The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, has taken the first steps towards fulfilling a major manifesto pledge to bring buses back into public control.
The plans published by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which coincide with Clean Air Day 2021, propose starting the process towards franchising local bus services and going into an Enhanced Partnership with bus operators to deliver improvements for passengers.
These measures will result in a more flexible bus network that offers users improved accessibility, more routes and bus times that meet the needs of travellers, with simpler fares.
Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “The plans we’ve published are the first step to fulfilling one of my key pledges: to bring our buses back into public control. I want buses to be the first choice for travel in our region. Not because you don’t have a car, but because they’re more affordable, convenient to use, and better for the environment. Our buses should work for us, not the other way round.
“I want more choice and better service for bus users. Simple and affordable fares, green buses, quicker, more frequent journeys, running where and when people need them. So if you’re working an early or late shift in the hospitality sector or our NHS, or on a night out, you should be able to count on there being a safe bus to get you home"
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and Transport portfolio lead for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “The process we are starting is an important first step in making real improvements for our region’s bus users. The steps we are taking will ultimately result in better value and improved service for the millions of people who use buses in and across West Yorkshire every week.
“This goes alongside the £457 million the Combined Authority is investing in improved bus, cycle and walking across our region, which together will take the equivalent of 12 million car trips a year off our roads by 2036.”
The plans will be discussed by the Mayor and the region’s political leaders at the next meeting of the Combined Authority on Thursday 24 June, with the recommendation to progress bus franchising as quickly as the process allows.
Government timescales mean that the earliest date that an operational franchise could begin is late 2025 but the Mayor will start the process straight away.
However, to deliver vital improvements in the shorter term, the Combined Authority will bid for a share of £3 billion in funding made available by Government to support bus services during the recovery from the pandemic and create an Enhanced Partnership by April 2022.
Under Enhanced Partnerships, the Combined Authority will work with bus operators so people across West Yorkshire will benefit from more flexibility, improved accessibility and more choice through a flat and simpler fare structure, more flexible bus routes, and later and more frequent services where needed.
Although enhanced partnerships and franchising assessments are both subject to a formal process with timescales determined by government, the Combined Authority will support measures that can be taken by government to bring these timescales forward. The next step will be the publication of a Bus Services Improvement Plan in October with the delivery of these improvements over the next three years.
Since the pandemic began, the Combined Authority has spent around £40m supporting local bus operators to maintain a bus service for key workers. In total, including direct support from the government to bus operators, the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining bus services in our region during the pandemic has been around £90m.
This is in addition to significant investment by the Combined Authority to transform the way people travel across the region, with the delivery of programmes such as the Leeds City Region Transforming Cities Fund (TCF) - a major new £457 million programme of transport infrastructure investment secured as part of the West Yorkshire devolution deal.
Providing an accessible, attractive and cleaner alternative to car journeys is at the heart of TCF, which will improve journeys by bus, rail, bike and on foot for up to 1.5 million people, taking up to 12 million car trips per year off our roads by 2036, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 15,000 tonnes.
Notice of Intent
As part of the process to bring buses back under public control, we have published a Notice of Intent to prepare an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme and to establish an Enhanced Partnership with operators. These documents can be accessed below.