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West Yorkshire bus plans are 'biggest shake up of sector in 40 years'

The decision to bring West Yorkshire’s bus services under public control has been described as the biggest change to bus services for four decades.

A meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority today saw West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin push ahead with bus franchising. She described the decision as a “historic” one.

After years of planning and consultations, members from all five West Yorkshire councils were today asked to choose between two options for bus improvements.

They were moving to the franchising option, where bus companies would provide services, but with the Mayor and Combined Authority deciding on issues like routes, fares and frequencies, or a Partnership Plus model that would see bus companies retaining control of services, but with a much closer working relationship with the Authority.

Members were told this would be the cheaper model, but would not provide the Authority with the same powers to retain much needed services.

Whichever model was chosen, members heard that there was an existing improvement plan in place to try to improve local services in the short term.

Many voiced support for franchising, arguing services in the region desperately needed improving.

However, the franchising model, which will likely take years to implement, did not have support from all Councillors.

Councillor Alan Lamb, leader of the Conservatives on Leeds Council, said: “People are used to having to wait for buses, they don’t want to have to wait for bus improvements.

“The quickest, cheapest and best way to improve things in the short term is the Enhanced Partnership Plus. That’s what I feel we should be looking at.”

He questioned whether the Authority had the capacity to run a franchised bus system as well as pressing ahead with a new mass transit system – which was due to be discussed later in the meeting.

But Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds Council, said: “The bus companies have had long enough. The people in my wards have to put up with the country’s worst bus service.

“Bus companies have time since Thatcher privatised services to improve.

“I think the time for franchising is right.”

Councillor Matthew Morley (Wakefield Council) added: “I don’t think any of us can say the bus services in their areas are working well. We need to move forward with this.”

Councillor Rebecca Poulsen, leader of the Conservatives on Bradford Council, said: “We need better services across West Yorkshire, but we need them now, not after potentially years and years of legal battles.

“Residents deserve better services without passing the risk on to the taxpayer.”

The majority of the panel voted in favour of the franchising model, with Cllr Lamb and Cllr Poulsen voting against.

The decision fell to Ms Brabin – who opted to push ahead with the franchising model. She said: “I’m satisfied the scheme will offer clear strategic benefits.

“I hearby decide on behalf of the Combined Authority to move forward with the West Yorkshire franchising scheme.

“What a historic moment for West Yorkshire – bringing buses back into public control and putting passengers first. It is the biggest change in how buses are run in 40 years, and will impact generations to come.

“We know change won’t happen overnight, and the hard work to improve our existing bus network will continue.”

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