the Combined Authority to support the completion of the work required to fully assess the emerging option of bus franchising against the alternatives for our future bus system in the Liverpool City Region, to deliver what people have told us they need from their buses and the whole transport system.”
Should the Combined Authority approve the recommendations, Merseytravel officers will complete an independently audited detailed assessment of bus franchising, alongside continuing existing partnerships and an Enhanced Partnership model, upon which the public and other statutory consultees would be consulted later in the year.
In response to the announcement, a spokesperson for Stagecoach Merseyside said: “Buses are fundamental to ensuring a more sustainable future for our region and we share the ambition of the Combined Authority to deliver an even better bus network for customers, communities, and our economy.
“Partnership working through the Liverpool Bus Alliance has ensured that many practical features of London’s transport system are already in place – from multi-million investment in younger, greener bus fleets, and on board WiFi as standard, to integrated multi-operator ticketing and 100% of the network accepting contactless payments, as well as mobile apps and real time journey information. We are already looking at further initiatives to build on that success and deliver capped, multi-journey fares and other measures to make bus travel easier, better value and more reliable.
“By working together and making the best joint use of resources, bus operators and the transport authority have delivered a 15% increase in fare paying passenger journeys since 2013/14 and 91% customer satisfaction among bus users, the joint highest of any metropolitan area in England and higher than in London.
“Franchising does not guarantee better bus services or more use of public transport. In contrast to our region, the number of bus journeys in London has been falling since 2013-14 and is down 200 million in five years. Transport for London, which runs the bus network, is facing a £700m deficit and many bus services are now having to be cut.
“Under franchising, local taxpayers in our region would become responsible for the full cost of the bus network, which is currently 90% funded by bus operators, and it would inevitably lead to higher council tax bills. Partnership can deliver major investments and improvements far quicker and without the risk and unnecessary extra cost of franchising.
“The biggest barrier to improving buses and getting more people on board is congestion, which makes services slower and pushes up the cost of travel. By focusing on practical measures to give buses more priority we can maximise the power of the bus to deliver safer, healthier and more prosperous places for people to live.”
Phil Stone, Managing Director for Arriva North West & Wales, added: “150 million bus journeys are made in Liverpool City Region every year and it’s a lifeline for many people by connecting them to work, education and leisure opportunities.
“This has been down to the unique partnership we’ve developed with Merseytravel and other operators in the form of the Merseyside Bus Alliance. This has enabled us to introduce new vehicles and deliver customer focused improvements, making bus passengers in Merseyside some of the most satisfied in the country.
“We’ve supported younger people to travel more by bus through the introduction of ‘MyTicket’, one of the most value for money ticket offers for 16-19-year olds in the country.
No firm decision has yet been made to introduce franchising and our focus in the meantime is on continuing to deliver the improvements to bus services that we know our customers want and need. To this end, we’re committed to enhancing the Merseyside Bus Alliance, in partnership with Merseytravel.”