The last 12 months have been significant for the region’s buses and 2023 promises to be no different.
In March, members of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority gave their backing to proposals to adopt a franchise model. This would bring buses in the region under the greatest level of public control since the 1980s and put control of services, fares and timetables back in local hands.
The franchising plans are still being developed and will require negotiations with existing private operators before a franchising model can be fully introduced. Along the M62, Manchester is slightly further ahead in pursuing a similar framework and a number of developments from the neighbouring city have given a boost to Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram’s public transport vision.
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His counterpart for greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has won legal challenges from private operators, paving the way for the advancement of the franchising model. This will have been received well in the offices on Mann Island which are keen to implement similar changes to bus travel across the city region.
In September, the Combined Authority also rolled out changes to the maximum amount adults can be charged for a single fare. The new £2 fares on the region's buses hope to help residents through the cost of living crisis and were agreed to by operators for a three year period - with funding coming from the £12m secured from the £12m Bus Services Improvement Plan (BSIP) .
These changes come off the back of an historic £710m settlement secured at the tail end of 2021 and will go to improving transport infrastructure across the city region. One way this will happen is with the introduction of a new 20-strong hydrogen powered double decker fleet as well as ‘green routes’ in parts of the city.
The new buses will have increased capacity for wheelchair users and passengers with prams or buggies. They'll also include wireless and USB phone charging, internet access and reading lights above seats. Other new features of the hydrogen buses include camera wing mirrors to improve safety, as well as audio and visual announcements for next stops, with high definition onboard screens to update passengers on journey progress, next stops and onward travel connections in real time.
The hydrogen powered buses produce zero emissions and will operate on what will be the region’s first ‘green route’. It is hoped that the city region will take delivery of the first hydrogen powered buses early in next year and will start to enter service for passengers in late Spring 2023.
The first bus will be in operation on the 10A route, which will also serve as the region’s very first ‘green route’. This route is the busiest in the city region and runs from St Helens to Liverpool city centre, passing through areas such as Knotty Ash and Stoneycroft.
The green routes will be implemented through a combination of priority lanes, traffic signal upgrades, remodelled junctions and upgraded, accessible passenger facilities. The overall ambition is to one day work towards a ‘trackless tram’ style system for buses on these routes, something that would greatly prioritise bus travel and reduce journey times.
Once the first hydrogen bus is on the roads early in 2023, community engagement will then take place over the ‘green route’ proposals. The Combined Authority hopes this engagement work can start in the new year with a view to starting work as soon as possible. Once implemented, it is hoped further green routes can be extended to other previously hard to reach parts of the city region, with the hope of providing more reliable modes of public transport where feasible rail links cannot be implemented.
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said: "Buses are the backbone of our public transport system - with around 400,000 journeys taken by bus in our area every day. With so many people relying on them to get about, I'm on a mission to raise the standard of services for local passengers.
"Designed in consultation with the public, our new hydrogen buses will be the among the most sophisticated, accessible fleet in the entire country with larger, more comfortable seats and more space for wheelchairs and prams, as well as audio visual announcements and a whole host of other smart features such as WiFi and USB charging ports - and best of all, they're owned by us, the public.
"They're completely emission-free too, so the only thing that will come out of the exhaust will be water vapour. While it goes without saying that better air quality is a big win for our residents' health, and for our planet, it's non-negotiable if we want to reach our target to be net zero by 2040 - at least a decade before national government.
"This is just a down payment on my ambitions for the future of our buses. We're working to bring our buses back where they belong - under public control. Reregulation will give us greater control over fares, routes and timetables to help us put money back into the pockets of our residents - we've already shown the difference we can make with the little funding we do have, having brought the cost of a single adult journey to down its lowest price in years at just £2, and have frozen the cost of a MyTicket at £2.20, giving young people unlimited, all-day travel in our region.
"And we're not stopping there - we've invested £500m in our new publicly owned trains, which will be the most sophisticated, accessible fleet in the country, alongside the £42m we're investing in active travel infrastructure across the region. It all forms part of my vision to build a London-style, integrated transport system that makes travel cheaper, faster, cleaner, easier and more reliable - that puts the 'public' back into public transport."
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