Plans published today by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority propose starting the process towards franchising local bus services and going into an Enhanced Partnership with bus operators to deliver improvements for passengers.
These measures are hoped to result in a more flexible bus network that offers users improved accessibility, more routes and bus times that meet the needs of travellers, with simpler fares.
The plans will be discussed by the Mayor and the region’s political leaders at the next meeting of the Combined Authority June 24, with the recommendation to progress bus franchising as quickly as the process allows.
Government timescales mean that the earliest date that an operational franchise could begin is late 2025 but the Mayor has said she will start the process straight away.
To deliver improvements in the shorter term, the Combined Authority will bid for a share of £3 billion in funding made available by Government to support bus services during the recovery from the pandemic and create an Enhanced Partnership by April 2022.
Although this is also subject to a formal process with timescales determined by the Government, the Combined Authority will support measures to bring these timescales forward.
Tracy Brabin Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “The plans we’ve published are the first step to fulfilling one of my key pledges: to bring our buses back into public control.
"I want buses to be the first choice for travel in our region.
"Not because you don’t have a car, but because they’re more affordable, convenient to use, and better for the environment.
"Our buses should work for us, not the other way round.
“I want more choice and better service for bus users.
"Simple and affordable fares, green buses, quicker, more frequent journeys, running where and when people need them.
"So if you’re working an early or late shift in the hospitality sector or our NHS, or on a night out, you should be able to count on there being a safe bus to get you home."
The next step will be the publication of a bus services improvement plan in October with the delivery of these improvements over the next three years.
Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and Transport portfolio lead for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “The process we are starting is an important first step in making real improvements for our region’s bus users.
"The steps we are taking will ultimately result in better value and improved service for the millions of people who use buses in and across West Yorkshire every week.
“This goes alongside the £457 million the Combined Authority is investing in improved bus, cycle and walking across our region, which together will take the equivalent of 12 million car trips a year off our roads by 2036.”
Since the pandemic began, the Combined Authority has spent around £40m supporting local bus operators to maintain a bus service for key workers.
A joint statement by First Bus, Arriva and Transdev about the plans said: “We remain committed to working with the Mayor and the Combined Authority and firmly believe we can deliver the transformational bus service for the travelling public of West Yorkshire through partnership.
“Through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance Partnership, we have already demonstrated positive progress by all operators working together with local councils and the Combined Authority.
“Positive and productive relationships between all parties already exist and are our foundations upon which to build. This means that together we are already well along a path to delivering an effective Enhanced Partnership, which is the quickest way to deliver what everyone wants to see from the bus network of the future: giving customers confidence to travel by bus, providing a reliable and convenient alternative to car travel, better customer service with simpler fares, driving economic recovery and creating cleaner air in the region’s towns and cities.
“During the pandemic, operators have worked closely together and with the combined authority to maintain services for key workers and have transformed real-time information on services and bus capacity by fast-tracking advances in app technology to develop digital journey planning tools to help customers, including live ‘bus maps’ showing how many seats are free as the bus approaches a stop.
“We are keen to build on the full rollout of contactless and mobile ticketing and are already developing a ‘London-style’ multi-operator ticketing solution for customers, building on the popular MCard range of tickets.
“Millions of pounds of investment continues and has led to the introduction of hundreds of ultra-low emission buses and the start of all-electric vehicles to help deliver an even greener bus fleet.
“We share the Mayor’s ambition to grow passenger numbers, give customers improved value-for-money services and avoid a car-led recovery from the pandemic.
"This will be achieved through working with the Mayor and her team on the best locations for new bus priority measures to ensure reliable journeys, by simplifying ticketing and decarbonising the bus network. We are confident that a strong, committed Enhanced Partnership is the most effective, simplest and quickest way of delivering these benefits.”