My daily commute is via bus, which should be a great opportunity to talk to people about their questions and concerns, catch up on messages and have some valuable thinking time.
But there is no getting away from the fact that relying on the bus has been a trying and, at times, downright frustrating experience.
I have seen how my fellow passengers are confused about which ticket they need to buy, confused by out of date, or a complete lack of, timetable information at bus stops, and all in addition to waiting to find out whether the bus arrives or not.
As an MP, I spent a lot of time in London, and I know people who live and work there have their own frustrations with the city’s transport system. But the ability to move around using Tube, bus and bike by tapping in and out of the system, with passengers guaranteed they are paying the cheapest possible fares, is a world away from where we are in West Yorkshire
If that kind of integrated transport system is good enough for London, it is good enough for West Yorkshire. I know how important buses are to our communities. As someone who was an MP for an area made up of towns and villages, I am all too aware both of the role buses play connecting people to jobs, education and family, and how those services too often fail to meet those needs.
Buses are not just important for the people who rely on them. They are critical to everything we want to be as a region. Affordable, reliable transport is essential to access jobs, education, services and the things that enrich our lives like culture, friends and family.
And as we emerge from the pandemic, we will need more people to choose public transport, walking and cycling if we are to improve air quality, achieve our carbon reduction targets, tackle the climate emergency, and avoid a return to the congested roads that blight our communities.
Other forms of transport have a role to play and I am committed to driving forward proposals for a new mass transit system for West Yorkshire. But this will take time to deliver and, to capture its full potential, will need to be integrated with a wider public transport network where buses continue to play a significant role.
This is why there is such a pressing urgency to drive up standards in our bus services and why it was one of the central plans of my campaign to become Mayor. Deregulation of buses has failed areas like West Yorkshire and it is the communities that need affordable transport the most which suffer the most from the unequal outcomes it produces.
It has also created the misleading impression that bus services support themselves through the fares passengers pay. In reality, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority spends £16m of taxpayers’ money every year commissioning bus services to fill the gaps where private operators have decided a commercial service is unviable.
If you read the Government’s own bus strategy you will see that even it now recognises that the days of deregulation are numbered with its new focus on developing partnerships with bus operators to deliver improvements.
My intention is that we will pursue an Enhanced Bus Partnership which will unlock a share of the £3bn the Government has made available to support bus services during the recovery from the impact of the Covid pandemic.
It will also give the West Yorkshire Combined Authority much greater control over how public money is used to support services, deliver deals on fares to help make travel more affordable and encourage more people to use buses, and improve the information available to passengers.
But I am equally clear incremental change is not going to deliver the dramatic improvements we need in the quality and reliability of our bus services. I welcome Andy Burnham’s decision to progress franchising in Greater Manchester and am asking my team at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to urgently progress the case for doing the same here.
My focus is on delivering better services for passengers as quickly as possible and the course I have set will do just that.
Tracy Brabin is the Mayor of West Yorkshire and outgoing Labour MP for Batley & Spen.
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