Plans for a better-connected West Yorkshire take major step forward with milestone on bus reform
Mayor Tracy Brabin’s plans for a better-connected West Yorkshire have taken an important step forward at a Combined Authority meeting in Leeds today (Thursday).
Following months of detailed work, an assessment into the future of West Yorkshire’s bus market has been completed. This concludes that franchising is the preferred option – a key milestone on West Yorkshire’s bus reform journey. This will be subject to audit and a statutory consultation.
Bus franchising would give the Combined Authority control over setting fares and routes, allowing the services to be operated in the interests of local bus users with bus companies operating them under a contract.
The assessment states that franchising would offer “clear strategic benefits” by helping the Combined Authority to achieve its ambitions for an integrated transport system which is more affordable, convenient and greener - improving connectivity and getting people where they need to go.
Buses are the most widely used form of public transport in West Yorkshire and provide a crucial public service, but the current deregulated system has seen a decline in patronage over many years and the increasing use of public funding used to support services.
The assessment compares the benefits of the current system (an enhanced partnership), with franchising and an ‘enhanced partnership plus’, which would see the current arrangements between the operators and the Combined Authority strengthened.
Mayor West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said: “Today is a huge step forwards on our journey towards creating a better-connected West Yorkshire.
“The evidence shows that franchising offers clear benefits and would give the greater opportunity to achieve our objectives and deliver improvements for passengers.
“Buses are a lifeline for our communities, but for too long the people of West Yorkshire have put up with a second-class service – this is something I determined to change.”
The Combined Authority members have decided to proceed with the scheme by sending the assessment out to independent auditors to ensure it is as robust as possible for a future decision by Mayor Brabin in Spring 2024. Subject to the completion of the audit, members of the public will then get a chance to have their say in a public consultation process in the Autumn.
Recognising that the bus reform journey is not a short one, West Yorkshire leaders are taking action now to improve bus services.
The latest developments come as part of the Combined Authority’s Bus Service Improvement Programme (BSIP), which will also be discussed at the meeting and at Transport Committee on May 26.
This will see £7.3 million invested in enhanced bus services in West Yorkshire – including new services, increased frequency and cheaper fares – as part of the first round of funding.
Services across the region will benefit from this funding as part of an agreement reached with commercial operators. In Bradford, Leeds, Calderdale and Kirklees improvements are being announced today, and the Mayor has also been working closely with Wakefield to design a specific package to enhance local bus provision there from September.
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and Transport portfolio lead for West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said:
“The outcome of the Combined Authority’s assessment work is a positive step forward on our bus improvement journey.
“But we know that we cannot wait to make improvements – and that is why we are investing in improving our bus services now.
“We are working with operators right now to put customers at the heart of more reliable, cheaper and sustainable bus services across the region. These enhanced services will provide a real boost to our communities.”