Bus operators and public authorities in the West Midlands have entered a new wide-ranging partnership including the creation of a new body, The Bus Alliance, which will oversee the establishment of mandatory quality standards for bus services across the region.
The Bus Alliance will enforce minimum standards on vehicle emission levels, branding, maximum fares and frequency that bus operators will now be required to meet in order to operate in the region, using Statutory Quality Partnership powers under the Transport Act 2000.
An SQP has been used since 2010 by Centro and Birmingham City Council to set a minimum standard of quality for buses operating in the city centre. These will now be rolled out over the entire region under the banner of the Alliance and unlike previous bus agreements, this is no longer voluntary.
The ITA warns operators that they will have to abide by the new standards if they want to run buses in the region. “Before, this was done voluntarily and bus companies that did not take part were still able to operate on the lucrative routes and locations around the region.
“Now this is no longer the case and it will allow the Alliance to tackle quality issues identified across all the districts of the West Midlands, such as working to remove older and more polluting buses.”
The Bus Alliance has been created by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority and Centro and is chaired by John McNicholas, the chair of the ITA delivery committee.
“Previous partnerships have worked well and the Bus Alliance will allow us to continue the good work by achieving even higher standards,” says McNicholas. “Crucially, we will be working with the smaller bus operators to help them meet those new standards and ensure the network is not monopolised by the bigger companies.”
The Alliance will be run by a board comprised of councillors, and representatives from bodies including local authorities, bus operators, the ITA, West Midlands police, Transport Focus and is supported by the Department for Transport.
It will be enforced by the traffic commissioner in the same way as the SQP in Birmingham city centre, where bus companies failing to comply have been barred from operating.
The ITA’s bus policy which will be implemented by the Alliance includes objectives to increase bus patronage by 5 per cent, improve peak time journey speeds and maintain customer satisfaction levels at over 85 per cent. The ITA is also aiming for fare rises of no more the RPI +1 per cent per annum, discounted young person’s travel for everyone under 19-years-old and an increase in bus patronage of 5 per cent.
The ITA says that the initiative will see £150 million invested by operators and partners between now and 2021.
“It will further strengthen the relationship between our West Midlands local authorities, the transport delivery body and all bus operators, large and small,” says Roger Lawrence, the ITA chair.
Speaking on behalf of the operators, Peter Coates, National Express West Midlands managing director says: “This agreement is great news for bus users in the West Midlands.
“It will deliver quicker journey times, newer buses, better on-board services and limit fare increases. It is the first time that bus companies, highways departments and leaders of local councils have come together to deliver such a raft of improvements.”
A new ticket offer is being launched in Liverpool as a result of co-operation between Merseytravel, Arriva and Stagecoach who are working together through the Bus Alliance which was set up for the city region last year.
Arriva’s Merseyside Adult and Young Person’s Weekly Saver tickets and Stagecoach’s Adult and Young Person’s 7 day Merseyside Megarider plus+ tickets are now available to buy and renew on a Walrus Card on the bus. There is no change to prices or validity and Walrus cards are re-usable and allow customers to top-up on the bus when they need to.
Customers are also being asked to retain their Walrus card for future use since there are plans for an activation fee on all new cards in the near future.
Merseytravel has also launched a new adult One Day Solo bus ticket which is available to buy on bus services within Merseyside and gives customers the freedom to travel on any bus, any time with just one ticket for £4.70, including peak time use.
Arriva day saver tickets for £4.30 and Stagecoach dayrider tickets for £4 are unchanged and will remain accepted by either operator on Quality Bus Network journeys.
“The Bus Alliance is transforming the approach to tickets and ticket buying to make the process more convenient and efficient for customers by making the most of technology and offering new products,” says Liam Robinson, chair of the Merseytravel Committee. “The new Adult One Day Solo is an example of how we are improving the customer offer to help make bus a mode of choice rather than last resort.
“This ticket could benefit those who don’t travel regularly or have different working patterns including part time workers, students and leisure travellers. Some of these bus users may be spending unnecessarily, on a weekly ticket or a season ticket or in a single day, or may have had to buy a number of different bus tickets across different services.”