Liverpool City Region to consider taking back control of bus services

Liverpool City Region is bidding to take back control of its bus services.

The region’s combined authority will hear plans next Friday (March 4) to introduce a ‘once in a generation’ system to shake-up the transport network, which was deregulated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party in 1985.

If accepted, it would allow the combined authority to specify and procure the network which is operated by bus operators under contract.

Following deregulation private bus companies competed against each other on the region’s most lucrative routes, creating imbalances and fractured services for commuters.

Now, the combined authority wants a system where it can regulate bus services for the benefit of residents, including specifying the network, setting fares and controlling fare policy.

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 next week.

As part of the meeting, the authority will be asked to consider both the Draft Outline Business Case for bus franchising and an enhanced partnership model for bus governance.

The preferred option and the recommendation to the meeting, to meet the combined authority’s Vision for Bus, is to franchise the bus system.

If the recommendation is approved, an independent assessment of the completed business case will need to be carried out, followed by a public consultation, both of which are in line with the requirements of the Bus Services Act 2017.

This current recommendation is based on four years of intensive work, including a year-long ‘Big Bus Debate’, in which local people shared their experiences of bus travel and what they’d like to see in the future and the examination of available alternatives.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: “One of the major reasons I ran for election was the opportunity negotiated in our devolution deal to fix our region’s broken, fragmented public transport network.

“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.

“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.”

He said 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.”

Although franchising is being recommended, the report also asks that the combined authority recognises the importance of bus operators to the city region and recognises the constructive and collaborative approach they have taken to working with the authority through the Bus Alliance.