Merseyside transport authority, Merseytravel, is to enter into a formal ‘Bus Alliance’, initially with operators Arriva and Stagecoach. The initiative is focused on growing the number of fare paying passengers, improving customer satisfaction and driving up investment for the benefit of all who use bus services. The two operators together run 90% of commercial bus services in the Liverpool City Region. The growth targets of a 10% increase in passenger journeys (the equivalent of over nine million more journeys) by April 2017, will be one of the first of its kind in Britain. With 80% of public transport journeys in the Liverpool City Region being made by bus, but only 10% of these being commuter journeys, Merseytravel claims there is potential for bus to play a much more significant role in growing the City Region’s economy, better linking people with jobs and opportunities.
The Bus Alliance will take a City Region-wide approach looking at matching bus routes to demand, the clarity of fare structures and value for money, the quality of vehicles, how easy it is to get information, reliability and punctuality of services and the standard of customer service. As part of the Devolution Deal, and subject to the emerging Buses Bill, the City Region has been given the ability to franchise bus services with powers similar to London. While a business case for franchising is being developed, it is expected that if a decision was taken to enact the powers it would be a number of years before it could be introduced. The Bus Alliance is expected to enable improvements for customers now.
Increased levels of investment in new and greener vehicles is one of the working points of the Alliance. All of these new vehicles are to have Wi-Fi and at-seat USB charging points and there is an aim for existing buses to have Wi-Fi and USB points retrofitted. Development of a clear point of contact for dealing with customer feedback is set for introduction, as well as the creation of a city centre bus routing strategy, to make journeys quicker and more direct. A review of the City Region bus network, ensuring a clear network that is easier to understand, encourages growth and is less reliant on public subsidies is to be introduced.
Improved bus links to and from John Lennon Airport and to Liverpool South Parkway and the City Centre is another working point for the Alliance. Streamlined service changes are to be introduced from January 2016, with only three change dates a year, common to all operators. This makes bus services more stable and will allow information to be updated more easily for the benefit of customers. There will be a review of zonal structures and pricing to make ticket buying simpler and of all customer information, including further development of Real Time Information. An approach to better integrate bus and rail is to be developed and new bespoke Customer Service training for all drivers is to be delivered.
Regional Director North, Stagecoach UK Bus, Gary Nolan, said, ‘We are pleased to be part of the Alliance, and working together with our partners will provide greater momentum to further improve the quality of bus services across the City Region.’
Regional MD of Arriva North West and Wales, Phil Stone, said, ‘The Merseyside Bus Alliance will first and foremost improve bus services for passengers by setting firm targets for all operators and stakeholders. We are delighted to be part of a stable partnership which will ultimately deliver better journeys, new vehicles, innovations for customers, improved infrastructure and allow us to make longer-term investment plans for Merseyside.’