Paying your bus fare on Merseyside cashless but there have to be concerns about the move towards a cashless society

Cash is of course still accepted on buses, but the option to pay by the Contactless method has to date only been available on Merseyside via Stagecoach buses.

However, Merseytravel want to make this option more widely available, which helps both passengers and the bus companies, as they don’t have deal with so much cash at the end of each day. Plus, there’s less chance of ne’er-do-wells robbing a driver.

Cumfybus have recently upgraded their ticket machines in order they can accept Contactless payments. However, there do not seem to be any notices on the buses to inform cash passengers of this payment option.

An Arriva 300 bus at the Meadows bus stop, Maghull.

My understanding is that the new machines are owned by Merseytravel and rented out to Cumfybus (and HTL in the near future) so the cashless revolution can progress. Arriva are getting the same ticket machines later this year, so they can finally join the 21st Century!

The new ticket machines Merseytravel are providing to Cumfybus & HTL also have a tracking system which allows Merseytravel to check on the punctuality of their sponsored services as well. I’m also told that there’s a website which allows the public to check where buses are at anyone time and the registration of said bus. Handy for seeing if the 31/31A (Maghull/Lydiate circular buses) is coming and if it is on time!

Of course all this progress could potentially lead up to totally cashless buses and even trains locally, indeed that may well be the long-term aim? But I must admit to having reservations about a cashless society as it may not be a very inclusive one. Hence campaigns like this by Which?:-

‘The UK is drifting into a cashless society that risks leaving millions of people behind.

People like Gem, who has brittle bone disease:

I use a powered wheelchair and I have to get a taxi to and from work, which I pay for in cash. We’re definitely heading in the direction of being a cashless society. I’m a very digital person myself, but I think it’s important to realise that there are still barriers out there for a lot of people.

Bank branches and cashpoints are closing at an alarming rate. More than 3,300 UK bank branches have closed since 2015, leaving people struggling to access the cash they rely on.

That’s why we’re launching our new Freedom to Pay campaign. We want the government to set up a regulator to protect our access to cash and make sure nobody is left behind.

Support our campaign now and demand urgent action to protect cash for as long as people need it.’

campaigns.which.co.uk/freedom-to-pay/?utm_source=whichcouk&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=freedometopaylaunch

My thanks to Kevin Duggan for the lead to this posting

Talk on the Cheshire Lines Extension Railway at The Atkinson, Southport

I attended what turned out to be a packed out talk about the Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway, which ran from Aintree Central Station, through Sefton & Maghull & Lydiate Stations and on through rural West Lancs to terminate at Southport Lord Street Station. The talk was given by Keith Hick on 13th February and when I say packed out I mean it! The studio at The Atkinson seats 260 we were told and they had to put extra chairs out to accommodate everyone wanting to hear and see it. Seems there are many railway enthusiasts in and around Sefton Borough:-)

Closed now since 1952 the line was never profitable but there were people in the audience who clearly still recall it. I’ve blogged about the line many times and one of my postings was about Lydiate Station signal box – it’s accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/08/01/lydiate-signal-box-southport-cheshire-lines-extension-railway/

Keith Hick is a wonderful story teller and the huge number of photos that he produced brought out many which I had not previously seen despite my having a big interest in the line for many years. He also brought along a beautiful steam engine nameplate:-

The plate is from Ex-LMS rebuilt Patriot Class 4-6-0 No 45527 ‘Southport’. Here’s a link to photo of the loco and more information about it:-

www.warwickshirerailways.com/lms/lnwra3630.htm

All in all a great and well received talk by Keith Hick, indeed the staff at The Atkinson told us it was the largest audience they had ever had for a local history talk.

Note: Peter Kendrick advises me that Lydiate Station was demolished (probably by Rainfords) in May 73.

Sefton Borough – It lacks balance

In the light of recent local Conservative claims that all of Southport’s money is being spent in Bootle (a rather coarse popularist approach which tries to pinch more sophisticated Lib Dem clothes) I thought I would revisit my piece on this matter from 2015 – you can access that blog via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/03/28/borough-of-sefton-what-a-mixture-of-diverse-communities-that-have-little-common-with-each-other/

Mm well, my views have not changed and I still think that Sefton is a geographically bizarre Borough and that this situation can only be changed for the better by looking at West Lancashire Borough at the same time.

