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Off the buses?

An above inflation increase in bus fares in Liverpool has coincided with an announcement of a new fleet. Value for money or can they take a hike?

Written by . Published on September 12th 2011.


Off the buses?

THERE is an incredible bonding exercise we do in Liverpool. I’m going from Smithdown Road to Huyton. Well then, love, you need to get a 60 and then change at Old Swan to get the 10. Failing that, jump on an 86 into town and get the 10 or 15 from there.

Like the old Roman proverb, and classical architecture, all buses go to Queen Square. It’s when travelling cross-city you need to store a mass of numbers, routes and timetables in your head.

How about better cycling routes, 
safer cycling routes? Or converting
more disused rail tunnels into cycle
tracks, like they did with the Loop Line

This week, the latest in a long line of bus fare increases came into force. The flat fare across Liverpool is now £1.90. Five years ago it was £1.30. Another huge demand on the purse in a city where a third of households have never had a job and the jangling coins left at the end of the week feels as though it’s getting smaller and smaller as the months roll by.

Is this bus going to Speke? In a roundabout wayThe rise coincides with an announcement by multinational transport company Arriva, the main bus operator in Liverpool (there’s also First and Stagecoach) of a £10 million investment in a new fleet of buses, 29 single deck and 44 double deck buses. It’s only along limited routes though to Huyton, Speke and Southport. Much like the Mersey Tunnels, do you mind paying the extra cash if you’ll be able to ride on the benefits?

The common belief about buses is it’s all well and good if you live in south Liverpool, and on the route of the lauded 86. But how are your bus services getting you from Anfield to, well anywhere? How comfy is your journey? How’s the bus stop? Cover you from the rain at all?

Ever seen a bus drive past a wheelchair user at a bus stop because there’s only space for one disabled passenger? That’s the same space for buggies and prams as well.

The lobbying groupCampaign for Better Transport can understand why poor bus provision and higher fares put people off bus travel. In ten years, they estimate, bus and coach fares have increased by 24 per cent. They’re bringing a campaign bus to Liverpool during the Labour Party Conference later this month because they’re worried with less investment and prohibitively higher prices, bus travel will become so far removed from what we actually need to get us to and fro we won’t use it at all.

The independent watchdog for public transport, Passenger Focus, is gearing up to do another round of surveys to measure what people think of bus services. The last one they did in Liverpool was two years ago and covered the whole of Merseyside.

Liverpool One bus stationThey were largely in the city centre and measured an 88 per cent satisfaction with bus travel among those surveyed, while 71 per cent agreed that it was value for money. But, as David Sidebottom, the watchdog's passenger director concedes, it’s probably more effective to do what Merseytravel does, and ask why people are NOT using buses, rather than what those with no other transport option think of the service.

“Looking at cross-city travel there are problems. Manchester is a good example. You can draw a line across the north and south of the city. Trying to get from south Manchester to Salford can be pretty difficult.”

He compares figures from Merseyside with those in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield. There’s more choice for travellers there because - and I write this with my fingers over my eyes - each of those cities has trams.

Reams upon reams of comment, ranting, raving and debating means Liverpool missed the proverbial boat on that one. But in other northern cities there’s choice. Rail across Liverpool has huge gaps in geography, even more so than buses. What David Sidebottom wonders is why local transport authorities don’t make the bus system more regulated. They have the powers to do so. It’s called a bus quality contract and it puts the network back into public ownership. It makes it more like London, more bespoke, providing the services that meet a city’s individual needs.

Perhaps then we might get more of a say in where the money goes. If fewer people are using buses then is it worth investing all the money from fare increases into new stock?

How about better cycling routes, safer cycling routes? Something that means you don’t have to come hurtling from the relative calm of Myrtle Parade straight into the Le Mans-esque bend of Hardman Street? Or converting more disused rail tunnels into cycle tracks, like they did with the Liverpool Loop Line?

Inadequate Cycle LanesMore and more commuters walk into work; make it a little safer with better lighting and crossings and more pleasant. Never underestimate the cheering quality of a few hanging baskets.

While Merseytravel has no control over fares, improving this infrastructure for those wanting to leave their cars at home was one of the key messages in their Local Transport Plan earlier this year.

