Senior figures from West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) have announced their support of the government’s new proposed franchising laws.
They say the proposals would give the region a London-style service, with Oyster-type all-in-one ticketing, cheaper and simpler fares and a reversal of what they claim is decades of declining passenger numbers. A meeting of a Leeds City Council inquiry panel, which is examining the future of the service and options to improve it, was told that key elements of the region’s bus services are inadequate.
The committee was told that customer dissatisfaction is high, while ticketing options are hugely confusing.
The cross-party panel heard that First, which runs bus services in Calderdale and Leeds, and Arriva, provider of buses in Wakefield and North Kirklees, have a “duopoly”.
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “Buses are the backbone of our communities. In my district we have seen complications and changes to some bus routes which have really inconvenienced local people.
“Actions speak louder than words when it comes to a fair deal for the north of the country and ministers also need to pull their fingers out. “I will be lobbying to make sure that the government Bus Bill has the powers that our city regions need to make public transport better.”
Across West Yorkshire, around 180 million bus journeys are carried out every year.
However, bus usage has declined significantly during the past 20 years, the panel in Leeds was told, and the high and ever-changing cost of tickets and perceived unreliability are major factors.
There has also been a big decline in fare-paying passengers, with more travellers using free bus passes.
Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox said: “Integrated 21st century public transport should not be the preserve of London and only London. The government needs to understand that places such as West Yorkshire would benefit massively from the sort of investment and strategic approach that Londoners enjoy. There’s no reason why we can’t we have the same.
“Arriva, who will soon be running the northern rail franchise, have pledged improvements in terms of technology and ticketing for our trains. But Arriva also runs most of our bus services and I am hopeful that we will start to see a far more integrated approach. It is certainly something I will be pushing for.”
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s regeneration, transport and planning boss, said giving people incentives to get back on the buses was vital to the region’s transport network.
He said: “Huge amounts of time is expended on talking about rail services but actually in most parts of Leeds, people are going to be dependent on bus transport.
“With the congestion on our roads, it is important that we get people onto buses.
“We have been bumping along at the bottom for far too long - we really need to make a change.”
Bosses from bus company First say franchising would be a counter-productive move which would bring additional risk and burden on the taxpayer.
Paul Matthews, managing director of First West Yorkshire, said: “Our objectives and those of the Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on growing bus usage are well aligned and we welcome this debate about the best way to achieve those objectives.”
lThe government is currently planning new bus legislation to make it easier for local transport authorities to franchise bus services.
The proposals would allow bus services outside of London to be provided in the same way as they are in the capital, just as national rail services are provided.