West Lancashire is not a unitary authority its a District Council within a County so all its major services are provided by Lancashire County Council – Highways, Social Services etc. And thereby hangs the major problem to changing local government boundaries locally – It’s not comparing like with like. West Lancs, for example, is only an Associate member of Liverpool City Region so it can’t really sit at the same table as the big boys and girls. That’s a problem as it means that West Lancs finds it hard to have much of an influence and it means the boundary between it and Sefton/The Liverpool City Region is more like a barrier to progress all round.

Do you remember when John Prescott was all-powerful in the Blair Government years and he came up with a plan to split West Lancs in half putting one half into Wigan Metropolitan Borough and one half into Sefton Borough? Yes, there were significant issues about where the splitting boundary should be but frankly, it was not a bad plan it just needed fleshing out and developing. What actually happened was that it fell off the table and was not pursued at all. The effect has been to keep West Lancs in a weak position within Lancashire (where it has always struggled to make its voice heard) and it, in effect, stopped Sefton Borough being able to review it’s own somewhat bizarre geography.

My personal view is that until local government, in general, is reorganised to make all councils unitary i.e. getting rid of the outdated split between District and County Councils in the shire counties (thereby finding a fix for out on a limb West Lancs) then fixing Sefton will be very difficult indeed.

That the Lib Dems and before them the former Liberal Party has been leading the charge to fix Sefton’s bizarre geography ever since 1974 is a given but what about the oft-made claims that one part of the Borough is subsidising another? Does this argument have any basis in fact? It’s probably true of all council areas where there’s a part or parts of it which are poorer and therefore more disadvantaged that council expenditure has traditionally been higher in the poorer communities to try to pull those areas up and support the social/community infrastructure. So in Sefton, the poorer areas are obviously significant parts of Bootle but also parts of Southport. Yes, Southport clearly has it’s affluent areas but like most UK seaside towns it has its fair share of poorer districts too with all the social, low paid seasonal work and housing issues that go with seaside towns.

The problem with poorer areas though in local government finance terms is not just where the money is spent but how it is raised. By this, I mean that in poorer areas there are far more Band A properties in Council tax speak. This means they generate less income for the Council running the area. Merseyside, in general, suffers from this problem and it means that Councils can’t raise anything like the amount of Council tax that more affluent areas of England can.

Austerity, as it’s been applied to local government finance, has had the effect of making poorer council areas poorer because they have become more reliant on the Council tax they can raise locally rather than on government grants which used top up/prop up their services. This is probably the basis of some saying that community ‘X’ is having its money spent in community ‘Y’ and on a crude popularist level there’s a case to hear where you have a council area with wealth in some parts but poverty in others. Put it this way, if you have a council area where 50% of it is affluent and 50% is poor then the effect will be (if you run your council services at the same level across the borough) that the affluent areas will be subsidising the poorer areas.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just about where a council spends its money, which may well be unbalanced across its area, but its’ also about how it raises the money that it spends too. OK, I’ve simplified the case for illustrative purposes but I hope you get my drift.

The bottom line is that with Council tax being a property based tax as opposed to one that is based on the ability to pay then such problems will always be the case. And of course, it is why Liberals and Lib Dems have consistently argued for a Local Income tax to replace Council tax ever since Council tax was introduced as a quick fix following the Poll Tax troubles of the 1980s. Both Conservatives and Labour oppose a fairer local taxation system based on the ability to pay and want to keep our property value based tax.

So you could say and indeed I do say that Sefton as a Borough is unbalanced both geographically and in local government finance terms. That it has a ‘viable’ future is more down to the fact that governments, of any colour, have failed to act on the root causes of its difficulties than anything else. My solutions are:-

* Bring in a Local Income Tax and scrap the unfair Council tax
* Reorganise those areas of England that still have District and County Councils so that all councils are unitary
* Empower communities to run far more services at a very local level

Council Tax – How many more political mouths will want feeding on Merseyside?

