Liverpool City Region moves to bring buses back into public control

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram has announced a major plan to bring the region’s buses back under public control.

Mayor Rotheram and the city region’s combined authority are moving forward with a landmark plan that is set to change thousands of passenger’s lives.

The move, when completed, would create a regulated bus network across the Liverpool City Region for the first time since the 1980s.

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Under the plans, private operators would still run buses on the city region’s roads, but crucially, local leaders will have control over fares, timetables and routes.

That new regulated system, known as franchising, would represent the biggest shake-up of public transport in our region in more than 35 years.

The Transport Act of 1985, brought in by the government of Margaret Thatcher, led to all buses outside London being deregulated and creating a ‘free for all’ of a system where private companies can decide which fares they run and how much they charge passengers.

Mayor Rotheram said he now wants to ‘fix our region’s broken, fragmented public transport network.’

He added: “Too many people in too many communities feel cut off from each other and from accessing opportunities to get on because of a system that simply does not work for them. In too many places, our transport network is too confusing, too unreliable , and too expensive. “

A recommendation to confirm franchising as the preferred future model for running the city region’s bus network and services will go before the combined authority on Friday March 4, where it is expected to be rubber stamped.

If approved, more work will then take place to complete the business case for the franchise model, followed by a public consultation.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram

This represents a major moment in a process that has already seen four years of intensive work by the combined authority including a year-long ‘Big Bus Debate’, which asked local people to share their experiences of using buses on the roads of Liverpool City Region.

Recommendations to the combined authority set out that bus franchising provides the greatest degree of public sector influence and would allow the Combined Authority to specify the network, set fares and control fare policy.

Mayor Rotheram added: “Next week, local leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse the decision by the Thatcher government to fragment our public transport system. Hundreds of thousands of people in our city region rely on their services every day , with 82% of all public transport journeys in our region taken by the bus.

“Since the Thatcher government deregulated buses outside of London in the 1980s, services outside of the capital have suffered.

“After years of painstaking work, the Combined Authority’s assessment into the future of our bus market is recommending franchising as its preferred option to be considered further.

“The rest of the country is watching the work we are doing here very closely. We are one of the only areas leading the way in using new powers under the Bus Services Act to take greater control over public transport and ensure it is run in the interests of local people. ”

It is hoped that franchising the city region’s bus network will be a major step forward to creating an integrated, London-style wider public transport network, where the Liverpool City Region’s bus, train and ferry timetables are linked up, with simple transferrable fares and ticketing systems.

But the decision could well be challenged by private bus operators.

This was the case in Greater Manchester, where Mayor Andy Burnham’s move towards franchising was met with legal challenges by private operators.

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