Steve Rotheram warns many local transport services are likely to become unsustainable


Government bailouts of private bus and rail operators are a “bad deal for taxpayers” according to Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

In a virtual sitting to the House of Commons transport select committee this week, the mayor claimed that the funding streams set up in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown gave little incentive for companies operating across transport modes to integrate services.

Rotheram told members that instead the money should go directly to mayors and transport authorities, who could ensure that the services were put on that best served the public.

He claimed that across Merseyside alone, income from passenger fares has dropped by as much as 90% during lockdown, while local rail and bus capacity is at around 20% of pre-crisis levels because of social distancing measures.

In-addition, the initial response to coronavirus is likely to have cost the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority £17m to August plus another £10m losses likely by the end of the year.

Rotheram warned that, as a result, without significant flexible, long-term funding from central government, local transport authorities would be forced to make damaging austerity cuts that risk constraining the economic recovery.

Currently, the region’s rail network remains the only local transport network yet to receive any kind of support funding from government with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority still in dialogue with the DfT.

Rotheram used his appearance before MPs to set out his region’s requests, namely:

  • Government to provide significant, flexible and long-term funding for local transport services;
  • For transport support funding to go directly to mayors and transport authorities, who plan region-wide services, rather than going to private bus and rail companies; and
  • Government to make the powers in the Bus Services Act easier to use, to give mayors greater flexibility in planning and delivering improved local buses.

“I want to build a truly integrated transport network in the Liverpool City Region, one that is affordable, reliable and simple,” said Rotheram. “Devolution gives us the chance to change our transport system for the better by giving local people more control over the way their transport network is run.

The status quo is unsustainable for local transport

“The coronavirus has obviously disrupted our plans, but I am trying to work with government in a way that will help our region through this crisis and enable us to build the world-class transport network we deserve.

“I have been doing everything within my power to protect people’s safety while keeping the region moving but this crisis has exposed the problems with the way our country does public transport.

“The status quo is unsustainable for local transport. Without significant support from central government, many authorities will be forced to make cuts which will seriously damage our economic recovery.”

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