I recently raised the issue of our Metro Mayor wanting you to dig deeper into your pockets to pay for his staff, wages and office running costs but of course we also have a Police and Crime Commissioner too and guess what they want you to dig deeper as well! Here’s a link to my post regarding the Metro Mayor’s grab for your pocket:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/01/20/metro-mayor-tax-another-call-on-your-pocket/

As for the Police and Crime Commissioner here’s what they are demanding in the next Council tax year beginning April 2019:-

My point is that I am very far from convinced that we need a Police and Crime Commissioner and the jury is certainly out over the Metro Mayor post because the 3rd rate devolved powers to the Merseyside Mayor make it hard to justify the cost of having one.

Bizarrely, both posts are the creation of the Conservatives who used to claim they wanted to keep the rates/Council tax down!

Whilst I was never a member of if it, in my time as a Borough Councillor or Council leader, my impression was that the former Police Committee made up of councillors from across Merseyside worked well and it was one of those things that was not broken and did not need fixing. But the Tories knew best and had been taken in by the American way of running Council areas with elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. Why they didn’t go the whole hog and call the P&CC’s Police Chiefs and give them a fancy uniform I don’t know.

But hey you get the grand positions and then surprise, surprise they want paying, they want to hire staff and they need premises to operate from. Seems the Tories have simply added folks to the public payroll and frankly what do we have to show for our generous ‘donations’ to either cause?

And before you ask, no I’m not saying that we all don’t have to chip in to run local services, it’s just that I don’t believe adding more glorified posts to the local payroll is the way to do it.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Click on the chart above to enlarge it

Liverpool – Its former St. James Station – Will it ever reopen?

The Liverpool Echo has the article (with the rather over-optimistic headline?) on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/business/inside-abandoned-st-james-station-15732458

I’ve posted about this long talked about reopening project before – here’s a link to my previous blog:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/09/08/liverpool-st-james-station/

The trouble with railway wish list projects like this is that they rarely move forward and what about the price tag – est £50m – for the new station! How on earth do we manage to get such a huge price tag for a new railway station? There must be something wrong with how railway infrastructure is procured in the UK?

Bus Lanes – Ditched in Liverpool for political brownie points – Well that’s my view

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/mayor-joe-andersons-decision-scrap-15699959

I’ve always thought that taking out 22 of Liverpool’s 26 bus lanes was a backwards step which would inevitably mean later running and more unreliable buses plus it was certainly a poke in the eye to all who hold environmental issues close to their hearts.

Yes, it was popular with many car and van drivers; well it would be wouldn’t it! My guess is that it was done to make it look like having an elected Mayor for Liverpool City meant that decisive policy changes could be easily and popularly be made. In other words, it was a political decision with little thought towards the need to challenge how the majority of us need to change our travelling habits.

That Nottingham is mentioned in the Echo article is very much to the point because that city is one that’s leading the charge to change the way its citizens move around and make those movements more sustainable. It’s a long-term process for change but if Nottingham’s trams are anything to go by the changes are all for the better.

A Nottingham NET Tram at the Phoenix Park terminus.

And Nottingham’s buses are pretty good too and seemingly reasonably reliable because of bus priority lanes and accurate on-time information about them.

Display on No.58 Nottingham bus

The bottom line is that since the failed Merseytram project Liverpool has not had a plan to make its public transport and particularly its bus network 1st class for modern day use and indeed expectations. Yes we can have a complete restructure of our bus network akin to re-regulating it (as Merseytravel are inching towards and I agree with) but if the infrastructure is not there to produce fast, reliable buses that go where people want them to go then those that can afford to will continue to use their polluting cars and accept that sitting in traffic jams is just the way that it is. Those who can’t afford to run cars or don’t wish to run cars then have no choice and are saddled with a dysfunctional bus network to get them around the city.

No, backing out of bus priority lanes was a backwards step. It got some short-term political gain but for long-term congestion and poorer transportation in the city. Not clean, not green, no fast efficient buses, no vision for transportation in a thriving city. Now go look at Nottingham and see how things can be done……..