Transport Chair Cllr Kim Groves sets out 2020 vision for bus services in West Yorkshire

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Franchising, the sale of bus companies, devolution, app-driven demand responsive minibus services, and a deal on fares for young people are among the issues on the horizon in the coming months, says West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s (WYCA) Cllr Kim Groves.

The WYCA Committee members are being asked to back Greater Manchester’s proposals to franchise local bus operations. The proposals contained in Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s consultation document ‘Doing Buses Differently’ would see it owning bus depots and determining services, fares and frequencies through local contracts awarded to bus companies. WYCA says that while it is broadly supportive of the proposals, it has made clear in its response that it would want to minimise any disruption the process could cause to people who use cross-boundary bus services between West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

The CTA said it will watch Manchester’s progress closely, together with the approach being developed in Merseyside, and continue to pursue a mayoral devolution deal with Government, with franchising an option should this be successful.

The WYCA expressed concern that both of its largest bus operators are up for sale and highlighted the need to secure the best outcome for passengers. It is seeking to participate in the sale of First West Yorkshire, and says that journeys on First services account for around seven in every 10 bus journeys in West Yorkshire. It will also be watching Deutsche Bahn’s sale of its Arriva businesses, Cllr Groves said.

“Local bus services support our economy, reduce congestion, connect our young people with education, training and opportunities for their futures and link people and communities with vital services,” continued Cllr Groves.

“That’s why the Combined Authority spent around £18m last year supporting bus journeys that would otherwise not run because they are not commercially viable.

“Through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance, with Arriva, First, Transdev and smaller bus companies represented through the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire (ABOWY), we have a strong partnership committed to making immediate improvements. We have recently seen young people’s MCard bus fares frozen at last year’s prices until September 2020 and in the new year will be announcing a new fare deal for under 19s.”

Cllr Groves went on to highlight training programmes to help frontline staff, including bus drivers, and the CTA’s engagement process with young people across West Yorkshire to help them help us to shape the bus services of the tomorrow. Also as a result of the Alliance, she said, customers who are not happy with their bus journey can claim a free travel voucher from Arriva, First or Transdev. Bus operators have guaranteed to run the last bus of the day and will refund passengers their taxi fare home if it doesn’t arrive within 20 minutes of the scheduled time.

In 2020, the Combined Authority will provide a grant of £190,000 to provide a fleet of five new low carbon, zero emission buses to serve the new Stourton park and ride in south Leeds, and around 500 existing buses are being retro-fitted with clean bus technology. Another development for 2020 will see the start of a 12-month trial of ‘demand responsive’ local bus services: The two Leeds-based trials will see passengers using an app to book and pay for their journey and find out where a minibus will pick-up them up and drop them off. The WYCA’s £1/2 billion bid to the government’s Transforming Cities Fund also contains plans for two new bus park and ride sites, six new key priority bus routes and six new or improved bus stations, as well as measures to grow rail services and cycling and walking.