Talks are being held over whether to trial the return of night buses to Merseyside.
This follows calls from nighttime businesses for the buses to return who say a lack of transport is turning places like Wirral into “inaccessible islands” at night and hurting Merseyside’s local economy.
Late-night bus services between Liverpool and Wirral were removed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the offer of a grant by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, private bus operators made a decision not to reinstate late-night services when restrictions were lifted because they were not commercially profitable.
The campaign, spearheaded by the Liverpool City Region Music Board , is currently in talks with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority about developing a trial bus service. A survey is currently being carried out by the music board who will then use the results to build a business case to take to the combined authority and bus companies.
In a statement to the LDRS, a spokesperson for the combined authority confirmed, “We are in talks with private operators and stakeholders, including the LCR Music Board, to explore the feasibility of a late night bus trial between Liverpool and the Wirral and will provide an update as soon as possible.”
The proposed trial by the music board involves bringing back the tunnel bus which would connect Liverpool to Birkenhead and the N86 route. It is being supported at least 200 venues across the Liverpool City Region.
Common complaints amongst businesses reportedly include difficulties getting staff home at the end of the night, a drop in footfall in the city centre as people stay local, and the safety of women and girls getting home at night.
Across Liverpool, ONS figures show there are over 125,000 nighttime workers and the music board said 20,000 of these work in bars, clubs, event spaces, and other nighttime venues. On top of this, 115 venues in Liverpool city centre are licensed for live music after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights with a capacity of 60,563 people.
Dr Mat Flynn, a board member and lecturer in Music Industries at the University of Liverpool said, “A lot of our economy is reliant on tourism and entertainment. It is a significant part of the region’s economy and Eurovision demonstrated that we are good at putting on that kind of big event
“There is a very clear consensus in the room that footfall would be increased if people knew they had a reliable public transport service out of the city centre at night.
“We need to benefit from that post-Eurovision glow and having a good nighttime transport network is more attractive for visitors but also for local residents to enjoy the local economy we have on offer.”
Craig Pennington runs Future Yard, a live music venue in Birkenhead. He said, “It’s our biggest challenge, our biggest challenge above and beyond anything we have faced apart from Covid. We would put it above everything else we face.
“You go from being the place with the best transport links you could wish for to after 12 o’clock being an inaccessible island in the middle of nowhere.”
Due to a lack of night transport, he said at times they had to set up a bed at the venue because staff weren’t able to get home after a shift and that around 50% of their audiences come from Liverpool.
He added, “You can tell when there’s issues with public transport because we can see it by the amount of people in the room.”
He also points out that unlike in Liverpool where people can walk home, “you can’t do that on a river so public transport should connect the parts of the city region that you can’t get to without it.”
Peter Lee runs Lounge 69 in Liverpool City Centre. He said, “We’ve got a catchment area of 1.5m people within a 20 mile radius of Liverpool city centre so if they get in, they can’t get out.”
He added, “Staff wise you can’t get any staff outside of a four or five mile radius because it’s too expensive for them to get home at the end of the night. It’s pointless because of the taxis charging them £50 to get home.”
Having night buses, he said “would give us access to more people for staff and for more people to come into Liverpool.”
Businesses and members of the board who spoke to the LDRS said there was the political will to see night buses return including productive talks with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.
Other politicians have also called for night buses to return too. Wirral South MP Alison McGovern said, “I have listened to residents who want to get home from work, and to businesses who are finding it ever harder to get staff. Night transport has got to improve across Merseyside for the sake of our economy, everyone’s finances, and our brilliant cultural life on both sides of the River Mersey.”
A spokesperson for Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said, “The Combined Authority currently spends around £60m a year subsidising the network through concessionary travel payments and network support.
“This is in addition to the millions of pounds they have invested in the region’s bus network to improve services for passengers, including the region’s new publicly owned, hydrogen buses, which are among the most accessible and sophisticated anywhere in the country, and lowering the price of a single adult bus fare to just £2.
“The Mayor has consistently expressed his desire to re-regulate the region’s buses, so that the service can be shaped and run in the interests of passengers. A public consultation is currently underway on the future of our bus network and all residents are encouraged to have their say.
Image: Peter Lee, the director of Lounge 69, said the return of night transport would see the nighttime economy soar in Liverpool. Credit: Edward Barnes