People are being asked for their views on the future Liverpool city region buses and plans to reform the network as a major public consultation is launched. Tony McDonough reports
A major public consultation on the future of the Liverpool city region bus network is now under way.
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is seeking views on his plan for the biggest upheaval of bus services since the mid-1980s.
Residents, businesses, trade unions and stakeholders are being asked to give feedback on a new bus franchising scheme proposed by Mayor Rotheram and the Combined Authority.
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 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.
Currently, in the city region, private operators decide the routes, timetables, fares and standards. There is also limited coordination between private bus operators and other forms of public transport.
Bus franchising would give the Combined Authority greater control over fares, routes and timetables, allowing the services to be operated in the interests of local bus users. Private operators would run them under a contract with the CA.
Mr Rotheram said: “Hundreds of thousands of people in our area rely on buses to get about every day. 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.
“Using the powers that devolution has given to us, I want to build a London-style integrated transport system that’s faster, cheaper, cleaner and more reliable.
“And that starts by taking back control of our buses to give us greater control over fares, routes and timetables. Working together, I want to put the ‘public’ back into public transport and build a fairer system that puts passengers before profit.
“As we move a step closer to making that ambition a reality, I want our residents to have their say on our plans. So, whether you regularly take the bus or not, I’m encouraging everyone to get involved in this consultation and make their voice heard.”
This public consultation will run until August 3, 2023, with people being invited to take part in the consultation even if they are not regular bus users.
People can find more information on the proposals and take the online questionnaire by visiting liverpoolcityregion-ca.gov.uk/movingbusesforward
Over the coming weeks all households in the Liverpool city region should receive a leaflet with more information on the proposed changes to how bus services work, as well as details of how to take part in the consultation.
A series of roadshows are also being held across all six boroughs of the city region – Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens, and Wirral – giving people an opportunity to discuss the proposed changes and to complete consultation questionnaires.
The consultation team can also be contacted with questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 0151 330 1249.