West Yorkshire leaders' partnership with bus companies could lead to lower fares and better services
Political leaders in West Yorkshire have set out plans for a stronger partnership with the county's bus operators in a move which could guarantee consistent standards across different services and lead to better deals for customers.
The announcement that West Yorkshire Combined Authority is working on an enhanced bus partnership comes as a review of the network suggests there could be an extra 24 million bus journeys locally by 2033 if services are improved enough.
The move comes amid fears that operators such as First, Arriva and Transdev may reduce the number of services they offer when the government reduces the temporary funding support it currently offers to compensate for the loss of fare revenue.
Outside London the number of people using buses has been declining for years but the trend has been much more pronounced during the pandemic because of the numbers of people working from home.
A report by WYCA says the current deregulated model in place outside the capital which gives political leaders virtually no say over bus services "is unlikely to be appropriate for the post COVID environment".
It adds: "Many communities where isolation is a factor of deprivation could potentially be disadvantaged by a purely market driven approach."
Currently the combined authority, which is responsible for transport policy across the county and promoting economic growth, has what is described as a "light touch" relationship with bus operators in the form of a 'Voluntary Partnership Agreement'.
The option of franchising, where local authorities determine the details of the services to be provided such as where they run, when they run and the standards of the services, is being considered.
But the authority is now proposing to develop an 'enhanced partnership', where civic leaders come up with a vision for what bus services ought to look like and targets for improvements but require the support of operators for it to proceed.
Areas within the scope of this arrangement include ensuring customers receive a consistent standard of bus service across the network and developing fare deals to boost patronage and make bus travel more accessible.
It comes as a review of the existing bus network shows that at least 65 per cent of all addresses in West Yorkshire are within 400 metres of a bus stop served by four buses or more during the morning peak.
The review shows that by improving frequencies, linking to areas of economic growth and investing in vehicles and bus priority measures, could lead to an additional 24 million bus journeys by 2033.
Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “We will continue to consider the case for franchising and will press the Government to give local areas the freedom and funding to pursue the options we believe are appropriate to meet local needs, including public ownership.
"An enhanced bus partnership represents an opportunity to deliver for passengers as that wider work continues.
“Our review of the region’s core bus services confirms there is huge potential to encourage significant growth in passenger numbers with the right investment in vehicles, priority measures, frequencies and connecting to areas of economic growth. The proposed enhanced bus partnership would be an important step in delivering that vision.”