We’re taking back control: Liverpool City Region Mayor announces biggest shake up to bus network in 40 years

Mayor Steve Rotheram stands in front of a yellow bus holding a card saying 'we're taking back control'

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram has hailed a ‘new era’ for public transport in the region after he announced that he will be franchising the region’s buses.

The decision, which marks the biggest shake up to the region’s bus network in almost 40 years, was taken by Mayor Rotheram following the recommendation of local authority leaders at today’s Combined Authority meeting.

It means that the Liverpool City Region will be only the second area outside of London to have a franchised system since the passing of the Transport Act in 1985, when Margaret Thatcher’s government deregulated all buses outside of the capital.

During that time, data has shown that bus services outside of London have been in rapid decline with passenger journeys falling and fares rising at a rate higher than inflation.

Under a new franchising model, private operators will still be contracted to run bus services but the Combined Authority will have greater control over fares, routes and timetables and the ability to reinvest any profit back into the network to improve services for passengers.

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

“Today marks the start of a new era for public transport in our area – we’re taking back control of our buses!

“Hundreds of thousands of people in our area rely on buses to get about every day, with 82% of all public transport journeys taken by bus. Yet, for far too long, our residents have been forced to contend with a second-class service that places profit before passengers and leaves behind the very people who need it most.

“Today we have chosen a completely new course for the future of our buses. Under franchising, we will have greater control over fares, tickets and routes to ensure that bus services are run in the best interests of passengers – not shareholders.

“Whilst it will take a few years to reregulate the whole network, and the change will be transformational – it is not one that will happen overnight. There are several stages that we still need to go through before we can expect to see franchised buses on our roads.

“By turning back the clock on nearly 40 years of failed deregulation, we’re putting our buses back where they belong: under public control. It is another massive step forward on our journey to building an integrated London-style transport network that will make getting around our region faster, cheaper, greener, simpler and more reliable.”

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Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool City Council and Portfolio Holder for Transport said:

“This is a landmark decision and the culmination of many years of hard work and careful consideration.

“The shared vision of Mayor Rotheram, myself and other leaders in the city region is of a bus service that works for everyone – and we believe that means taking greater local public control of the network so we can do things like set fares, routes and timetables.

“And people overwhelmingly agree with us – almost 70% of respondents to the consultation held this summer said they backed plans for bus franchising in the Liverpool City Region.

“This important step forward means we can now start planning for how we improve bus services in the future, whether that’s by simplifying ticketing to ensure passengers always pay the lowest fares for their journeys or making sure services are better connected with rail, active travel routes and our Mersey Ferries.”

The Mayor’s decision follows a major 12-week consultation which revealed that 69% of the public support franchising, and all six of the region’s local authority leaders recommended that a franchised system would provide the best value to the taxpayer.

Under the plans, buses would be able to better integrate with other modes of transport – including the region’s £500m fleet of new, publicly-owned trains – and ticketing would be made simpler and more convenient with the introduction of a tap-and-go system. Daily fare caps would ensure passengers would always pay the cheapest fare across the whole network.

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To ensure a smooth transition, franchising will be introduced in phases, with the first franchised buses starting to run in St Helens by late 2026 and the move to a fully franchised system across the whole of the Liverpool City Region by the end of 2028.

In the period up to full transition, the Combined Authority will work with central government and bus operators to plan and improve bus services to best support the region’s objectives.

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