Response from Mayor of West Yorkshire and Leaders to the Better Buses campaign

The Mayor and Leaders of each Council share the same vision of an effective, accountable and affordable bus service that works for the people of West Yorkshire.

Thank you for your emails regarding the process of returning buses to public control. The Mayor and Leaders of each Council share the same vision of an effective, accountable and affordable bus service that works for the people of West Yorkshire.

As set out in the Combined Authority papers we have published today, it is our intention the Combined Authority will be recommended to start the process of bringing buses back into public control at its meeting on 24 June. On this basis, officers have prepared a paper which sets the process out in detail to advise on our decision. The paper is available here.

The powers to make a franchising scheme have only been available in West Yorkshire since becoming a Mayoral Combined Authority and the Mayor coming into office in May this year. The process to do so is set by Government who, despite setting out a National Bus Strategy, has not shortened the process nor allowed Local Transport Authorities the facility to do so. These timescales mean that the earliest date we could hope to see an operational franchise is in late 2025. I am sure you would agree that a simplification of process and a shortening of timescale would be desirable, and we would welcome you encouraging Government towards this view.

Whilst a shorter, simpler timescale is desirable, we will need to ensure a franchising scheme offers good value for money for the people of West Yorkshire. The public
consultation phase will also be critical to ensure we deliver a service which encourages higher levels of bus use and enables greater inclusivity.

Understandably, everyone expects cheaper, simpler bus fares, green buses and a more reliable service immediately, and so we need to push the current bus operators
towards these goals in the short term. So our papers published today also recommend the establishment of an Enhanced Partnership with a review date of April 2023, which will coincide with the conclusion of the audit stage for the Franchise Assessment and the start of public consultation. This approach is similar to option 2 on your briefing note supplied.

In our region, an alliance between the Combined Authority, Councils and bus companies, chaired by Councillor Kim Groves, has delivered a stable bus service for key workers, school pupils, students and others needing to travel during lockdown. We need to maintain a strong alliance with political leadership to stabilise and grow public transport in West Yorkshire as we recover from Covid over the coming months.

Both the Mayor and Council Leaders consider this approach to be the most effective pathway to restoring accountability to bus services, accessing Government funding
to allow early delivery of improvements whilst also working towards full public control. We will start the process towards franchising and will progress as quickly as the process allows. Whilst this is underway, we will use partnership to work with bus operators to deliver early improvements for customers ahead of franchising.