West Yorkshire bus franchising: Approval set for first step

West Yorkshire bus franchising plans set to progress

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) has published proposals to begin a formal assessment of a franchising scheme for the region’s bus network. If approved, it will represent the first step towards possible reregulation and follows a manifesto pledge by Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin to bring services under public control.

The plans are detailed in a report authored by WYCA Interim Head of Transport Policy Helen Ellerton. They will be discussed by Ms Brabin and regional political leaders at a WYCA meeting on 24 June with a recommendation that bus franchising in the region progresses “as quickly as the process allows,” the Combined Authority says.

Enhanced Partnership before bus franchising in West Yorkshire

Under WYCA’s proposed timeframe, the soonest that a franchise could begin is late 2025. The report states that a transition could be phased. Conclusion of the initial assessment is expected in December 2022. A decision to proceed to consultation is likely in April 2023. Because of that, WYCA says it will create an Enhanced Partnership (EP) by April 2022, in accordance with the National Bus Strategy.

The EP will remain in place until when or if franchising is introduced. It will deliver “vital improvements in the shorter term,” says the Combined Authority. The report notes that if the EP does not achieve its aims, that “would provide evidence to support a decision to progress with a franchising scheme.”

Ms Ellerton’s report states that “it is likely to cost the Combined Authority £5m to £7m to reach a point where a formal decision can be taken to make a franchising scheme.” Under the proposed timeline, that stage will be reached in January 2024.

Bus Alliance ‘has already demonstrated progress’, say operators

Three of the region’s principal bus operators – Arriva Yorkshire, First West Yorkshire and Transdev Blazefield – quickly responded to the plans to progress franchising by WYCA. In a joint statement, they say that partnership through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance has “already demonstrated positive progress by all operators working together with local councils and the Combined Authority.”

The operators add that “positive and productive relationships” exist between all parties and that they are collectively “well along a path” to an effective EP.

“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. That 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 EP is the most effective, simplest and quickest way of delivering these benefits.”

Possible bus franchising in West Yorkshire was first raised by WYCA in January 2020, when it said that reregulation would “definitely” be considered if the region’s Mayoral devolution deal was successful.