By Louis Marlow
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin has taken a further step towards taking all buses in West Yorkshire back under public control.
The mayor has been ticking off the legal stepping stones towards public control, or ‘franchising’, on a large board outside the offices of West Yorkshire Combined Authority in Leeds.
This comes as the combined authority received the outcome of a business case which identifies public control as the ‘preferred option.’
Taking buses under public control would mean that decisions about the buses are made by the authority, rather than private companies.
Campaigners argue a franchising scheme would allow simpler tickets, such as a London-style hopper fare, allowing passengers to change between routes and operators as many times as needed in a single journey under an hour for just £1.75.
It is argued that public control would also allow cross-subsidy so that profitable commuter routes can support quieter but essential services connecting communities to workplaces or hospitals.
The full results of the assessment of public control in West Yorkshire are yet to be released. However, campaigners have drawn attention to a similar assessment in Greater Manchester, which found that franchising would reduce car trips by four times, and the economic benefits were estimated to be three times as much as privately operated bus services.
Mayor Brabin, who regularly uses public transport to and from her home in Slaithwaite, said: “This is a huge step forwards on our journey towards creating a better-connected West Yorkshire.
“The evidence shows that franchising offers clear benefits and would give the greater opportunity to achieve our objectives and deliver improvements for passengers.
“Buses are a lifeline for our communities but for too long the people of West Yorkshire have put up with a second-class service – this is something I am determined to change.”
Members of campaign group Better Buses for West Yorkshire, who were seen at the combined authority offices wearing party hats and carrying balloons, said: “We’re delighted that the business case has backed the commonsense view: buses should work for the communities they serve, not shareholders living overseas.
“No other European country has handed control of its transport network over to fat cats as we have. This is an essential first step back towards the network we all deserve.
“It would allow smoother journeys, better value tickets, and a new ‘passengers over profits’ approach on the region’s buses. It can’t come soon enough.”
The franchising of West Yorkshire’s buses is still in its early stages, and must pass an independent audit and a public consultation in the autumn.
Even if the scheme is given the go-ahead by the Mayor in 2024, it could be several years before it is in operation.
Greater Manchester became the first city-region to introduce bus franchising under the 2017 Bus Services Act but two bus companies opposed the move and went to judicial review, forcing a delay.