‘Bus Regulation: The Musical’ takes to the stage in Liverpool

Trying to get the bus can feel like a bit of a song and dance at times. 

You might not know when it’s going to arrive, if it even will at all. How much has the fare gone up to now? Is the train cheaper and easier?

Well, imagine a musical on the efforts by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to bring the area’s bus services back into public control.

The team at Better Buses for Merseyside have worked together to put on ‘Bus Regulation: The Musical’ at The Black-E in Liverpool city centre next Saturday. Inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1980s hit musical Starlight Express, the 30-minute show features Merseyside-based performers on roller skates playing the buses to tell the history of public transport provision on Merseyside from the post-war period up to the present day, and going into the future.

Members of the city region combined authority agreed last year to move forward with franchising as a future model for running the bus network and services, one of only two locations in the UK to opt for such a process.

Under a franchise system, the combined authority would take control of setting fares and routes in a move to make buses work in the interests of passengers and not for private companies, according to members of the authority.

Now, the decision is to be put to the 1.6m residents across the region as Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram confirmed they will now have the chance to make their voices heard. Currently, private operators decide the routes, timetables, fares and standards. 

There is also limited coordination between private bus operators and other forms of public transport. The public consultation on proposed reforms to bus services will run until 3 August, with people being invited to take part in the consultation even if they are not regular bus users.

Ellie Harrison, an artist, public transport campaigner and the show’s creator, said, “We’re so excited to be bringing ‘Bus Regulation: The Musical’ back to The Black-E in Liverpool for two special free shows to coincide with this hugely important public consultation on the future of the region’s bus network.

“It’s a really fun and family-friendly way of showing how the ownership and control of our region’s buses has changed over the decades – from the public Corporation bus companies in the 1960s Liverpool, Birkenhead, Wallasey, Southport and St Helens – through the establishment of the Merseyside PTE which saw their unification in the 1970s.

“We then move into the chaos and fragmentation caused by bus deregulation in 1986 and the numerous mergers and takeovers that followed, leading to the expensive, poorly-coordinated privately-owned system we have now. The musical clearly illustrates the need for good governance and regulation in order to deliver a fully-integrated and affordable public transport network which works in the interests of local people.”

Under the plans put forward, there would be the opportunity for buses to integrate with other modes of transport, including the region’s new fleet of publicly-owned hydrogen buses and £500m trains.

Ticketing would also be made simpler and more convenient with the introduction of a tap-in tap-out system with daily fare caps that mean passengers would always pay the cheapest fare across the whole network.

Last week marked the halfway point of the consultation, with thousands of people already making their voices heard. Cllr Liam Robinson, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority transport portfolio holder, said bringing bus services in-house would help bring the region’s network together.

He said, “It’s about putting the biggest piece of the integrated transport system jigsaw in place. We want to see a bus service that works for everyone in our region, and we believe that means taking greater local public control of the network so we can do things like set fares, routes and timetables.

“There’s a really big decision we have to make about the future of our bus services and it’s vital that we hear from as many people as possible across our region – whether they’re bus users or not.”

Cllr Robinson said the move would put Liverpool and the wider city region alongside other “big global cities” with integrated public transport networks managed by relevant authorities. He added, “It’s important people can travel around the region connected, it’s only as useful as the services they have available.”

Having the power to shape the London-style transport system Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram set out for when he was elected in 2016 is an important step according to campaigners. Matthew Topham, a Better Buses for Merseyside campaigner, said the bus network should be accountable to users, “not overseas shareholders.”

He said, “Where ever folks live across the Liverpool City Region, they’re immensely powerful right now. This consultation gives you the opportunity to wrestle back the bus network so that it’s accountable to you, not the overseas shareholders of Arriva and Stagecoach.

“If enough people don’t take part, we could lose out on great changes: like a hopper fare that lets you make as many changes within an hour’s journey for a single fare or the power to integrate timetables and routes with Merseyrail to get us seamlessly door-to-door.”

People can find more information on the proposals and take the online questionnaire by visiting liverpoolcityregion-ca.gov.uk/movingbusesforward

Tickets and further details for Bus Regulation: The Musical can be found at Eventbrite.

Image: The Bus Regulation performers. Credit: Brian Roberts

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