City region transport network bounces back following lockdown easing

Lime Street station

Travel across the Liverpool City Region public transport system is recovering strongly, with some sectors busier than before the pandemic.

The combined authority said that, since COVID restrictions have been lifted there has been a remarkable bounce back in bus and rail travel in the city region.

Passenger numbers across the network are now nearing those seen before the first national lockdown in March 2020, while some evening and weekend services have seen a surge in use.

Currently, patronage on the Merseyrail network is around 90% of pre-pandemic levels, with a 15-minute service set to return on May 2.

The operator also reported a huge increase in passenger numbers after racegoers took 100,000 journeys on the network to and from Aintree over the recent Grand National weekend, in a further boost to the regional economy.

The authority also said regional rail hub Liverpool, Lime Street, has been named as the best performing station in the country by Network Rail, with passenger numbers the highest of any terminus train station in England. Footfall at the station in March of this year was almost one fifth (17%) higher than in the same month in 2019.

There is also good news from the city region bus network, where the number of journeys has neared 90% of pre-COVID levels on some days – a much quicker and stronger recovery than elsewhere in the country.

Travel patterns have changed, however, with large amounts of home working meaning that peak time services are less busy than pre-pandemic.

Later morning and off-peak services, though, are carrying greater numbers of passengers, suggesting that, for those people that can are taking advantage of flexible office hours to skip the morning rush.

Evening and weekend services are as busy, and sometimes busier, than before the pandemic – a trend reflected in the strong recovery reported by the Liverpool City Region’s retail and hospitality sectors, where spending is outperforming the national average.

The news of a bounce back in passenger numbers comes as the city region gears up for a year of massive investment in the local transport network, with more than £710m secured from central government for improving services and upgrading facilities.

Cllr Liam Robinson, transport portfolio holder for Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said: “Our public transport network is the backbone of the Liverpool City Region – from our trains and buses to our iconic Mersey Ferries.

“As the pandemic hit our region in spring 2020, people did what was asked of them by only making essential journeys to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And once lockdown was lifted, ongoing social distancing requirements greatly reduced capacity on the network

“But now passengers are returning in large numbers, helping to fuel a recovery in our vital leisure, hospitality and retail sectors.”

He added: “This has been enabled by the level of services which were maintained, especially for key workers, even during periods of restrictions. That’s why it’s vital that we don’t see bus or rail services reduced or, worse, cut altogether.

“Travel patterns may have changed, with fewer people travelling at peak times and more during late mornings as well as evenings and weekends, but the demand on the network is a strong as it has been and looks set to grow further.”

He said the authority is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the roll-out of hydrogen buses, and new trains, although a precise date for the introduction of the new £460m fleet is still in question.

The first of the new fleet arrived on Merseyside in October, 2019, but problems with the network’s signalling systems affecting the new rolling stock’s peak hour services, and delays in driver training mean the first trains are yet to enter service, almost three years later, after a planned roll-out for January 2021 was missed.