Public transport on Merseyside is co-ordinated by Merseytravel. They work with the Local Authorities to plan and deliver public transport infrastructure improvements across Merseyside. Merseytravel also acts in partnership with private bus and rail operators to provide public transport services in Merseyside.
What services does Merseytravel provide?
- It subsidises the services that bus operators find unprofitable to run. This includes vital links to schools, hospitals and industrial estates as well as the Merseylink service for people with mobility problems;
- It funds and specifies service levels on the Merseyrail network in partnership with the Strategic Rail Authority. It also sets fare levels and invests in developing new stations and refurbishing older ones;
- It provides and funds free travel passes to the elderly and disabled;
- It operates pre-paid ticketing, e.g. TRIO, SOLO and Saveaway with the bus and rail operators;
- It operates the Merseytravel information line which is open 12 hours a day, seven days a week;
- It maintains over 6000 bus stops including over 2,400 shelters and major bus stations throughout Merseyside;
- It owns and operates the famous Mersey Ferries and the Mersey tunnels; and
- It is a partner with the local authorities in preparing the Local Transport Plan and in planning and obtaining funding for public transport improvements.
What doesn't Merseytravel do?
Merseytravel is not responsible for the vast majority of bus services. These are the responsibility of private bus operators.
80% of the bus services in Merseyside are run by private bus operators who are not controlled by Merseytravel or local councils. These private bus companies decide on the routes, timetables and fares of these services. These are known as commercial services.
Why do the private bus operators run buses instead of Merseytravel or the council?
In 1985 a new law called the Transport Act was introduced by the then Conservative government. This law privatised the bus services and meant that organisations like councils were no longer allowed to operate their own bus services.
The law also demanded that bus services should be provided by private bus operators and that these operators could not be told what to do or which services to run by the council. This change was known as deregulation.
What was the aim of deregulation?
Deregulation was aimed at encouraging competition between different private bus operators such as Arriva and Stagecoach.
The then Conservative government thought that competition between private bus operators would be in the best interests of passengers as it would encourage bus companies to run the cheapest and most reliable services, encourage more people to travel by bus and help to reduce the amount of public money spent on supporting bus services.
Thats how 80% of services are provided. What about the other 20%?
The Traffic Commissioner is responsible for the licensing of bus companies and monitoring their standards of operation, but not for the routes and timetables which they choose to operate. Merseytravel have powers to support socially necessary bus services. These supported bus services are on routes which the private bus operators do not want to run because they are either too expensive or not enough people want to travel on them.
Supported bus services are still operated by the private bus companies but they are paid to run these services under contract - they get financial support from Merseytravel.
This means that Merseytravel can set the routes, timetables and fares for these buses and decide which operator will run the service depending who offers the best value for money.
Subsidy for bus services is paid for in this way by the Council Tax payer of the five district councils of Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral.
Without council taxpayers support to Merseytravel these subsidised services would not operate at all.
Why do bus services keep changing all the time?
If a private bus operators margin is too small, or if it simply costs more money to run a bus service than they get from ticket sales, then they have to make some changes to attract more passengers or save money.