Chief executive Neil Scales says he wants to promote a“new mobility culture” where you’re walking, cycling or getting public transport instead of driving. But they recognise they need to improve the local environment to make it safer and pollution free. You know that green space opposite Liverpool ONE? Am I the only one who thinks that would be the perfect spot for a cycle scheme?

You wouldn’t need a big shiny marketing campaign to show how easy it is to get round Liverpool. Value for money, safe, secure, well lit, a few nice plants, sign-posted cycle routes. Simplistic, possibly, but announcing a new fleet of buses the week you’ve brought in an above inflation fare rise seems like the worst kind of cynicism.

Buses need to be better, and quicker and it needs to be made easier for people to get around.

Put the service in the hands of those with an overall view, rather than those often look as though they just want to make money out of you. 

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35 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Bring back the CrossvillesSeptember 12th 2011.

Sophie Allain of the Campaign for Better Transport, an environmental lobby group, said in the Daily Telegraph:

“Good, affordable bus services are vital to give people access to jobs. If the Government wants to get people into work, it must make sure that our big cities have reasonably priced and fit for purpose bus services."

The buses in Liverpool have never been fit for purpose unless you are a student living on Smithdown. The trains are good if you live on the Northern line and that's it really. There is no way to travel around the city unless you have a car. No wonder there are ghettoised gangs in places like Croxteth and Norris Green terrorising neighbourhoods on stolen BMX bikes and nicking cars.

There is no other option.

1 Response: Reply To This...
The Man on the Garston OmnibusSeptember 21st 2011.

I lived and grew up on Smithdown Road but I wasn't a student. The buses were awful. Why do students get a better service than native taxpayers?

Helen BownessSeptember 12th 2011.

My daughter has to use the 60 bus service to get to and from school. It is an appalling bus service. It is often late or doesn't stop at all due to over crowding and the drivers are more often than not very rude to the children.
She has to leave at 7.30am to stand any chance of getting on a bus which adds to an already long day and she often doesn't get home till after 4.30 as the demand for the 60 bus is too high, meaning they don't stop at every bus stop.
If my family and I are going anywhere now we compare the price of calling a cab to that of the bus fare for 4 people and quite often the cab wins! far more preferable to being on a smelly.noisy, over crowded bus!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Arthur RudgeSeptember 16th 2011.

If you think your bus is bad, you ought to have tried using the Worst Bus 39 Liscard-Liverpool. Obviously the company didn’t like the tunnel bit so they just missed out the bus stop in Sir Thomas Street and even avoided driving down that street.

Next thing you know the 39 terminated at Woodside, no doubt using the lack of passengers from Liverpool as an excuse.

When I took this up with Worst Bus they as good as accused me of lying!

Oxton OpheliaSeptember 27th 2011.

Yes! The 39 was supposed to be every twenty minutes but the drivers were obviously given orders not to stop and pick up passengers in Sir Thomas Street.

This was sad because when they first started I could get the bus home without a long walk home through a poorly-lit park from the bus stop in the winter months.

There was obviously a demand, so why couldn't the route be given to another bus company?

Bring back the CrossvillesSeptember 12th 2011.

I sympathise Helen, but was it ever any different? The buses have always been a nightmare in Liverpool, particularly heavy school routes like the 60, but that is no excuse. 20-30 years ago the bus was the only option for a great many of our citizens AND the government claimed that deregulation would put an end to all our woes.

They have had a generation to get it right and it is as bad as ever, or worse as it is now prohibitively expensive as multinational companies like Arriva take the piss out of people who can least afford it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 15th 2011.

Surely it is morally indefensible that train and bus companies in receipt of huge public subsidies are allowed to pay fat dividends to their shareholders.

That the services are rubbish and the fares extortionate makes it intolerable.

Absinthe & TurksSeptember 12th 2011.

What's so marvellous about the 86? I can remember having to get on the 5, the 46 and the 71 on Smithdown Road to get me part-way to my destinations because the 86s weren't coming or not stopping!

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2011.

Liverpool city centre is an awful place for cyclists.

The street-pattern has been so messed up that cycling is even slower than driving! The law-abiding cyclist has to keep stopping, dismounting and walking through pedestrianised areas or around one-way streets to try and get to where they are going.

Such cycle lanes that exist are disjointed, too narrow and they don’t go anywhere.

What streets cyclists can use they have to share with impatient and aggressive motorists – and they are cobbled or full of speed bumps!

