Mayor of West Yorkshire starts the engines on public control of buses

Plans published today start the process of franchising and to work with the region’s bus operators to improve services

Updated 9.40am 17/6/21
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 the 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 the 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.

West Yorkshire-based transport operator Transdev has voiced its support for the Mayor’s plans. Transdev points to its success in growing numbers choosing and using its buses, as a key player in the success of the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance, which brings together the Combined Authority and bus operators including Transdev, First and Arriva, plus its predecessor, the Bus 18 Partnership.

Transdev CEO Alex Hornby said: “We’re proud of what has been achieved already, from booming customer growth on the 36, our flagship route between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon, reaching 21 per cent prior to the pandemic – and our continued multi-million-pound investment in new, high-spec buses.

“The way we do business has been hailed as best practice in the Government’s National Bus Strategy, and our team’s efforts have been rewarded by 10 industry awards in the past five years. All our front-line buses in West Yorkshire feature Wi-Fi and USB charging, and meet or exceed Clean Air Zone targets. Buses run until midnight across the network and usually until 3am on certain routes. Meanwhile, we have fully rolled out contactless payments and tap and cap ticketing on all our buses across Yorkshire. 

“But we know there’s lots more to do. If the bus is to be at the heart of our post-pandemic recovery, there’s no time to lose in carrying on making our buses as amazing as they can be.

Transdev are positive about the future of buses in West Yorkshire

“We’ve shown we know how to grow our bus network and attract new customers – and we’re investing now to deliver real improvements where they’re needed most. Following our acquisition this summer of Yorkshire Tiger and its services in and around Huddersfield and Halifax, we’re planning to replace a fifth of its fleet with more high-spec, low emission buses in our first three months.

“We see an Enhanced Partnership as a positive opportunity to deliver the improvements everyone wants, while achieving best value for taxpayers. We look forward to working with the Mayor and the Combined Authority to make it happen for West Yorkshire.”

Transdev says 55 per cent of its customers on key routes have access to a car but choose to use its buses instead – while the latest report from independent watchdog Transport Focus quotes its subsidiary The Keighley Bus Company as having Yorkshire’s friendliest bus drivers and a 93 per cent overall satisfaction rating.

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