Bus Back Better boost for Warrington

Warrington’s plans to transform bus services have received a huge boost, with the Government announcing that the town is in-line to receive significant Bus Back Better funding.

It has not yet been confirmed how much money will be allocated to Warrington. However the announcement – made in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper – confirms that the town is one of the Local Authorities set to receive major funding to transform bus services.

The National Bus Strategy – Bus Back Better – has set out the vision to dramatically improve bus services in England outside London, reversing the recent shift in journeys away from public transport and encouraging passengers back to the bus. The Government has committed £3 billion in grants to support the national strategy.

Warrington Borough Council submitted its application for Bus Back Better funding last year, submitting its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) in October 2021. This followed a public consultation undertaken in summer 2021, which gave people the opportunity to have their say on a number of areas, including the length of wait times for buses, the proximity of their nearest bus stop, ease of bus use and value for money.

The announcement of this funding from Government means the council is in line for major investment in bus services in Warrington over the next three years, with the opportunity to make many of the ambitions of the BSIP a reality. It will see the council working with partners to make buses more frequent, faster and reliable, cheaper, easier to use and better integrated.

Warrington Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for transportation, highways and public realm, Cllr Hans Mundry, said: “We welcome this announcement from the Government. The confirmation that we are in-line for substantial funding is great news for Warrington and gives us a fantastic opportunity to transform bus services in our borough.

“It shows real recognition from the Government of our commitment, through our Local Transport Programme (LTP4), to transform bus services in Warrington and to treble the share of all journeys made by bus from 5% to 15% over the next 20 years.

“We are already making huge progress, with work underway on our brand new bus depot and Zero Emission Buses Regional Areas (ZEBRA) funding secured to introduce an all-electric bus fleet to be operated by Warrington’s Own Buses. The announcement of this funding is the latest success story, and will enable us drive forward our work further and faster than ever before.

“It will enable us to invest in making more of our buses cleaner and greener, to complement the ZEBRA funding for an all-electric bus fleet that we secured last year. There is also money within the project to introduce multi-operator ticketing, improve the provision of public transport information, bus stops and shelters.”

“It also means we can further build on the relationships we have with our bus operators and other partners, delivering improvements that will benefit existing passengers and encourage more people to choose the bus for their journeys. Working together, we are committed to creating a reliable, sustainable, future-facing bus service for Warrington.”

The announcement means work will soon be able to commence on a number of projects to enhance the operation of bus services locally, including schemes to improve bus priority around the A49 corridor. This will complement bus priority measures for Wilderspool Causeway, already planned using Town Deal funding.

In addition, Punctuality Improvement Plans will be introduced at other identified congested hotspots across Warrington’s network, which will make journeys by bus quicker than they are today. The funding also includes provision for kick-starting improvements in fares and service frequencies.

In Warrington, over 85% of services / vehicles are operated by the Council majority owned arms-length municipal bus company, Warrington’s Own Buses. The national strategy requires that, as part of the BSIP, the council puts in place an Enhanced Partnership model with local bus operators by April 2022.

The Enhanced Partnership will see the council engaging with all bus operators in Warrington, ensuring high standards are set out in terms of:

–             Fares review

–             State-of-the-art vehicles, with the highest standards of quality and accessibility.

–             Clear targets for journey times and reliability improvements, to be reported at least every six months.

–             Addressing variable quality in bus provision and infrastructure

–             Identifying where bus priority measures are needed, including consideration of Bus Rapid Transit to transform key corridors and application of traffic management to benefit buses.

Councillor Cathy Mitchell, Deputy Leader of Warrington Borough Council and Chair of Warrington’s Own Buses, said “This is great news for Warrington, which endorses all the hard word carried out by officers in collaboration with our local bus operators. With this funding we will be able to support operators to provide industry-leading bus services for our residents, businesses and visitors. 

“While we don’t yet know how much we will receive, being in-line for a substantial amount of funding is justification for the efforts that we have collectively made in, once again, convincing the Department for Transport to invest in Warrington.

“Today, we have received endorsement for our Bus Service Improvement Plan and have already agreed a draft Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme with our local bus operators, as the next stage in our journey towards transformational change in sustainable travel.” 

The announcement of Bus Back Better Funding, follows the securing of £21.5m of ZEBRA funding last October, which was the largest award made to any local authority, paving the way to the replacement of Warrington’s Own Buses’ entire fleet of diesel buses with 120 new electric buses in 2023, giving Warrington one of the largest all-electric bus fleets in the country.

The all-electric bus fleet will be supported by a new bus depot, which is being delivered as part of the Warrington Town Deal. Work has recently started on the new purpose-built facility on Dallam Lane, which will be equipped with electric vehicle charging infrastructure, ready to house the new fleet of zero emission buses.

Managing Director of Warrington’s Own Buses, Ben Wakerley, said: “We are absolutely committed to driving up the usage of bus services in our borough, and this funding will put us in a strong position to achieve this. I’m delighted that the Government shares our vision to transform services across the borough.

“We’re looking forward to working with the council and other partners in the months and years ahead to review all aspects of bus provision in Warrington and to make significant improvements – including the introduction of state-of-the-art, accessible vehicles, identifying where bus priority measures are needed and improved journey times and reliability.”

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