Merseyside Bus Alliance

Display on No.58  Nottingham bus

Merseytravel Committee Members recently took the decision to recommend that the Combined Liverpool City Region Authority gives consent to the signing of a ‘Bus Alliance’ agreement by Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach.

This is me with the Lydiate & Maghull resident's petition in 2015 at a 311 bus stop in Lydiate. The petition was not collected by me I would add but by the hard work of locals concerned about the loss of this Arriva route to Ormskirk. The battle was sadly lost.

This is me with the Lydiate & Maghull resident’s petition in 2015 at a 311 bus stop in Lydiate. The petition was not collected by me I would add but by the hard work of locals concerned about the loss of this Arriva route to Ormskirk. The battle was sadly lost.

According to Merseytravel the Alliance, which other operators can join, is focused on offering bus users seamless, hassle free and value for money travel right from planning their journeys through to getting off at their destination. It aims to build on the high customer satisfaction levels for bus in the City Region and to encourage people who don’t currently use the bus to realise the benefits.

Mm, not sure about ‘high customer satisfaction levels for bus in the City Region’, they can’t be talking to the same people I talk to as the answer I am getting is that folks think our bus services in the Sefton part of Merseyside are poor indeed.

The first 12 months of the Alliance would see a number of initiatives including an initial £19m investment in greener buses with free WiFi and USB charging points; the introduction of one point of contact for ‘bus’ customer service; new customer service training for drivers; improved links to John Lennon Airport and the rail network; the development of a trial 24-hour bus route and the start of a strategic review to create a simpler, clearer bus network.

Subject to the signing of the ‘Bus Alliance’ agreement, Merseytravel Committee Members also approved both a three year plan for the continued roll out of smart ticketing– following the millionth ticket sale on the Walrus card back in February, and changes that would mark a key first stage in simplifying ticket buying.

Well, this sceptic hopes that Merseytravel can turn around the quality, reliability and customer friendliness issues that bedevil our local bus routes. Here’s hoping.

Smart ticketing developments would include customers being able to purchase operator tickets on Walrus cards and a new day Solo, which would launch in the summer and going smart later this year with people being able to load as many as they wanted on their Walrus for use when needed.

Merseytravel also approved recommendations for all Solo tickets to be ‘valid across Merseyside’ this summer, simplifying fares and bringing the costs down for current ‘all areas’ users by as much as £268 for those currently buying a yearly adult peak Solo.

My comments are those in italics

The Liverpool City Region Authority supported the Bus Alliance agreement at its meeting held on 15th April.

Do we trust bus companies to offer the level of service we want to see?

Transportfocus/Passenger Voice in their March 2016 newsletter tackle this issue and the results are frankly unsurprising. I have always wondered whether some bus companies realise they are offering a service that needs to be on time, comfortable, friendly and something you would want to use rather than having to use. Buses running early, grumpy drivers that don’t like giving change, no apology for buses that don’t turn up. Is there any wonder travel on local buses is hardly a pleasant experience?

Read on to see what Passenger Voice says:-

Do passengers trust the bus?

How do you turn a bus passenger into a valued customer and get more people on board?

With changes to how bus services are provided outside London potentially on the horizon we wanted to make sure passengers were kept at the heart of all the decisions.

Our report, Bus passengers have their say:

Trust, what to improve and using buses more, explores passengers’ trust in and relationship with the bus industry and how to get more people choosing bus.

We found that to improve passengers’ trust in the bus industry, bus companies need to get the basics of a bus service right and build better relationships with their passengers.

David Sidebottom, passenger director, said:

“Passengers want a reliable, frequent bus service that is value for money.

“Bus companies need to do more than just sell tickets. Passengers are more likely to trust their bus company if they feel their custom is valued.”

Key findings include:

Getting the basic right is key to bus passengers trusting bus companies. 41 per cent of bus passengers trust their company highly, but being treated more like a valued customer would greatly increase trust.

Value for money is passengers’ highest priority for improvement, followed by reliability and punctuality. Tackling anti-social behaviour was rated passengers’ fifth priority.

28 per cent of non-users would consider making more journeys by bus highlighting the opportunity for further growth in the industry.

With two thirds of all public transport journeys made using bus in Great Britain and the proposed government Buses Bill coming up this research highlights passengers’ top priorities for improvement and how more people might be tempted to choose bus.

