Transport Chair sets out 2020 vision for West Yorkshire bus services

Franchising, the sale of bus companies, devolution, app-driven demand responsive minibus services, and a deal on fares for young people are among the issues on the horizon, says Cllr Kim Groves

Writing in today's Yorkshire Evening Post, our Transport Chair Cllr Kim Groves sets out her 2020 vision for bus services in West Yorkshire. Here is the article in full.

Franchising, the sale of bus companies, devolution, app-driven demand responsive minibus services, and a deal on fares for young people are among the issues on the horizon for us over the coming months.

At next week’s meeting of the Combined Authority’s Transport Committee members are being asked to back Greater Manchester’s proposals to franchise local bus operations. The proposals contained in Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s consultation document ‘Doing Buses Differently’ would see it owning bus depots and determining services, fares and frequencies through local contracts awarded to bus companies.

While broadly supportive of the proposals, we have made clear in our response that we would want to minimise any disruption the process could cause to people who use cross-boundary bus services between West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

Having a devolution deal enables Greater Manchester to pursue the possibility of franchising. Elected mayor Andy Burnham will decide whether to progress the scheme after the results of the consultation are published.

People at its heart

We do need a local bus network which puts local people at its heart, and we are exploring all options to achieve this. Franchising is an option and we will watch Manchester’s progress closely together with the approach being developed in Merseyside. We continue to pursue a mayoral devolution deal with Government and would definitely consider franchising should this be successful. However, I don’t underestimate the complexity, cost and timescales involved in this option.

I am concerned that both of our largest bus operators are up for sale and we need to secure the best outcome for passengers. This is why we are seeking to participate in the sale of First West Yorkshire. Journeys on First services account for around seven in every 10 bus journeys in West Yorkshire, which is why we have engaged technical and legal support to assess the options available to us around the sale. We will also be closely watching Deutsche Bahn’s sale of its Arriva businesses.

We see it as vital that we represent the interests of local people and services and that we secure a commitment to our aims of increasing patronage, ensuring inclusivity and tackling carbon emissions. We need to understand the legal implications of our involvement and identify possible next steps, including the development of a value-for-money case for any investment.

Supporting our economy

Local bus services support our economy, reduce congestion, connect our young people with education, training and opportunities for their futures and link people and communities with vital services. That’s why the Combined Authority spent around £18 million last year supporting bus journeys that would otherwise not run because they are not commercially viable.

Through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance, with Arriva, First and Transdev and smaller bus companies represented through the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire (ABOWY), we have a strong partnership committed to making immediate improvements. We have recently seen young people’s MCard bus fares frozen at last year’s prices until September 2020 and in the new year will be announcing a new fare deal for under 19s.

Alliance members are developing training programmes to help frontline staff including bus drivers deliver consistent, customer-focused services and work will take place to ensure make services and schedules are easier for current passengers and non-bus-users alike. We have started an engagement process with young people across West Yorkshire to help them help us to shape the bus services of the tomorrow and we are making it easier for under-19s to enjoy half-fare travel without being required to show identification.

Also, as a result of the Alliance, customers who are not happy with their bus journey can claim a free travel voucher from Arriva, First or Transdev. Bus operators have guaranteed to run the last bus of the day and will refund passengers their taxi fare home if it doesn’t arrive within 20 minutes of the scheduled time.

Find out more about the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance.

Key weapon on climate emergency

In 2020, buses will remain a key weapon in our commitment to tackling the climate emergency. The Combined Authority will provide a grant of £190,000 to provide a fleet of five new low carbon, zero emission buses to serve the new Stourton park and ride in South Leeds. In addition, approaching 500 existing buses, are being fitted with clean bus technology, which will result in 560 tonnes- the weight of around 37 double deck buses – of Nitrogen Oxides removed from the atmosphere annually.

Another development for 2020 will see the start of a 12-month trial of ‘demand responsive’ local bus services, a project that could revolutionise how some bus services in West Yorkshire are organised. The two Leeds-based trials will see passengers using an app not only to book and pay for their journey but to find out where and at what nearby location a minibus will pick-up them up and drop them off.

Contribution recognised nationally and locally 

After many years of being ignored and even derided by some, the hugely important economic, environmental and social contribution buses make every day is being recognised nationally and locally. Boris Johnson has claimed he will ‘transform’ local bus services and in the lead up to the election, pledged £4.2bn “for local public transport”.

Our recent, ambitious £1/2 billion bid to the government’s Transforming Cities Fund contains plans for two new bus park and rides, six new key priority bus routes and six new or improved bus stations, as well as many other measures to grow rail services and cycling and walking.

What better way could there be for Mr Johnson and his government to demonstrate their commitment to buses and public transport, to tackling climate change, to the aspirations of people, communities and businesses across West Yorkshire and the Leeds City Region than by backing our bid?

More about the £1/2 billion Transforming Cities Fund for the Leeds City Region.