A major consultation on how West Yorkshire’s buses are run is set to launch, as the region’s leaders hope to bring the network into public control.
The consultation, which is set to start before Christmas, will ask the public whether or not they support mayor Tracy Brabin’s plan to introduce London-style franchising for buses.
A final decision is likely to be made in spring next year.
The latest step was backed by council leaders at a West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) meeting, chaired by Mayor Brabin, on Thursday morning.
The regional network has been hammered by swathes of network cuts and changes since Covid, with bus companies blaming falling passenger numbers and funding uncertainty.
Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, told the meeting: “The current bus system is not delivering, with a variety of passenger and market challenges we’re all aware of.
“This has been demonstrated through the long-term decline in patronage.
“Bus reform is therefore required for us to deliver our objectives.”
Councillor Hinchcliffe said the current arrangements for buses couldn’t deliver the “pace and scale of change” leaders want to see.
WYCA has given assurances that the consultation will be balanced, despite leaders’ preference for the franchising option.
If franchising becomes reality, it will give WYCA the power to dictate routes and the frequency of buses. Contracts will then be awarded to private operators to deliver those services.
However, even if this option is confirmed next year, it will not take effect until around 2027 – a delay the mayor has blamed on government-enforced timescales.
Councillor Alan Lamb, who leads Leeds’ Conservative Opposition, told Thursday’s meeting he was opposed to the franchising model being pursued.
Explaining his views afterwards, he said it could cost the public more money and would take too long to deliver more “affordable and reliable” services for passengers.
Councillor Lamb said: “This will be much more expensive and it doesn’t deliver any improvements until at least 2028, by which time who knows what the world will look like?
“There is an assumption that a government grant will be forthcoming to help deliver franchising. If it isn’t, then people could see their council tax bills going up by hundreds of pounds a year.”
Councillor Lamb said he wanted WYCA to pursue a different deal, branded ‘enhanced partnership plus’. This would give the mayor more power over aspects of bus services than she has currently, but would stop short of overall control. It would not require public consultation, but would need voluntary backing from private operators.
Cllr Lamb said pursuing this move would “allow us to get on and deliver improvements now at a fraction of the cost and I think that’s what people actually want us to do.”
More details on how the public consultation will work and when it will run are to be revealed in the coming weeks