Other findings:

Unlocking the potential of the driver as the face of the company presents huge opportunity for increasing passenger trust
A clear sense of who is in charge and where complaints should be directed is needed to improve passengers feeling like a valued customer. Passengers have little understanding of who actually runs the buses
Levels of high trust vary, with a difference amongst the five largest bus groups. Go-Ahead received the best reaction with 47 per cent of its passengers trusting the company.

As I said nothing really surprising here but some bus companies seem not to know how or even if they want to address these issues. Why?

Liverpool City Region – Underwhelmed by lackluster submission for delegated powers

So our 6 Labour Council Leaders from across Merseyside have put in their plea to George Osborne for him to give the City Region some crumbs from his devolution table. I must say I am sadly underwhelmed by their bid though.

This posting is not an attempt to comment on the document page by page but I am picking out things that caught my eye, or are a particular policy interest area for me or where I think the document is deficient.

Firstly the laugh out loud moments from the 25 page document:-

We are working together!!!! – ‘We have a proven track record of being able to decide priorities locally’ and ‘We have also proven our ability to work together collectively’. No not made up it’s there in the document! Bearing in mind how our Labour Council Leaders have seemingly squabbled like ferrets in a sack for years in public via the press you wonder whether they were able to keep their faces straight when they signed a document going to Government saying they were now best mates who will stick by each other.

Metro Mayor!- But moving on through this rather uninspiring document which could hardly be said to be innovative or motivating we come to a paragraph on page 3 which effectively gives the Metro Mayor game away. It says ‘We also recognise that the “prize” of devolution may necessitate a “price” to be paid in respect of the government’s stated aim of introducing an elected mayor for the City Region. We are prepared to consider making a change in our local governance arrangements……….’ Is this the Merseyside Labour Council Leaders waving the white flag and falling in behind Joe Anderson, who seems to want to rule Merseyside? Yes I believe it is and in the words of Dave Allen ‘may your God go with you’.

We cost Treasury too much? – There is an interesting and I take it to be accurate statement to the effect that the Liverpool City Region area spends two pounds on public services for every one it raises in taxation and this means the City Region has the largest relative gap between tax raised and public spending in England. £9.5 billion generated for the Treasury but £18.6bn back in public spending. A sobering thought indeed.

More Cuts? – This also caught my eye ‘there are potentially efficencies and cost savings to be gained if greater control and coordination of government funding and activity is devolved to the City Region’. This could be interpreted as room for more cuts of course.

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

These are the tickets my family were given when we walked through the new (2nd) Tunnel in 1971

Mersey Tunnel tolls – One of the ‘Asks’ of government is that ‘Legislative clarity on the ability to utilise [Mersey] tunnel toll income for wider economic development purposes’. That should go down a bundle with residents of the Wirral in particular! This ‘ask’ seems to be linked to another ‘ask’ which requests government to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Of course a proportion of the toll money is presently used to fund the debt repayments. I think tunnel users would want to know what their extra tax would be paying for if it was not to pay off the loans to build the tunnels. Indeed you could expect them to want lower tolls if the tunnel debts are paid off by government.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU's) at Southport Station.

The present Merseyrail rolling stock Class 507/8 EMU’s) at Southport Station.

A train ‘ask’ – There an ‘ask’ about our promised (many times) replacement rolling stock for Merseyrail to ‘reduce the financial risks’. This is linked to needing long term certainty over the Special Rail Grant that Merseyside gets each year. A reasonable request I would think here.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it's another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A blast from the past a former Ribble Lydiate bound 321 bus in model form. Sadly it’s another lost route for Lydiate residents.

A buses ‘ask‘ is to ‘secure the ability to franchise local bus services, to ensure that they have the required reach, penetration, quality and pricing structure and serve the needs of the Liverpool City Region’. This may well, depending on what it actually means, turn the Tories Bus Deregulation Act of the early 1980’s on its head (or drive a bus through it at least) and not before time I say. BUT bearing in mind that the thrust of this submission to government acknowledges in effect that austerity is here to stay then it does not mean more subsidy for bus services unless of course that is where the tunnel tolls may be siphoned off?

