Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance: 12 months on

In Merseyside we've just celebrated 12 months of the Liverpool City Region Bus Alliance – a formal partnership between Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach, who together make up around 80 per cent of our commercial bus market.

And what a 12 months it's been.

From increasing patronage on our network, to reducing emissions through the introduction of hybrid buses, to securing a fairer deal for young people; the Bus Alliance in Merseyside is trailblazing a partnership approach to bus networks like no other city.

But let me start at the beginning; in 2016 the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority published a bus strategy which recognised how bus travel needed to be improved to ensure the future success of a functioning, inclusive and growing City Region. Not an easy feat when bus use nationally has been declining.

The key tenant of the strategy focused on building our bus services around the needs of the customer, looking at all elements of a customer journey from reviewing our ticketing to planning a journey, to understanding what it was that was stopping people from using. Essentially the strategy looked how we could encourage people who already use the bus, to make more journeys and, more importantly, to encourage people who don't currently use bus, to give it a go.

The Bus Alliance was born out of the strategy with the main aim being to increase paid-for journeys by 10 per cent by the end of 2017/18 and to create a more joined up approach to the bus network, which puts the customer at the heart of the delivery.

It's now 12 months on and we feel we've got a lot to be proud of.

Together, the Bus Alliance has simplified ticketing and scrapped 'zonal fares' giving people more value for their money. The introduction of two new 24-hour routes serving South Liverpool, have improved access to Liverpool John Airport for shift workers and tourists. £37.5 million has been invested in new buses, meaning that every Liverpool City Region bus is now fitted with free-to-use Wi-Fi and USB charging points, with retrofitting ongoing. Timetable changes are scheduled for set times in the year now, meaning a reduction in 'ad hoc' changes which supports a more stable network. And it's not just people who are benefiting from the Alliance; 70% of the fleet is made up of gas and electric hybrid buses emitting lower emissions, which is better for the environment, of course.

And the results?

The Walrus card which was launched in 2014 is now the most used smart card outside London with 2.5 million tickets loaded to date. Bus journeys made by all paying passengers have gone up by 16.2 per cent in the last three years, smashing the 10 per cent target set for the end of 2016/17 and bucking the trend of long term bus passenger decline nationally.

The number of bus journeys young people are making in the Liverpool City Region has risen by 142% in the last three years and the work we've done collectively has been recognised at the National Transport Awards earlier this month where we were named as Partnership of the Year.

Bus is often the forgotten hero in the contribution it makes to the economy and in supporting communities but we really should celebrate it more.

Bus generates significant economic benefits; a third of all city centre shoppers come by bus and, interestingly they spend similar amounts to car users. Twice as many people commute to work by bus in our City Region compared with the UK average and 60,000 young people use the bus to get to school or college every day.

Some 136 million journeys take place each year in our City Region enabling people to get to work, education, do the shop or make their hospital appointments. Buses are responsive and flexible with relatively small changes can make a big difference. Unlike rail, they don't require millions of pounds of infrastructure investment in schemes that can take decades to come to fruition.

I'm passionate about bus as you can probably tell; I'm a regular passenger on the 79 in Liverpool and I'm pleased with what the Bus Alliance has achieved to date. But we're just at the beginning of our journey. We're going to be setting ourselves more challenging targets in months to come, including a 20% increase in fare paying journeys by 2020, introducing online sales and rolling out training to 1070 drivers by 2018 to help improve customer satisfaction scores. The new Buses Act also gives us new powers and opportunities to improve things even further; we've already begun the business case work into all the new options and look forward to the results of this. The Bus Alliance in Merseyside has proven to be a success over the last 12 months and together we hope to continue to make improvements for our customers, for years to come.