Tracy Brabin majored on transport in the first mayoral term. Credit: WYCA

New era beckons as WYCA opts for bus franchising

“What a moment for West Yorkshire, what a moment for devolution,” declared mayor Tracy Brabin as buses were brought back into public control.

Debate over the issue of bus reform took up roughly the first hour of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority meeting on 14 March, the final meeting of its kind in this mayoral term.

Brabin described the decision as “the biggest change in the way buses are run for 40 years”. Adding “there is clear public support for this outcome”.

She said: “We will crack on at pace delivering the changes the public want to see. I am delighted to make this decision for the people of West Yorkshire.”

The first item on this week’s meeting weighed up the best option to change buses in the city region, with options in play being a deeper, enhanced partnership between WYCA and private bus operators, or the re-introduction of public control over routes, fares, frequencies, and the overall standard of services through franchising.

West Yorkshire’s move follows Greater Manchester’s taking back control of its buses last autumn.

As WYCA outlined, buses are the most widely used form of public transport in West Yorkshire and provide a crucial public service, connecting communities and enabling people to get to work, school and meet family and friends – but under the deregulated system, passenger numbers have fallen and public funds are having to shore up services.

Despite the action the Combined Authority has taken through its Bus Service Improvement Plan, bus services in the region, and others,  remain too infrequent and unreliable to meet passengers’ needs, with West Yorkshire ranking bottom for customer satisfaction according to a survey released by Transport Focus.

A franchised model will allow the Mayor and Combined Authority to better deliver on ambitions for a greener, joined-up and easier to use transport network as part of a better-connected West Yorkshire.

Transport had been a key campaigning point for Brabin in her successful run for mayor in 2021, and has been prominent in her time at the head of WYCA.

The suggested first phase pf the much-heralded mass transit system is now being submitted to government for approval, while bus reform, a matter of study for three years, has now been brought about.

In a bumper agenda before May’s election, the meeting also considered:

  • Tram lines running between Leeds and Bradford, as part of wider plans for a so-called mass transit system for West Yorkshire. Known to be the largest city in Western Europe without a light rail or metro-style system, the trams will be a historic first for Leeds and the wider region, with proposals under way to get spades in the ground by 2028 and deliver a better-connected region.
  • The West Yorkshire Healthtech and Digital Tech Investment Zone, which is set to receive an initial £80m in partnership with central government. The funding will help businesses, universities and hospitals to deliver thousands of new jobs and drive forward the development of lifechanging technologies, for patients in the NHS and world-wide.
  • A £1.7m package to insulate 100 Victorian terraces in Armley, Leeds. This latest investment follows news that around 3,000 rented council and social homes have benefitted from green measures to save people money in a cost of living crisis, as part of Brabin’s drive for greener homes.
  • A new long-term rail strategy for the region, which sets out proposals to deliver extra capacity, better reliability, and improved frequency. Regional leaders are expected to call for additional government investment in public transport infrastructure, to put West Yorkshire and the North of England on a par with London and the Southeast. They will also demand that safeguarded HS2 land around the congested Leeds station is protected to enable a much-needed expansion of the station, and that promises are kept around funding for a new railway station in Bradford.
  • More than £5m to support Bradford City of Culture 2025 – a landmark year of cultural events, festivals and celebrations, to showcase the vibrant communities of Bradford to the world. The funding follows Brabin’s pledge to deliver a “Creative New Deal” for West Yorkshire, and is expected to boost jobs, skills, tourism and the wider economy.

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