Eighty Poo

It’s time to write on the fascinating subject of buses – specifically, the local route that takes me into town.

No, wait! Come back! This is not a parochial moan, of interest to no-one outside south Liverpool, but hopefully an interesting story which shines some light on the state of bus services, and the problems bus users encounter.

Route 82 is one of Liverpool’s trunk routes, linking Speke, Garston, Aigburth and Dingle with the city centre. I’m not entirely sure how long it has existed for, but a 1960s Liverpool Corporation bus map shows it, so that’s at least half a century. It has survived the upheavals of deregulation and privatisation largely intact. Until last month, the main changes were a series of minor reroutings in the city centre as pedestrianisation and one-way systems were implemented.

Today, the route is shared between Stagecoach and Arriva, who operate a Quality Partnership agreement, with a co-ordinated timetable and acceptance of the other operator’s prepaid tickets. The introduction of the quality agreement has been beneficial to passengers, no longer subject to arbitrary changes at the whim of the operators. Or at least, that’s what we thought.

On 3rd September, a big change came in as the route in central Liverpool was drastically altered. Take a look at my highly professional map, showing the rerouting.

Map of Liverpool city centre showing old and new 82 routes
© OpenStreetMap contributors

The old route (in green) meandered past Liverpool Cathedral and along one side of Chinatown to the old Lewis’s building, then turned down Hanover Street to terminate at Liverpool One. The post-September 3rd route veers left at Parliament Street and takes the direct route along St James Street and Park Lane to the terminus.

To be fair (I am scrupulously fair) there are a couple of upsides to this change. Firstly, if your final destination is Liverpool One, you’re likely to get there a lot more quickly. Secondly, the new route skirts the edge of the Baltic Triangle, a regeneration area crying out for better public transport links.

The downsides, however are major: the route now misses out a big part of Liverpool city centre. This is a retrograde step for the many passengers who have no public transport alternative to the 82. Those people have lost easy access to the lovely shops and restaurants on Bold Street, to Chinatown, to the shopping centres at Clayton Square and St John’s. It’s a much longer walk (or a second bus) to reach the Knowledge Quarter and Liverpool’s universities. Perhaps worst of all, the change diverts the route away from Lime Street and Central railway stations. So much for integrated public transport.

A lot of passengers were caught unaware by the change. Notices were posted on the bus companies’ websites, but unless you’re a nerd (hello!) who checks the weekly Merseytravel updates page, it was easy to miss. The first inkling many passengers got of the change was when their bus suddenly turned off the expected route. As the Echo reported on 18th September, many people are not happy.

Ostensibly, the change has been made because of congestion on Hanover Street which was causing consistent delay to services. If that’s the case, it’s odd that this change was only made in the city-bound direction. Buses towards Speke/Garston still take the old, slow route out of town. It’s also odd that it was the 82 singled out for change, rather than the many other bus routes which follow one another down that same street.

Embed from Getty Images
Recent photo of Arriva management celebrating their new route changes

It’s true that this area is very congested; on a bad day it could take as long to get from one end of Hanover Street to the other as it did to reach town in the first place. However, would it not be better to tackle the root cause of the problem?

Firstly: there are three sets of pedestrian crossings on Hanover Street, none of which are in phase with each other. Thus the bus crawls from red light to red light, sometimes sitting there for two or three cycles of the traffic light sequence before actually getting through.

Secondly, it is fairly common to see vehicles blocking the road: mostly delivery vans or taxicabs picking up and dropping off fares. The road is not wide enough for buses to overtake parked vehicles, so one Uber with hazard lights flashing can quickly cause a massive tailback. Enforce the double yellow lines and traffic would flow more freely.

My biggest problem is with the way that this change was implemented, with zero consultation with anyone. It’s true to say that consultation is not actually required; one of the many gifts from the 1980s Tory government was the deregulation of bus operations outside London: a bus operator can introduce, withdraw and change routes as it sees fit. And there is the problem with buses, and one of the main reasons more people don’t rely on them – it is simply too easy to pull a route and leave people with no alternative.

I had hoped that Merseytravel, with its much-ballyhooed Bus Alliance, would be a bit more proactive in protecting passengers’ interests, especially on a “Quality” bus route. Sadly, it seems that this latest change has been implemented with Merseytravel’s tacit approval.

Annoyingly, just months ago we had a Liverpool Bus Network Review, a mammoth project to revise and update the Liverpool bus system as a whole, rather than considering each route on its own. This change to the 82 could and should have been considered then. Was this done deliberately to avoid a negative consultation response?

To make matters worse, some of the responses to disgruntled passengers on Twitter demonstrated the worst kind of management by spreadsheet. I was infuriated by this response:

Well, OF COURSE they were incredibly low – they’re just a few stops from the end of the route, not many people are going to get on there. However, I can say from personal observation that plenty of people got off at those stops. That’s not recorded in the ticket machine data, because buses in Liverpool charge a flat fare, so there is no way of recording a passenger’s final destination.

So what happens next? The bus operators say they are “listening to feedback”, perhaps hoping the backlash will die down. However, there is a change.org petition which is well on its way to 5,000 signatures. The Liverpool Green Party, who represent St Michaels ward on the bus route, are also allegedly on the case, although annoyingly I can’t find any reference on their website, just a tweet.

Personally I would like to see the changes reversed, or some compromise found that satisfies both operators and passengers alike. I would also like to see a promise that any future changes will be handled in a less cack-handed way.