Liverpool City Region bus passenger numbers rise

Merseyside Bus Alliance is delivering, but reliability ‘still a nut we have not cracked’ say major operators

Bus patronage has steadily risen thanks to the Merseyside Bus Alliance

Bus service reliability remains a nut that the industry has not cracked, but the answer is not necessarily the introduction of bus lanes, according to evidence give to the Commons Transport Committee on 14 January in Liverpool as part of its inquiry into the health of the bus market.

All bus lanes in the city were suspended 2013 before a handful were reinstated a year later. Since then, Arriva Merseyside has seen average running times increase by up to 20% and it has had to increase the resource required “just to stand still,” says Regional MD Howard Farrall.

He adds that while the Merseyside Bus Alliance that also involves Merseytravel and Stagecoach has been successful – and has helped to increase ridership in the Liverpool City Region – it has not yet tackled reliability.

“If I was going to change one part of the Alliance, it would be to make highways authorities accountable as part of the partnership. A disappointing aspect is that we don’t have that on board.”

Merseytravel’s view is that alternatives to bus lanes – such as traffic signal priority or sections of segregated carriageway – can be more productive. Red routes are another option, says Mr Farrall, and examining what works best on individual corridors.

“Reliability is the nut that we have not cracked,” adds Stagecoach Merseyside, Cheshire and South Lancashire MD Rob Jones. “It goes back to car restraint as much as to bus priority on key corridors.”

Despite these problems, Liverpool City Region bus passenger numbers rose from 136m to 150m per annum over approximately four years. Partnership working through the Alliance should take much credit for that, says Merseytravel Head of Bus Matt Goggins, but introduction of the cheap MyTicket for people up to 18 years of age and widespread roll-out of wi-fi and USB charging points have also contributed.

Improving information for first-time users through better signage is an area that Mr Jones says the industry should work on, although he adds that retrofitting audio-visual next-stop information to existing buses may not represent the best used of available money.