The final part of Harrison’s Bus Regulation: The Musical Trilogy – inspired by the 1980s hit musical ‘Starlight Express’ – re-enacts the history of public transport provision in the Merseyside region from the post-war period to the present day… on roller skates!

Bus Regulation: The Musical by Ellie Harrison is inspired by the 1980s hit musical ‘Starlight Express’, and features performers on roller skates to re-enact the history of public transport provision in the Merseyside region from the post-war period to the present day.

Beginning with the municipal ownership of buses in the 1960s, through the 1968 Transport Act which created the Merseyside PTE and the coordination of public transport across the whole region in the 1970s, Bus Regulation: The Musical takes you into the chaos caused by bus de-regulation in 1986, the numerous mergers & takeovers of the 1990s that followed, right up to the fragmented and expensive system we’re left with as a result. The Musical concludes with a celebration of Liverpool City Region’s proposals to re-regulate our region’s buses in order to create a world-class, fully-integrated and affordable public transport network fit for the 21st century.

Bus Regulation: The Musical (Merseyside) was premiered at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on 13 November 2022. It was produced by Emily Furneaux and stars Betty Beehive as ‘the bus passenger’ alongside skaters from Liverpool Roller Birds: Emilia Bona, Faye Wearing, Christine Higgins, Hannah Dickman, Shelly Salmon, Elle Jackson, Ellis Hogarth and Kate Rowlandson, and Wirral Roller Derby: Rebecca Farmer and Gemma Rigby, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was funded by Arts Council England through the National Lottery Project Grants programme and produced in collaboration with the Bluecoat, We Own It, ACORN Liverpool and the Better Buses for Merseyside campaign. Film and photos by Brian Roberts Images.

The Merseyside production builds on the success of the Greater Manchester and Strathclyde Musicals, and is the final part of Harrison’s ambitious Trilogy exploring the relationship between public transport policy and population health in these three post-industrial city regions. Following the completion of her Musical Trilogy, Harrison was awarded the University of Dundee’s ‘Engaged Researcher of the Year’ award at the 2023 Stephen Fry Public Engagement Awards.

The Merseyside Musical was then re-staged at The Black-E in Liverpool on 15 July 2023 in collaboration with Better Buses for Merseyside to coincide with Liverpool City Region’s long-awaited public consultation on bus franchising. This production was funded by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, local UNISON North West branches and We Own It. It featured all the original skaters from Liverpool Roller Birds and Wirral Roller Derby, with Polett Bali replacing Kate Rowlandson and Rachel Malenoir replacing Gemma Rigby.

The results of the public consultation showed 69% in favour of bus re-regulation. This was seen as a huge vote of confidence in Liverpool City Region’s proposals, so on 6 October 2023, Mayor Steve Rotheram announced his intention to proceed, becoming only the second UK city-region to do so after Greater Manchester. To mark this historic decision, Harrison was invited back onto BBC Radio Merseyside to discuss the ideas behind the Musical.


Photo: Brian Roberts