Policy priority 1: A quick win
Make taking a bus easier for communities to access opportunities across the city region
- Improve the bus network to quickly make a difference in poorly connected areas throughout the city region.
- Use new strategic powers to prioritise disadvantaged residents and cut off areas, opening up more opportunities and signalling the importance of a whole city region approach.
- Work with bus providers and other local partners to build complementary rather than competing priorities for the city region
Focus on buses not trains
Liverpool City Region is home to one of the country’s best performing rail services – Merseyrail. Satisfaction is high, maintenance and investment is ongoing (between the Wirral and Liverpool) and additional rolling stock will be in use by 2020. In short, unlike in many city regions, the railway network is not in need of a major overhaul. Instead the metro mayor should be making buses simpler, more efficient and easier to use.
An effective bus system can help overcome the mismatch between the places where lower skilled people live and where the jobs they seek are located. Buses are disproportionately important to job seekers (nationally two thirds of whom do not have access to a car) and young people. The metro mayor should be prioritising bus routes that can connect communities with services, amenities and each other, and can connect commuters to more jobs throughout the city region. This will help to ensure the residents of Sefton or St Helens can access the maximum number of opportunities be they in Halton, Birkenhead or Liverpool city centre. This will at times mean putting the interests of bus users above car users on key strategic routes around the city region.
Use newly devolved powers to regulate the network, roll out smart ticketing and consider more bus lanes
While much has been improved through the area’s Bus Alliance (between Merseytravel and the three bus operators) there are additional powers being devolved through the Bus Services Bill that will make a real difference to residents. The metro mayor for Liverpool City Region will take control of strategic transport powers, including over the key route network, franchising bus routes and smart ticketing – he or she should use this to make travelling across the city region easier. There are three ways the metro mayor can make the most of these powers.
Firstly the metro mayor (and combined authority) should use his or her new regulatory powers to simplify the service across the city region. By coordinating routes, the timetables and ticketing services that are currently run by different operators should complement each other rather than compete. This does not mean the city would take over franchises but instead make operators work together, so users would benefit from a simplified, coherent timetable and ticketing system.
Secondly the metro mayor should expand where travellers can use the Walrus card and integrate it fully with the different transport options and ticket types (for example the Solo, Trio and Railpass). This would assure users they can use a single ticket across the city region.
Thirdly, the metro mayor should consider re-introducing bus lanes on key strategic roads to ensure that buses are quick and efficient. While this will be controversial in the city centre (where bus lanes have been removed) the metro mayor must ensure that the key route network prioritises a free flowing peak time service for commuters from across the city region. This will also be an early testing ground as to the diplomacy and co-operation between the mayor of Liverpool and the metro mayor.
A well-functioning bus service is vital for any city region and particularly for its more deprived areas as they provide a flexible and affordable way of getting around the city region. The vision should be to simplify the experience of using a bus and enable more communities to be better linked with the jobs and services on offer across the city region.