Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has promised that he will not stand in the way of bus franchising in Leeds if it offers benefits to passengers.
The minister, speaking at Horsforth Golf Club during a day of engagements across Yorkshire, effectively invited West Yorkshire leaders to outline a proposal for taking over the area’s currently de-regulated bus services.
This year new legislation gave directly elected metro mayors the power to introduce bus franchising, while areas without metro mayors can make a case to government.
Asked how he would view an approach by civic leaders in West Yorkshire, Mr Grayling said: “We would be very open to looking at their proposals.
“There are franchising powers now in legislation, for me, the judging point is, does this benefit passengers, that is what we are all about.”
Senior figures have backed franchising, which they say would produce a London style service with Oyster-type ‘all-in-one’ ticketing, and cheaper and simpler fares, which would increase passenger numbers.
Under bus franchising, enshrined in the Government’s new Bus Services Bill, the deregulated bus market would be suspended and bus operators would only be able to provide services under contract to the local transport authority.
Keith Wakefield, West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee Chairman, said the issue of bus franchising in West Yorkshire was tied in with the long-running Yorkshire devolution saga.
Seventeen of 20 council leaders in the region have backed a One Yorkshire model where powers are transferred from Whitehall to a mayor covering the whole region, but the Government does not support this scheme.
Coun Wakefield said: “It is no good us going from West Yorkshire when we all know our bid for devolution is based on a One Yorkshire configuration.
“It is a cop-out for him to say ‘come to me’, they need to be supportive for what the majority of people want.”
The government has promised to release guidance on how franchising or partnerships between councils and bus operators could work.
Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to working with local councils to improve bus services and we will look at the guidance on this when it’s published.”