‘We’re taking back control’ – Metro Mayor hails move to bring buses back into public ownership

The decision to bring buses back into public ownership across the Liverpool City Region “will change the face of public transport forever where we live” according to the area’s Metro Mayor.

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

Speaking to the LDRS, Mr Rotheram outlined the scale of the achievement in taking ownership of the buses, 36 years after they were deregulated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The announcement came just 24 hours after the new £80m Headbolt Lane train station opened in Kirkby.

Mr Rotheram said, “I thought yesterday was a momentous day for public transport and the Liverpool City Region, but today is the day that will change the face of public transport forever where we live.

“It’s a decision that has taken six years to come to because the legislation was just so difficult to try and get through, but we’ve done it and it means now that our buses are going to be taken back into control and we the public will own and control our own buses.”

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.

The Metro Mayor posed for pictures in front of a banner with the words “Taking Back Control” – a slogan adopted by Brexit campaign in the tumultuous 2016 campaign.

He said he had no qualms about repurposing the term for the efforts to regain a say over how buses served the region. Mr Rotheram said, “We all know what the connotations of taking back control were, and yet nothing has really happened to facilitate anybody taking back control of anything, but we are genuinely taking back control. 

“We’ll buy a new fleet, we will invest in zero emissions technology, we will have control of the routes, the fares, the way the whole system starts to integrate together with trains, ferries and active travel. It’s going to take a couple of years yet before we see the system and the buses themselves all changed over but that’s time that will be spent making sure we get all the mechanics right.”

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. Mr Rotheram said he had been inspired by the work done down the M62 and had taken lessons from his Mayoral colleague’s fight to take over the Manchester bus network.

He said, “I think what they’ve done in Greater Manchester is brilliant and pioneering in many ways. We’ve had to take advice at every single stage, otherwise the bus operating companies could have taken us to the high court and that would have cost millions and millions of pounds, and we just don’t have that to throw away on barristers. 

“Instead we’ve got this right and we want to see its implementation, it’s going to take us a little while. I’m frustrated it’s going to take as long as it will but what we’ll see is, people will notice new livery, we’ll go to a really vibrant yellow colour and they will match with our brand new trains and they will also become one brand new system. 

“People will start to notice not only the colour of ours, but the standard, we want them to be not only net zero emission buses but also more accessible, better connectivity similar to what we’re doing on rail.”

Image: Steve Rotheram poses with the board declaring “We’re taking back control

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