Local leaders on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have voted unanimously to confirm franchising as its preferred future model for the region’s buses – two years after first backing the move.
The authority has also rejected the option of setting up an Enhanced Partnership (EP) model as it pursues franchising.
It described the move as a key part of metro mayor Steve Rotheram’s pledge to reform the region’s transport by building a London-style system that will make travelling around ‘quicker, cheaper, greener and more reliable’.
It said the plans would see buses better integrated with other modes of transport and ticketing would be made simpler and more convenient with the introduction of a tap-and-go system with daily fare caps.
Mr Rotheram said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people rely on our region’s buses every single day. They are a lifeline for connecting people in our communities with each other and opportunity. But too many feel left behind by a system that simply does not work for them. In too many places, public transport is too confusing, too unreliable, and too expensive.
‘Today we have taken a massive step towards putting that right. Thanks to devolution we have the power to roll back the 1980s and reverse four decades of disastrous deregulation. We’re taking back control of our bus network and running it in the interests of local people – not private shareholders.’
Mr Rotheram described the vote as the culmination of years of hard work and ‘a massive step towards building the transport network our 1.6m citizens deserve’.
As the authority pointed out, it held a Big Bus Debate in 2018 and two years later called for a ‘detailed and independently audited assessment’ of franchising after identifying it as its preferred option.
Having considered a report summarising the outline business case for franchising, the combined authority said the next stage of the process includes additional work to complete the business case and an independent assessment, followed by a public consultation.
As Transport Network reported, the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority has also decided to pursue bus franchising, but will also establish an EP in the meantime, on the basis that the Government has made this a condition for receiving Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding under the National Bus Strategy.
However, the report to the Liverpool City Region leaders notes that it had considered an EP developed in conjunction with the two leading bus operators in the City Region in late 2021, noting that the model was ‘reliant on increasing levels of public sector funding, including BSIP funding and Zero Emission Bus funding'.
It stated: ‘The Combined Authority has already set out ambitious investment in bus priority measures through the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement.
‘The Combined Authority has carefully considered this 2021 Enhanced Partnership offer. Despite its many attractive features, it does not advance sufficient elements of control, direction and accountability that the Combined Authority seeks in order to deliver its Vision for Bus within the City Region.’