6 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 14th 2011.

Too Right! It is a farce. When Mouchel 20/20 Parkman (whatever they are called this week) were consulting local businesses about making Castle Street one way we specifically requested a contraflow cycle lane so we could reach our office. This was rejected on the basis that the previously two-way street was too narrow to accommodate this.
Liverpool City Council and their outsourced civil engineers haven't a clue when it comes to pedestrian or cycle provision. Although it must be said they do do some very pretty blockwork.

AnonymousSeptember 15th 2011.

What rubbish! Castle Street like most principal streets in Liverpool and easily accommodate FOUR lanes of motor traffic which why they were so good as bus routes.

That is, of course, until some idiot in charge decides to narrow the street with car parking and wider pavements to more easily accommodate fighting and vomiting drunkards and sends the bus routes down back alleys that cannot cope with the new traffic flow.

AnonymousSeptember 15th 2011.

Sorry, that should read "Castle Street like most principal streets in Liverpool CAN easily accommodate FOUR lanes of motor traffic which why they were so good as bus routes."

In fact in the 1960s Castle Street accommodated four lanes of traffic AND a line of 45-degree car parking spaces down the middle of the road!

Who ARE these idiots? Why are they allowed to waste public money

SpokesmanSeptember 16th 2011.

As long as roads are wide enough and they are not one-way there is NO NEED for cycle lanes which are always too narrow and take cyclists over the drains, old nails and other hazards found in the gutters.

For motorists, cyclists are harder to see the nearer the gutter they ride. Cyclists need the freedom of the road to get around safely.

Sir Walter RaleighSeptember 27th 2011.

The only good thing about cycle lanes is the box to allow bicyclists to take up starting positions in front of the motor traffic in the correct lanes at traffic lights. Bicyclists trying to turn right at a junction often find themselves boxed into the gutter on the left by heavy traffic. Unfortunately many drivers, particularly taxi drivers and others with something risible in the trousers department are of the opinion that these pink tarmac boxes are for them

Sir Walter RaleighSeptember 27th 2011.

The only good thing about cycle lanes is the box at the front to allow bicyclists to take up starting positions in front of the motor traffic in the correct lanes at traffic lights. Bicyclists trying to turn right at a junction often find themselves boxed into the gutter on the left by heavy traffic.

Unfortunately many drivers, particularly taxi drivers and others with something risible in the trousers department are of the opinion that these pink tarmac boxes are for them

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2011.

People aren't using buses because they are expensive and they no longer go where people want to go. Even the vaunted 86 no longer takes passengers to Church Street and Lord Street - they have to get off in Renshaw Street and walk through the filth, crowds and rain to get to their destination. The ferries no longer carry commuters from Woodside because buses no longer meet the ferries.

Perhaps now all those chumps who were carried along with the regeneration bandwagon will now care to admit that the bus station at the Pier Head wasn’t as bad as they claimed it was.
It linked buses to and from everywhere to the ferries, with James Street Station just over the road. It provided vantage points for tens of thousands when there were events on the River, but most of all it was a modest, functional structure, hardly any of it was over ten feet high so it did not obscure the ‘Three Graces’ like the huge brutalist eyesores have in the name of “regeneration”.

Going around in circlesSeptember 12th 2011.

Worse than that is the fact that Grosvenor, which owns Liverpool One, now levies a fee on bus companies to use it.

This is the terminus that has replaced the civic amenity that was Paradise Street bus station for generations.

Now apparently it is private and run for profit. Next time you are passing the Tesco in Hanover Street, you will notice the whole road clogged with buses, emptying their passengers out so they do not have to drive in and use it.

The whole thing stinks far more than the original Paradise Street bus station ever did..

BlakeySeptember 12th 2011.

And all the streets have been narrowed in some demented attempt by planners at 'traffic-calming'.
The buses have been 'calmed' to a virtual standstill in the congestion and only the most courageous of cyclists would dare to ride along these narrow, twisting death traps.

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2011.

Is it no longer possible to get to Huyton on the 6C or the 40 along Edge Lane?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 15th 2011.

