Following extensive research and analysis, a comprehensive assessment of West Yorkshire’s bus market has been finalised, signalling a significant milestone in the region’s bus reform efforts.
The assessment indicates that bus franchising is the preferred option, subject to an audit and statutory consultation, marking a pivotal moment for West Yorkshire’s transportation system.
Under a franchising model, the Combined Authority would gain control over fare and route determination, ensuring that bus services operate in the best interests of local bus users through contracts with bus companies. The assessment highlights the “clear strategic benefits” of franchising, which align with the Combined Authority’s goal of establishing an integrated, affordable, convenient, and environmentally friendly transport system. Improved connectivity and enhanced accessibility to various destinations are among the anticipated outcomes.
Buses serve as the primary mode of public transportation in West Yorkshire, playing a vital role in providing essential services to the community. However, the current deregulated system has witnessed a decline in ridership over the years and an increased reliance on public funding to sustain services. In order to evaluate potential alternatives, the assessment compares the benefits of the current enhanced partnership system with both franchising and an enhanced partnership plus option, which would involve strengthening the existing arrangements between operators and the Combined Authority.
Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, expressed her enthusiasm for the progress made, stating, “Today marks a significant stride toward creating a better-connected West Yorkshire. The evidence demonstrates that franchising offers clear advantages and presents greater opportunities to achieve our objectives and enhance the travel experience for passengers. For far too long, the people of West Yorkshire have endured a subpar service, and I am determined to change that.”
Having agreed to proceed with the scheme, the members of the Combined Authority have sent the assessment to independent auditors to ensure its robustness ahead of a future decision by Mayor Brabin, expected in Spring 2024. Following completion of the audit, a public consultation process will be conducted in the Autumn, affording members of the public the opportunity to express their opinions.
Recognising that the bus reform journey is a long-term undertaking, West Yorkshire leaders have taken immediate action to improve bus services. These recent developments are part of the Combined Authority’s Bus Service Improvement Programme (BSIP), which will be discussed at the upcoming meeting and Transport Committee on May 26. The program involves an investment of £7.3 million to enhance bus services in West Yorkshire, encompassing the introduction of new services, increased frequency, and more affordable fares in the first round of funding.
As part of an agreement reached with commercial operators, services throughout the region will benefit from this funding. Notably, Bradford, Leeds, Calderdale, and Kirklees have already announced improvements, while the Mayor has collaborated closely with Wakefield to develop a tailored package to enhance local bus provision starting in September.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and Transport portfolio lead for West Yorkshire Combined Authority, expressed her satisfaction with the outcome of the assessment, remarking, “The assessment work conducted by the Combined Authority represents a positive step forward in our efforts to improve bus services. However, we recognise the urgency for immediate enhancements, which is why we are presently investing in the improvement of our bus services. We are actively collaborating with operators to prioritise customer needs, offering more reliable, affordable, and sustainable bus services throughout the region. These enhancements will undoubtedly provide a significant boost to our communities.”