Buses to come back into public control for first time in a generation

Buses will come back into public control across the Liverpool City Region for the first time in a generation.

In a landmark move, the region’s combined authority has formally adopted a franchising model that will give it the power to set fares and routes across the six council areas, including Wirral.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram confirmed the decision in a historic meeting at Mann Island this afternoon.

In embracing the franchise model, Liverpool City Region becomes only the second area outside London to run a publicly operated bus network. It is thought the first service owned by the people could be on the road within three years.

More than 6,000 people had their say on the plans in a wide-ranging public consultation this summer.

Under a franchise system, the combined authority will 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. 

Last month, neighbouring Greater Manchester’s Bee Network bus fleet rolled onto the roads for the first time with Mayor Andy Burnham taking part in the first journey. During the city region’s 12 week consultation, bus users, operators and stakeholders had their say. 

Analysis of the results showed almost 70% of respondents backed the introduction of the franchise model. The combined authority will now be able to coordinate the bus network based on what passengers need and would have the power to reinvest any profit made back into improving services. 

The bus operators would be commissioned by the combined authority to run the services, as is currently the case in London and as is being implemented in Greater Manchester. It would also allow the combined authority to integrate buses with the rest of the transport network, such as the new Headbolt Lane station in Kirkby.

Metro Mayor Mr Rotheram said the decision represented the Liverpool City Region “taking back control.” He added how it was a “momentous day” and the vote was the “most significant act as Mayor I will take to date”.

Mr Rotheram said the authority “simply couldn’t afford not to take action to save our transport network” and “this is our time to take our bus network off life support and nurse it back to health.”

Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council and portfolio member for transport, said the decision had been “37 years in the making” and bus operators had committed to working with the combined authority to implement the measure.

A three year transition period will be implemented to allow network improvement measures – such as bus prioritisation infrastructure and the reintroduction of bus lanes in Liverpool  – to be introduced before the first franchised services begin in St Helens as soon as 2026 as part of a phased introduction across the wider Liverpool City Region.

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