The 40 busses stopped running years ago. There is only the option of the 6 and 7 now down edge lane to Huyton. The last 6 to town drives down to town at 6:30pm. After that you had to use the no 7 which is every 30 minutes (when the run on time, or arrive at all). This misses out a chuck on the 6 route by Bowring park so you have to walk from Broadgreen Station. Many a time I've waited over an hour for a 7 bus when one has mysteriously disappeared and not shown up. But hey, as long as there's enough 86s running then someones happy!

AnonymousSeptember 12th 2011.

I can’t see what all the fuss is about the 86. It was the only proper town bus from the city centre to go down Upper Parli/Smithdown Road to South Liverpool.

On the other hand Princes Avenue/Ullet Road had the 72, the 73, the 73A and the 80 Corpie buses, as well as the two Crozzies, the H1 and the H25.

Is Smithdown Road fashionable or something now that it is a sordid student slum?

mrsmarsaSeptember 13th 2011.

What about the 61....now don't get me started on that one!!!!!!

AnonymousSeptember 13th 2011.

And the legendary 500...

AnonymousSeptember 13th 2011.

To people without passes the buses are expensive, slow and inconvenient. That's why (apart from schoolchildren and OAPs) so many of them are empty, particularly in Wirral.

AnonymousSeptember 13th 2011.

My kids think I'm the tightest mum, you know, getting a bargain where I can etc..but I shocked them to the core t'other night when I got a taxi from childwall to Woolton village, because it actually worked out only 20p more to take a taxi, for the three of us, rather that walk, wait for a bus, then walk again, so I really freaked them out, and got a taxi home too- They still haven't recovered!. Just got home today, after kicking past two burger boxes, and today's copies of metro strewn all over the floor on my £1.90 leisurely bus trip from town, is it my imagination or are the buses getting, filthier too?

AnonymousSeptember 14th 2011.

I was ordered off a bus when I was leaving hospital a couple of years ago. My crime? I didn't have enough change for the exact and astronomical fare.

I took a private-hire taxi home instead. For service, convenience and cleanliness it was worth paying (only) double the bus fare. And he had no objections to changing my £10 note.

Bus drivers appear to expect passengers to lug several pounds of slummy around with them.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jack HarperSeptember 16th 2011.

In the saner days when we had publicly-owned, regulated public transport a bus driver could be forgiven for refusing to change a fiver or a tenner as nearly all bus fares were less than 20p. Now that the fares charged are approaching the levels charged by taxis a bit of courteous customer service wouldn’t go amiss.

If they want to charge such ridiculously high fares, they ought to be prepared to change notes. You simply cannot expect everyone to be carrying that amount of change around with them. Think of the weight of it for a start. Weight is no problem for a bus driver, but to expect passengers who have been in the wind and rain for some time before climbing aboard to lug it around is unreasonable.

AnonymousSeptember 14th 2011.

Even in the U.S. where profit is everything it is possible to travel 30 miles on the New York subway for a flat rate of one dollar, or 62p.

Our privatised companies are already engorged with huge taxpayers' subsidies and they charge £1.90 to travel one stop!

This needs auditing!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Pierre HeadSeptember 21st 2011.

Yesterday in Wirral I paid £2.60 to travel just over two miles and it took 40 minutes!

If buses must change drivers, why can't they do this at the terminus?

AnonymousSeptember 16th 2011.

They are making Castle Street one way? Only in Liverpool! You couldn't make this stuff up!

AnonymousSeptember 16th 2011.

What is that horrible sticky margarine stuff that they smear over those horrible crinkley yellow plastic handrails on modern buses so you get it all over your hands?

When buses had proper stainless steel handrails they were almost always clean and pleasant to the touch.

Pierre HeadSeptember 21st 2011.

The only ‘bad thing’ about the old bus station at the Pier Head was that it was efficient and convenient but worst of all the long rooftop promenade was open to the public free of charge and afforded perfect, unobstructed views of the River and any events taking place upon it. There were even free benches for people to sit cown.

Of course these days this isn't allowed; all decent views must by blocked by unpleasant private buildings which have effectively privatised the Liverpudlian’s birthright – his or her views of the River – and sold them to the highest bidder.

AnonymousSeptember 29th 2011.

1. Expensive
2. Noisy
3. Dirty
4. Inconvenient
5. Uncomfortable

OliveJuly 5th 2012.

It's a good thing they keep the drivers in those little cages. Almost all of them seem very unpleasant indeeed. Some have apparently never learnt how to speak.

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