Public control of region’s buses expected to be signed off next week

Buses could come back into public control across the Liverpool City Region for the first time in a generation after proposals were overwhelmingly backed in a consultation.

When the region’s combined authority meets at Mann Island next week, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram could sign off on proposals for a franchising model that would take the power to set fares and routes back.

Should the move go ahead, the city region will become just the second area outside London to run a publicly operated network.

A final decision will be made by the Metro Mayor and local authority leaders next Friday after more than 6,000 people responded to a public consultation. The first publicly owned service could be on the road within three years.

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 weekend, 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.

If adopted next week, the combined authority would 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.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said, “I’m incredibly grateful to every single person who took the time to respond to our consultation and, if it’s made one thing abundantly clear, it’s that buses matter to local people. Around 82% of all public transport journeys are taken by bus in our region – that’s 400,000 journeys every day.

“They’re a vital public service that connects people to opportunity and to each other. For far too long, passengers in our area have been forced to contend with a second-class service that’s too confusing, too expensive and too unreliable. Our bus network is broken and residents want it to be fixed.

“I won’t accept a public transport system that leaves behind the very people who need it most. The public have made their feelings loud and clear and next week we’ll be taking a really important decision on the future pathway for our region’s buses.

“Fixing the bus network is central to my ambition to deliver an integrated, London-style transport network that’s faster, cheaper, cleaner and more reliable.”

If the franchise model is confirmed, a three-year transition period would occur 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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