Council leader claims bringing Leeds bus services under public control is possible

Senior members of Leeds City Council have reiterated their support for bringing West Yorkshire bus services back into public control.

Could publicly-run transport be returning to our bus stops?

It follows news that both First bus and Arriva – the region’s two biggest bus operators – have recently been put up for sale by their parent companies.

Manchester, an authority with an elected mayor, is currently looking into a franchising model for its bus services – effectively bringing them back into public control.

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But, at a full Leeds City Council meeting this week, the authority’s leader Coun Judith Blake suggested that West Yorkshire – currently without a devolution deal – would not necessarily need an elected mayor to do the same.

Could publicly-run transport be returning to our bus stops?

Referring to the possibility of bringing the bus services back into public ownership, Coun Blake said: “The fact that First and Arriva are getting to the point where they are looking to offload their bus operations, perhaps that is an opportunity for us and I think we really need to look at how we can do it.

“Some time ago, [transport secretary] Chris Grayling did say to us that even though we didn’t have a mayoral model, he would be open to a robust proposal around taking ownership of bus operation.

“I think this is a moment that we need to seize.”

It followed a speech from Coun Kim Groves (Lab) who is also chair of the influential West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) transport committee. She said that WYCA and Leeds City Council would soon start looking at “other options” regarding bus services in the region.

She added: “Manchester are having to prove they have tried different models before being allowed to take control. It’s a very complex and legal system.

“It’s very disappointing that the government want to see so much from us, but they lack in terms of policy – we don’t even have a national bus policy.

“The government funding is nothing short of a joke in terms of how it is distributed across the country. It can’t be right that the London model, hailed as a success, gets £722m in subsidy – or £90 per person. The rest of the country only gets £203m in subsidy.

“We know the bus industry has not performed well since privatisation in our city region. On average, patronage has dropped by one million passenger trips every year.

“To keep a viable network and to keep fares affordable, we have spent about £75m a year in public money, and I know there are members in this room who know the service is not fit for purpose.

“Our anterior routes are served well, but places like East End Park, Ardsley and Robin Hood, Rothwell, and when you go out to the Wakefield district, the services are really poor.

“The model is broken. We need to redefine the networks and we need to look at the modes of transport.”

On First’s bus services being put up for sale, she added: “We are exploring the opportunities and threats this creates and we will do our best for the people of West Yorkshire.”

Green Party group leader Coun David Blackburn spoke of how the Welsh Assembly had recently nationalised welsh railways, adding: “Maybe in the future, with devolution, we can have ‘Transport for Yorkshire’ nationalised instead of ‘Northern Rail’

Bus services were transferred from government to private ownership following the 1985 Transport Act.