Members of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority are to decide at a meeting today (May 25) whether to progress with plans to go ahead with bus franchising – which it has been argued would improve services as the authority would have more control over setting fares and routes.
It comes after an assessment of the system found that franchising is “the preferred option”, although this will be subject to an audit and a consultation. According to Mayor Tracy Brabin, it would allow the services to be run in the interests of bus users, with bus companies operating them under a contract.
The assessment said that there were “clear strategic benefits” to franchising, making the system more affordable, convenient and greener, as well as improving connectivity. Buses are the most widely used form of public transport in West Yorkshire, but the current deregulated system has seen a decline in passenger numbers in recent years and an increasing use of public funds used to support services.
Mayor Brabin said: “Today is a huge step forward 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.”
Today, members of the authority will decide whether to proceed with the scheme by sending the assessment out to independent auditors, before a future decision would be made by Mayor Brabin in spring 2024. If the audit goes ahead, the public will then get a chance to have their say in a consultation in the autumn.
It comes as part of the authority’s Bus Service Improvement Programme (BSIP), which will also be discussed at the meeting today. That will see £7.3m invested in enhanced bus services in West Yorkshire – including new services, increased frequency and cheaper fares – as part of the first round of funding.
In Bradford, Leeds, Calderdale and Kirklees, improvements are being announced today. The mayor has also been working closely with Wakefield to design a specific package to enhance bus provision from September.
Coun 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.”