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

Housing and Spacial Planning – Some very worthy stuff here but what is so obviously missing? Well as far as Sefton Borough is concerned it’s protection of its high grade agricultural land from development. So is the fact that the City Region is not making a request to government for local powers to protect it the final admission that the City Region and Sefton Council do not want to?

Energy – Some good stuff here about support for the proposed offshore tidal lagoon and also a request for powers to maximise the potential of renewable energy. But even then this is hardly taking the ‘green’ agenda and running with it, surely we should be aiming to be the most energy efficient City Region in Europe? Where’s the ambition to inspire?

City Region Mayor Powers – If there was any doubt that our glorious Leaders are now all but fully behind a City Region Mayor then this quote leaves no room for any doubt:-

*To consider whether an elected Liverpool City Region Mayor should take over the role of the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner and the role of the Fire Authority.

There are other ‘asks’ about Children’s Services, Education, Cultural Partnership, Health – Wellbeing and Social Care, a Free Trade Zone, European Funding, Skills & Employment and Business Support but I have not touched on those areas in this posting.

My conclusion is that frankly the submission is too bland and it lacks ambition. Here was a great opportunity to lay out a radical plan to fundamentally change the health, wealth and environmental sustainability of Merseyside and it has been an opportunity lost. It strikes me, as a former Council Leader, as one of those documents written by Council Officers and then signed off/rubber stamped by politicians. Even if government gave it the green light on all the ‘asks’ I can’t see it changing the outcomes of Merseyside residents much at all.

I wonder if it will get the green light from government (with a few tweaks along the way) because all the Tories really seem to want is the appearance of devolution and a Metro Mayor. If so government will say they have negotiated a fine deal to empower Merseyside and local council leaders will say they got virtually every possible concession from government and the Metro Mayor has been forced on them. But in the real world not much will change other than we all get that damn Metro Mayor idea imposed on us and another highly paid politician to lord it over us.

Bus Deregulation, Arriva’s 311 route and Stagecoach

Yesterday I posted about the last gasp attempt to get Arriva Buses to think again about ceasing the 311 bus route which runs from Liverpool through Aintree, Maghull & Lydiate and on to Ormskirk and Skelmersdale.


I have also been contacted by another local resident, one who knows a great deal about the local bus industry. He raised one pertinent question and made a suggestion which I have followed up.

His question was why have Arriva, who withdrew buses from the east of Maghull not that long ago, now increased the bus services in that area? When they removed services there they said there was not enough business yet that same area is getting a better service now. Curious indeed, I wonder if Arriva will explain this apparent partial U turn, which will of course be welcomed by folk on the eastern side of Maghull.

His suggestion was that I approach Stagecoach Merseyside to see if they would be willing to look at running the 311 route. Well it may be a long shot but why not have a go said I. An en e-mail was duly sent to Stagecoach yesterday and I await their response.

On the wider issue to the Bus Deregulation Act, which was a Tory move in the early 1980’s, I have never thought it served a useful purpose and did not lead to the competition the Tories said it would. Indeed, a brief few years of competition was quickly replaced with all the big bus companies taking over the smaller ones so to remove their competition. Here in Sefton Borough Arriva rule the roost with a few Stagecoach operated routes but competition, well I can’t see much or any of it myself.

Also bus companies don’t seem to have been brought into the modern world as they do not advertise their routes much, if at all, via the internet and newspapers. Neither do they seem to innovate much either. You still hear tales of bus users with £10 notes being treated poorly on buses when you would have thought any money would be welcomed.

Stop Press: Sadly, Stagecoach have responded today to say they are unable take over the 311 route.

Merseyside Leaders ‘On the Buses’ – But would they all want to be Reg Varney (Butler) driving off to 6 different destinations?

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above.


Yes, great idea. As someone who thought Bus Deregulation was a disaster in the 1980’s I find this a positive step forward. BUT could we/would we trust the 6 Labour Council leaders on Merseyside to pull it off?

Remember they could not even agree to a name for their new Joint Authority, they bicker in public over matters they should resolve between themselves and they are seemingly not looked upon by Government as being capable of taking on devolved powers like Manchester.

Fine in principle but we don’t want to end up with a worse bus service than we have got now! Think long and hard before stepping onto a bus driven by Merseyside’s Labour Leaders.