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Bus franchising has emerged as the “leading option” as Liverpool City Region aims for London-style transport system – Metro Mayor.

  • Major step forward in journey to deliver Metro Mayor’s vision for bus
  • Too many communities currently isolated and poorly served
  • No change is “not an option”

Bus services could be franchised as part of a London-style public transport system for the city region, according to Liverpool City Region’s Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.

Combined Authority papers, to be published later today (20th February), recommend that bus franchising is supported as the emerging “leading option”, amongst others, for the future of the city region’s bus network and services and that a detailed and independently audited assessment is now completed.

The recommendation is based on two-years of intensive work, including a year-long “Big Bus Debate”, in which local people shared their current experiences of bus travel and what they’d like to see in the future.

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said:

“Our communities rely on buses to connect them to work, education and training, family, hospitals and other public services, but too often the current, de-regulated system is letting people down.

“People have told me through our Big Bus Debate, that buses don’t run at the times they need them, especially early in the morning, late at night and at weekends, and that too many people find the current system to be confusing, unreliable and expensive. This has to change.

“I am determined to deliver a London-style integrated transport system for the Liverpool City Region. There are a number of ways we can achieve that through the powers in the bus services act, but I am clear that whichever model we choose the outcome must be the same: a bus service that is simple, punctual, reliable and affordable. A system that is designed around what we know our communities and our local economy needs, provides people with a genuine quality alternative to the car and helps to tackle the climate emergency.

“Doing nothing is simply not an option. That’s why next week we will ask the Combined Authority to support the completion of the work required to fully assess the emerging option of bus franchising against the alternatives for our future bus system in the Liverpool City Region, so as to deliver what people have told us they need from their buses and the whole transport system.”

Should the Combined Authority approve the recommendations, Merseytravel officers will complete a detailed and independently audited assessment of bus franchising, alongside continuing existing partnerships and an Enhanced Partnership model, upon which the public and other statutory consultees would be consulted later in the year.

The Big Bus Debate

In autumn 2018, the Metro Mayor launched a year-long Big Bus Debate, which set out to gather insight on issues including bus usage, satisfaction with local bus services, priorities for improvement; and suggestions to encourage greater use of bus.

Almost 3,000 local people gave their views about bus services through an online survey and research undertaken by the national passenger research and campaign group, Transport Focus. This public engagement and research revealed that people were dissatisfied with the frequency and punctuality of buses, the cost of bus travel and the availability of direct bus routes.

The Vision for Bus

Taking this in to account, in July 2019 the Combined Authority agreed a new “Vision for Bus”, based on people’s views about buses, other key city region strategies and new and key emerging issues such as the Climate Emergency, poor air quality and the city region’s Local Industrial Strategy.

The Vision for Bus sets out a proposal for bus services which includes enhancements and expansion of the bus network, improvements to fares and ticketing arrangements, one brand identity for the bus network as part of a wider transport brand, phasing in zero emission buses, on board enhancements for customers and significant investment in bus infrastructure and bus priority.

Doing nothing is not an option

Bus networks across the UK have experienced a long-term decline in patronage. Whilst the Liverpool City Region has bucked this trend with an increase, people have told us that too often they cannot get buses at the times and places they need them. We need to make sure that, whatever system is ultimately adopted, bus services meet the needs of our communities and local economy.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced a £5bn fund for improving buses and cycling infrastructure. Welcoming the announcement, the Metro Mayor pledged that the city region “will be working hard to lobby the government to make sure that our region gets its fair share of that money.”


Should bus franchising go ahead, it would enable the Metro Mayor and Combined Authority, through its powers devolved from Whitehall and Westminster to address other issues to improve the city region’s bus services, for example through its control of the Key Route Network of major roads.

Climate Emergency

Increasing use of public transport – bus, rail and Mersey Ferries, cycling and walking, and reducing use of cars, are vital to addressing the Climate Emergency and to tackling poor air quality, which kills 1,000 people a year in the Liverpool City Region alone.

What would the costs of bus franchising be?

The business case work will identify the potential costs of bus franchising, however it is anticipated that significant investment would be required either to maintain or improve services.

How does the current bus system work?

The Transport Act 1985, deregulated the vast majority of bus services across the country.

The Act removed local government control of bus services and allowed private companies to operate whatever services they wished on a profitable basis. The role of local government was restricted to funding (subsidising) socially necessary services that the private sector did not want to run on a commercial basis.

The Act also prevented the public sector from funding any service that could compete with a profitable service. There is no ability to use profits from the successful services to cross-subsidise socially necessary but unprofitable services under this model.

Buses in London were never de-regulated and remained under control of local government. Since 2000, they have been run by Transport for London on behalf of the Mayor of London.

What is Bus Franchising?

The Bus Services Act 2017 provides Mayoral Combined Authorities with the powers to implement bus franchising in their area – akin to the system operated by Transport for London. Other local transport authorities will also be able apply to Government for access to the same powers, where decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis. (The Bus Services Act 2017, Franchising Scheme Guidance, DfT)

How much does the city region currently spend on buses each year?

At present the Combined Authority invests £64m a year in supporting the bus network, including subsidising socially necessary bus routes that are not commercially viable for commercial bus operators, and payments to bus operators for providing free concessionary travel.

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