Seven hours and ten different buses. That’s how long it took me to get round Wirral on a bus.
As someone who grew up in rural Worcestershire, I know how long it can take to get into school when the bus is your only form of public transport. The 423 back home only runs four times a day with the last bus to leave Worcester at 4.40pm.
Since 2010, 87 bus services have been cut across Wirral and people in areas like Heswall, Woodchurch and rural villages say they struggle to get around, particularly at night or at the weekend.
Over the summer, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority held a lengthy consultation, that ended in early August, looking at how bus transport across Merseyside could be reshaped in the future.
In 1986, bus services were deregulated meaning most are now operated by companies like Arriva and Stagecoach who decide routes, timetables, fares, and how services run.
In his aim to introduce a London-style transport system across the Liverpool City Region, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has publicly supported taking buses back into public control.
To see how long it would take to get round by bus, I set off from home at 9am on 23 August from my home in Wallasey. Catching the 409, I left at 9.22am into Birkenhead. Once there, I hopped on the 1 getting off at Eastham which was only three minutes late.
This was lucky as I was still able to catch a 10.54 bus out of Eastham. My aim was to get over to Heswall in west Wirral but there was no direct route even though it’s only a 15 minute drive in the car.
My best options were to either go all the way back to Birkenhead or change over at Broadway in Bebington. One hour and 14 minutes later I was in Heswall.
At 12:15, I was then off to Woodchurch, an estate that currently only has one bus running through it. Other buses stop on the road around it or at Arrowe Park.
Once on the A552, my only option to get directly to West Kirby was to walk to Arrowe Park and wait an hour. So I got on a bus to Upton changing over to get to West Kirby for 1.30pm.
After a brief lunch there, it was time to head to New Brighton. Once again there was no direct route with the quickest route, a journey of one hour and five minutes, stopping off at Birkenhead Park.
Eventually I got there but as we were a few minutes late, I ended up missing the next bus. My final bus left at 3.43pm and I got into Wallasey just after 4pm though ironically if I had walked from New Brighton I would have got home quicker.
If I were to drive the same route, it would have taken me one hour and 39 minutes according to Google Maps. If I were to cycle, it would have taken me three hours and 24 minutes.
Maria Crisp lives with her family in Woodchurch. Though she was off with her family to Chester Zoo, she said travelling this far wasn’t an option all the time.
She said, “Sundays you can’t really travel on buses. When you travel far like this, the buses aren’t running. There’s nothing you can do. It’s a Sunday. Sundays are family days but travel is just a big no.”
Ashley Theresa said, “I work down near Hamilton Square and live in Woodchurch. I generally finish work between 7pm and 8pm and all buses from Woodside stop at 5:30pm so it’s really difficult to get home, especially in the winter when it’s dark.
“It’s not ideal to be walking 20 mins in the pouring rain and pitch black to Birkenhead bus station, especially as a woman alone. One day a week I work in New Brighton and again from Woodchurch it’s just a bit of a nightmare.
“I can get the 414 straight there but if I miss that I’m waiting half an hour for the next bus and that’s if it’s on time. I find the earlier buses between 7-8am speed past you a minute or two before they’re actually due but then between 8-9am the 414 is always late so I’m either at work an hour early or an hour late, there’s no in between.”
For others, transport can be great getting to some places but forever to get to others. Ann Emmett getting the bus from Upton said, “What we do miss is not getting all the way to the ends of the Wirral, it’s getting across. If I would like to go to Moreton, I have to go to West Kirby. That is one thing that is not good.”
She added, “It’s those little bits in between that are missing out.” Upton to Moreton for context is seven minutes in the car.
In Heswall, people pointed out there’s currently no direct link between the town and Clatterbridge Hospital and villages like Barnston tend to miss out. Others also said they no longer visit parts of Wirral because there’s no bus route to get there anymore.
Lucy Blackhurst who works at Clatterbridge said the town was “quite cut off really,” adding, “I feel that the public transport in lower Heswall in particular is poor and would like to see more transport options available.
“At the moment there is one bus that goes through Delavor Road but only every one to two hours and after school start time.
“My daughter is going to high school in September in Neston. She has a 27 minute walk to the main bus stop in Heswall with no safe route.”
She added, “I do wish I had done my research on transport before I moved here as unless you drive it’s not very accessible
“We do have a car but as me and my husband work full time, my daughter will have to rely upon getting herself home so unfortunately due to lack of transport this is quite a big walk for her.”
Mayor Steve Rotheram said the bus consultation got thousands of responses and believes there is overwhelming support for bringing buses back under public control.
He added, “Across the Liverpool City Region, 82% of all public transport journeys are taken by bus. They are a vital public service that connect people not only with opportunity, but with each other. But for too many people, the bus network is too confusing, too expensive and too unreliable.
“Reregulation would give the Combined Authority greater control over routes, fares and timetables – and the ability to cross subsidise services so that profitable routes help to support much-needed community buses that have been cut by private operators. In the next few weeks, alongside local leaders, we’ll be taking a major decision on the way our buses are run.
“Reforming our region’s bus network is a key part of my ambition to build a London-style integrated transport network that is faster, cheaper, cleaner and better connected and the very least that our residents deserve.”
Images: Ed Barnes