Liverpool Bus Alliance unlocks £25million investment in city’s buses

Liverpool Bus Alliance unlocks £25million investment in city’s buses

A new Bus Alliance agreement has been agreed in Liverpool between Merseytravel and major operators Arriva and Stagecoach which will release an immediate investment of more than £25million in new vehicles and infrastructure for the city region.

With the franchising option firmly back on the political agenda - even though its architect former chancellor George Osborne has been dispatched to the backbenches - the two major bus groups appear to be very pleased to have concluded a far-reaching agreement that gives them the opportunity to demonstrate that the partnership model is more effective than franchising would be in delivering improved services and passenger growth.

Crucially, the formal signing of the Bus Alliance agreement helped to release additional Government OLEV funding of £4.7million – the single biggest award from the funding round in July which should see 72 new, greener buses on the city’s roads. Under the deal, the two operators will work together on a range of initiatives including marketing campaigns, on-bus cleaning and customer service training. The agreement promises improved links to the city’s John Lennon Airport, and a new night bus service will continue to be piloted.

Merseytravel says that in addition, to encourage significantly more people to use buses across the city region, both operators will also sign up to clearly defined targets around punctuality and passenger satisfaction. 

The agreement is warmly welcomed by Kevin O'Connor, managing director, Arriva UK Bus: "We're thrilled to sign the Bus Alliance, a partnership that will bring great benefits to passengers and the Liverpool City Region. This innovative partnership helps secure continued  sustainable investment for the region's bus services, including through more new and greener vehicles, simpler ticketing, greater integration and improved customer services. 

“By making bus travel an even more attractive choice and delivering improvements to the network, the Alliance between Merseytravel and commercial operators will also support Liverpool City Region's current and future economic growth. The Alliance shows just what can be achieved by working together and, most importantly, it will deliver benefits for passengers."

Howard Farrall, area managing director, Arriva Merseyside, adds: “It commits all operators and our partners to a package of measures designed to make the bus network here on Merseyside even more attractive, affordable and accessible for passengers.

“The Alliance promises to be a first-class partnership for our region. It brings together operators and the local authority, working together under an agreed framework to deliver even better bus services, networks and customer service for passengers.”

Liam Robinson, chair of the Merseytravel Committee, adds: “This investment will mean we can do some transformational work together, but that’s not forgetting what we’ve already achieved as an informal partnership, with one of the best young people’s ticketing offers outside London, with all young people’s tickets now available up to and including 18.”

The Bus Alliance will be chaired by Stephen Joseph, chief executive, Campaign for Better Transport. "I'm delighted and honoured to be asked to chair this Alliance,” says Joseph. “We've worked closely with Merseytravel over many years to help get improved public transport across the city region and have particularly hailed the youth fare offer as an example for others to follow - I hope that through me chairing this Alliance we can help make buses even better.”

Arriva’s O’Connor told Bus and Coach Professional that the agreement clearly puts the onus on operators to prove that partnership works. “I’ve always felt that it’s up to us to prove that partnership is the best way to drive passenger growth,” says O’Connor. “In Liverpool, the fact that we’ve been able to collaborate and achieve a legal alliance shows that it can be done. At the end of the day, we all want the same things.”

O’Connor also pointed to the need for greater certainty when taking major investment decisions. He acknowledged that the group had continued to invest in north east England during the QCS inquiry as it was felt that Nexus’ proposals had limited chances of success, but in cities like Manchester and Liverpool, and with franchising definitely back on the agenda, the situation is a bit different. 

“We need a level of certainty to invest significant sums,” he says, “and OLEV support and the new Bus Alliance gave us the certainty we needed.”

As a result of the Liverpool agreement, Arriva has now placed orders for 72 vehicles for the city with an investment of £16.3million plus £4.9million support from OLEV. This comprises 12 full-electric single-deck BYD/ADL buses with Arriva funding £2.3million and OLEV £1.6million plus £280,000 for infrastructure, and nine biogas-powered buses worth around £2.2million for an order about to be placed including £300,000 OLEV support. 

There are also 51 Volvo/Wrights double-deck hybrids on order with Arriva investing £12.3million and £2.7million support from OLEV.

O’Connor appears to be fully aware that while the Bus Alliance agreement does offer an opportunity for operators to highlight the benefits of partnership, it is not possible to stuff the franchising genie back in the bottle completely.

The political runes in Manchester appear to be going in a different direction and while Arriva as a group has considerable experience working within tendered environments in London and elsewhere in Europe, O’Connor is very cautious about franchising proposals for cities like Manchester.

“If an authority had a really comprehensive plan for tackling congestion as well as ideas such as workplace parking that is used in Nottingham and targeting cheaper bus fares, I would have a lot more respect for pro-franchising views.

“Both carrot and stick are important - London is a great example of how that works - you would be mad to drive a car into central London.”