Bus companies in West Yorkshire are fighting to prevent bus services from being returned to public control – which they claim could cost taxpayers more than £100 million.

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin wants to take back control with a ‘franchising’ model but the bus companies say there’s a better way that doesn’t transfer all the financial risk to taxpayers.

As public consultation on the future operation of the county’s bus services comes to an end, the bus companies have published the results of a survey which they say supports their ‘Enhanced Partnership Plus’ model.

The companies say two-thirds of those surveyed think the financial risk should remain with bus operators.

The poll of more than 1,000 people from across the region found that twice as many people want to see improved services from 2024 (60%) as opposed to 2026 (30%) which is the earliest date under franchising.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has been consulting on the method of bus reform, with Mayor Brabin’s stated preference being franchising.

But an alliance of bus operators has been arguing that whilst bus reform is needed, there is a quicker way of achieving agreed improvements with significantly less risk to taxpayers.

Speaking on behalf of bus operators Andrew Cullen, managing director of First Bus in North & West Yorkshire, said: “These results deliver an overwhelming message that the public agrees with operators. Enhanced Partnership Plus, whereby we all work more closely with the Combined Authority, is what people want for West Yorkshire.

“We agree with the Mayor that bus reform is needed but strongly believe there is a better alternative to franchising by choosing Enhanced Partnership Plus, an option which is truly unique to the needs of West Yorkshire.

“This bespoke solution delivers bus reform more quickly, at less cost and with significantly less risk to the public purse, at a time when local authority budgets are increasingly under pressure.”

Research also found that more than half of respondents who had an opinion on bus reform felt that operators, with greater oversight from a public body, were best placed to run services (53%) as opposed to the Mayor and her team at the Combined Authority (38%).

The majority of people surveyed were not aware of the Combined Authority’s predicted set-up costs associated with franchising, which have been highlighted at upwards of £100 million.

When asked what spending priorities for this money would be, 28% of respondents said the money should be spent on road repairs, 23% said it should be spent on social care, 13% said it should be spent on bus reform and 12% said it should be spent on schools.

Bus operators across the region are backing the Enhanced Partnership Plus model of bus reform, which they say can start delivering benefits of public control, simpler fares and a greener network of buses from 2024. They are promoting this option for bus reform under a campaign titled: The Best for West Yorkshire.

Public consultation ends on Sunday January 7 and the Mayor is due to make a decision on which option to take in March 2024.