Bus services in West Yorkshire to come back under public control

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin behind the wheel of a bus.Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin behind the wheel of a bus.
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin behind the wheel of a bus.
Bus services in West Yorkshire are to come under the control of the region’s mayor, following approval by local leaders.

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said: “I’m delighted to announce that we are taking back control of our buses in West Yorkshire, empowering the public to hold me to account for better services.”

Public control of bus services, known as franchising, will see West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) take responsibility for bus routes and frequencies, rather than the private companies who currently make those decisions. Private companies will be contracted by WYCA to operate the services on their behalf.

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“For too long, buses have been run in the interests of private companies, not passengers,” added Labour mayor Ms Brabin. “Franchising will help us build a better-connected bus network that works for all, not just company shareholders.

“But we know that change will not happen overnight - the hard work we’ve been doing to improve the bus network continues while we work at pace to bring this new way of running the buses to our 2.4 million residents.”

The decision was formalised at a WYCA cabinet meeting yesterday, chaired by Ms Brabin and made up of the leaders of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield councils. Speaking at the meeting Ms Brabin said it was “the biggest change to the way buses are run for our region over the last 40 years, and will impact on generations to come.”

It follows the decision made by Liverpool’s combined authority to franchise buses in October last year, and that of Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham, who has seen franchised buses enter service a month previous to that through the city’s new Bee Network.

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Since reforms to bus services by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 the number of bus journeys taken outside London - where the reforms did not apply - has dropped. According to government statistics the number of journeys taken since deregulation has dropped by 40 per cent.

Plans to ensure a smooth transition to bus franchising in West Yorkshire will see the phased introduction of centralised control. The first franchised buses are expected to be running in parts of Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield from March 2027.

The combined authority’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), in place since 2021, will continue to operate in the years until the franchised service is operational. The BSIP includes the introduction of a £2 cap on bus fares, increased bus frequencies and investment in bus stations and shelters.

Despite investment through the BSIP, a survey released this week by Transport Focus - an independent transport watchdog - had West Yorkshire ranking bottom for customer satisfaction. Issues with frequency and reliability are thought to be behind the poor performance.

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An updated BSIP is expected to be announced by the mayor in May.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said: “The Mayor of West Yorkshire's decision to franchise buses will transform passenger experience in the region, with better routes, better pricing and simpler ticketing systems.

“The value of bus franchising is already being proven in Greater Manchester, where bus passenger numbers are up at least eight per cent since it was introduced last September.”

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