Shadow Transport Secretary issues bus franchising call for Leeds

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Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald has backed a franchises shake-up as the right way to bring about improvements to Leeds’s much-criticised bus system.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post following a visit to the city, Mr McDonald said all local authorities should have the power to introduce bus franchising.

Supporters of franchising – where private operators can only run buses under contract to a local authority – say it would lead to a London-style service with cheaper and simpler fares.

Areas such as Greater Manchester that are led by elected metro mayors have the automatic right to introduce franchising if they so wish.

But places like West Yorkshire – which does not have a metro mayor – need to make a case to the Government if they want to do the same.

Asked whether Leeds should have the power to introduce a bus franchising system without the say-so of Whitehall, Mr McDonald told the YEP: “It should, without any doubt whatsoever.

“It was complete folly to restrict the ability of local authorities to embrace franchising, to restrict that to city region mayoral authorities.

“We would expand this to the entire country so that all local authorities could go down that path if they wish, whether they have a metro mayor or not.”

The Labour MP, who met with the YEP during a train journey from Leeds to his Middlesbrough constituency, added: “We want the buses to go where we want them to go – to our schools, to our hospitals, to our workplaces, not just where the bus operators want to derive maximum profit.”

Speaking to the YEP in November, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he would be “very open” to the idea of looking at a bus franchising proposal for West Yorkshire, despite its lack of a metro mayor.

Mr Grayling’s comments were swiftly branded a “cop out” by Coun Keith Wakefield, chair of the transport committee on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), the public body that includes what was Metro.

The YEP led calls last year for improvements to the bus system in Leeds.

Our campaign was launched after Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake revealed “heartbreaking stories” of residents in her ward losing jobs due to services frequently running late.

The WYCA is working with operators and the city council on plans to speed up local bus journeys.

Speaking earlier this year, a WYCA spokesman said: “Consultation on these plans, which are being designed to support economic growth, cut congestion and its costs and, as a result, improve air quality and improve people’s journey experiences, will proceed later in 2018.”

Bosses at First, Leeds’s biggest bus operator, have committed to investing in 284 new vehicles in the city by the end of 2020.