The cities of Salford and Liverpool elect mayors today. I can’t see much mention of bus services made in any Liverpool manifestos. That’s probably because transport won’t be in their gift. Buses are either the responsibility of commercial operators or the integrated transport authority’s PTE. While there have been past tensions between Merseytravel PTE and the city over the bus service, not even a dominant elected mayor of the dominant Merseyside council has total influence.
In London, the mayoral race may result in lower fares, at a time when provincial fares are rising sharply. 38 per cent of London’s electorate cite “transport” as the most important of their concerns and this, perhaps, is why one candidate is willing to cut bus fares. The other main candidate is pledging to roll out new buses plus protect the network and provide more accessible stops & bus ramps. In other cities, they don’t get such a chance. But neither do they face the costs of franchised operations.
Bristol is like neither Salford nor Liverpool. It has never had an integrated transport authority or PTE (though it might’ve been a candidate). Here, an elected mayor could launch a campaign based on bus service reforms. My guess is that no matter the provincial city, like London, at least 40 per cent would place transport at the top of their wish list for action. Judging by the web reaction to the Bristol news of potential QCs, they would be as popular as the operator seems unpopular. A recent BBC Radio 4 programme on the withering provincial press suggested that the saviour of modern journalism was the interaction of the parallel website. Clearly, no one at the BBC is reading any of the poorly thought out rantings we see daily. But, it’s down to perception and people sometimes stereotypically view buses badly even when they’re good (e.g. Brighton)
Historical note: Bristol city council collaborated with the Bristol Tramway & Carriage Company, later the Bristol Omnibus Company, in running the Bristol Joint Services from 1937 to 1978. BJS was never immune from the difficulties of bus operation and the last decade was punctuated, if I may generalise wildly, by a sharp downward spiral of higher fares and reduced demand, and sometimes-unreliable operations that didn’t quite match expectations. Life has obviously moved on since then but has public opinion of its buses?
So, could a mayoral election campaign coalesce around the single topic of improving bus services, London-style? What happens if the elected mayor cannot deliver QCs owing to the legal process? May be that wouldn’t matter so long as buses were seen to improve, through operator-preferred partnerships. On the other hand, would such a result be unstoppable with a huge elected mandate? And if Bristol joins the bandwagon, what about other non-PTE towns and cities? And even those in PTEs, for that matter?