Merseyside bus reform moves a step closer

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is to start a public consultation on what would be the biggest shake-up of Liverpool city region’s bus network in a generation. Tony McDonough reports

Hanover Street
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram wants to reform the bus network. Picture by Tony McDonough


A proposed plan to transform how buses operate across Liverpool city region is to be put out to public consultation.

Early in 2022, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and the Combined Authority voted in favour of pursuing a bus franchising system for Merseyside. This would effectively reverse the privatisation of the network introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1985.

Under a franchised system, decisions about routes, timetables, service frequencies and fares would be taken out of the hands of the private bus operators and be put under the control of the Combined Authority.

In 1985, the Conservative Government led by Margaret Thatcher passed legislation to allow all local bus networks outside of London to be deregulated. Merseyside’s buses were taken out of state control the following year.

This led two a period of chaos with private operators aggressively competing for passengers during the morning and evening rush hours on Liverpool’s busiest routes.

At one point fleets of buses from Greater Manchester would come up the East Lancs Road every morning to compete with local operators.

This eventually settled down as the smaller operators were bought out by the bigger firms.

Today the two dominant operators are Arriva and Stagecoach. However, the legacy of that change has an impact to this day with Mr Rotheram believing the system is “broken and fragmented” and too expensive.

On Friday, March 3, city region political leaders will be asked to move forward with the next stage of the process.

READ MORE: New era for Merseyrail as first new train departs

This will be a formal consultation asking local residents, businesses, trade unions and stakeholders for their feedback on potential plans to bring bus services back into public control. It is hoped the first franchised services will run in St Helens in 2026.

A new report containing an assessment of bus franchising, with an independent audit and a recommendation to begin consultation on a proposed franchising scheme, will be considered at the meeting.

Mr Rotheram has committed to using the powers available to elected mayors through devolution to reform the region’s buses. This is a key part of his wider ambition to build a more integrated London-style transport system.


Steve Rotheram
Mr Rotheram wants to better integrate bus services with the new £500m Merseyrail train fleet
Arriva, Hanover, Stagecoach
Merseyside’s buses were deregulated in 1985. Picture by Tony McDonough


More than 80% of public transport journeys – over 400,000 a day – are taken by bus in the region. They provide people with a vital lifeline that connects them with work and opportunity as well as friends and family.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in our area rely on buses to get about every day,” said Mr Rotheram. “For many, they are a vital lifeline that connects them to the outside world, to new opportunities, and to each other.

“Yet, for far too long, people in our communities have been forced to contend with a second-class bus service that’s too confusing, too unreliable, and too expensive.

“I want this to become a thing of the past – because we simply can no longer afford to accept a public transport service that leaves behind the very people who need it most.

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