Why some Leeds buses could be nationalised too - but not before a delay

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Regional leaders claim early hopes to bring bus services back under public control could ‘change the way bus services are organised’ in West Yorkshire.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is set to discuss further research into the future of bus travel, as it continues to look into whether it can take on some of the bus services in the region.

However, it warned that First PLC, which owns First’s West Yorkshire bus operations, was embarking on a ‘comprehensive efficiency programme’ and that, should a sale go through, it could be much later than expected.

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But a statement from WYCA claimed it was still looking into the implications of franchising bus services in the region.

WYCA is looking into bringing some bus services under public control.WYCA is looking into bringing some bus services under public control.
WYCA is looking into bringing some bus services under public control. | jpimedia

The statement from WYCA read: “Franchising would change the way that bus services are organised in the region. Instead of the current deregulated system, whereby routes and fares are almost entirely decided by private companies, it would enable local contracts to be awarded to run services based on the needs of local people.

“It would allow much greater control over fares, routes, ticketing arrangements and timetables.

“By making the bus system much more responsive to people’s needs, it is hoped that more people will choose the bus as their preferred mode of transport in our towns and cities.”

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In May 2019 First Group PLC made an announcement to shareholders that it was ‘pursuing structural alternatives to separate our First Bus operations from the Group’ as part of a process of re-structuring the company.

However, the WYCA report added: “At the time a sale process was expected in early 2020, but last month, the company announced a change in strategy for its companies in North America and that, for First Bus, it had commenced a ‘comprehensive efficiency programme …. prior to any launch of a formal sale process’. Should a sale proceed, it will now much be later than expected.”

WYCA also conceded franchising is an easier process for mayoral authorities, such as Greater Manchester and Merseyside, where franchising public transport is currently being investigated.

Coun Kim Groves, chair of WYCA’s transport committee said: “Bus trips in West Yorkshire are currently declining by a million trips every year, and we are seeing operators cut services to our communities and bus fares rising.

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“Yet the role of the bus has never been more important to connect people to essential services and help us reduce carbon emissions from transport.”

Bus services were mainly run by local authorities until the mid-1980s, when most services were privatised, following the 1985 transport act, which deregulated services.

However, in the past few years, extra powers were granted to devolved authorities with an elected mayor. Information came out this week suggesting positive talks had taken place on the possibility of West Yorkshire getting a devolved mayoral region of its own.

Coun Groves continued: “If the current deregulated model for bus operations continues to decline in this way, then we have to look at the public sector taking a more substantial role in integrating public transport and improving bus services.

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“We have to bring back the bus as the best choice for people moving around our towns and cities.

“With the government sounding more positive on reaching a devolution deal with us, we need to look at the new opportunities that would put within our grasp, including the ability to take forward the franchising of bus services without seeking government permission to do so.”

Members of WYCA will discuss the report on Thursday, February 6.