NW City Regions divided by a common cause?

posted 11 Apr 2018, 08:39 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 12 Apr 2018, 09:03 ]
11th April 2018

I recently attended a very interesting presentation on the progress achieved by the Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance (LCRBA).

There were some impressive statistics quoted relating to patronage growth, fleet improvements etc. and all the partners are to be commended on what has been achieved. 

It was highlighted that the objectives of the bus operators and the Local Transport Authority are, broadly, the same - increasing patronage and reducing congestion.

However, what stuck me most, was how much of the Bus Alliance is actually about how it is all presented. I think this sort of promotion and branding is something that the Merseyside PTE has, consistently, done well over the years. 

Many of the initiatives identified under the LCRBA are actually good operational practice (eg punctuality and reliability, Smart ticketing, driver awareness training, cleaning regimes, common destination descriptions, etc.) Even the fleet renewals would have had to happen, although these have probably come along sooner and in greater magnitude, and with more ULEVs than they would otherwise have done without the partnership - as evidenced by recent statements by the big operators in relation to where their investment will be targeted. Bringing these initiatives together under the banner headline of the Bus Alliance has helped to raise their profile and show, collectively how much progress is being made.

Impressively, the Bus Alliance has even managed to dress up significant reductions to the funding for supported services, leading to service reductions and withdrawals as "Network Reviews" and making the bus services fit for the modern age!

What is most impressive to me, is that Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach are, outwardly at least, speaking with one voice. Unfortunately, the other operators across Merseyside and Halton have yet to formally join the partnership, although they deliver quality services in their own way. 

Clearly, there remain many outstanding issues to be addressed and some of these were touched on during the presentation. Not least of these is the time lag in developing and delivering highways infrastructure schemes which can benefit bus movement. Even the "quick wins" can be frustratingly slow!

During the course of presentation I pondered on how this related to the present situation in the Greater Manchester City Region, where (publicly) the emphasis is on regulation and franchising of the bus network, rather than partnership working.
It is clear to me that if GMBOA, the major bus operators, TfGM and the district authorities were able to present a similar unified front, promoting all the current operational and highways initiatives to support public transport under a common label, many of the successes championed by the LCRBA could be similarly shown to be happening in Greater Manchester. (Provided, of course, that Greater Manchester could adopt some of the Scouse promotional chutzpah!) 

The involvement of GMBOA as an equal partner would have the bonus that this would include the smaller operators. 

The LCR experience has shown that closer, common working on supporting functions such as Driver training, Inspectorate, Cleaning, Information etc. can be achieved. There is no reason why this, and more, could not be done at the other end of the East Lancashire Road, too.

GMBOA's rebranding into OneBus presents a ready made vehicle for this to happen and it would enable some of the recent, ill-informed and negative rhetoric about bus services to be countered. 

Unfortunately, I don't think that this suits the current political regime!