WEST Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has set out her intention to bring local bus services into public control.

At a meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority next Thursday, members will be asked to support a motion to prepare a franchising scheme for the region's bus network.

However, Government timescales mean that the earliest date that an operational franchise could begin is late 2025.

Improving West Yorkshire's bus network by bringing it into public control was one of the main pledges of Ms Brabin's campaign, and she has described the current system as "broken."

With West Yorkshire now being a devolved local authority, bus franchising is now a much more realistic possibility.

As well as the franchising proposals, the authority - made up of representatives of Bradford, Leeds, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield, members will also be asked to establish an "enhanced partnership" with local bus companies.

This partnership would see the Authority working with the bus companies to improve services.

The Government recently announced that it would be making £3 Billion available to support bus services as the country comes out of lockdown.

Public ownership of bus services is supported - but will be a 'tortuous' process

But this funding would only be available to authorities that had signed up to an enhanced partnership by the end of June.

Mayoral areas, such as West Yorkshire, could instead begin a franchising arrangement and still be eligible for funding.

To do this they would have to draw up a business plan, subject the plan to independent audit and instigate a public consultation.

A meeting of the Authority's Transport Committee last month heard that this process could take years - and mean that West Yorkshire would lose out on the extra funding needed to keep services running over the Summer.

The report to next Thursday's meeting says: "As the assessment for Franchising will be developed alongside the Enhanced Partnership, then if the Enhanced Partnership does not achieve its aims, this would provide evidence to support a decision to progress with a Franchising Scheme."

Ms Brabin said: “The plans we’ve published are the first step to fulfilling one of my key pledges: to bring our buses back into public control.

"I want buses to be the first choice for travel in our region. Not because you don’t have a car, but because they’re more affordable, convenient to use, and better for the environment. Our buses should work for us, not the other way round.

“I want more choice and better service for bus users. Simple and affordable fares, green buses, quicker, more frequent journeys, running where and when people need them. So if you’re working an early or late shift in the hospitality sector or our NHS, or on a night out, you should be able to count on there being a safe bus to get you home"

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council and Transport portfolio lead for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “The process we are starting is an important first step in making real improvements for our region’s bus users. The steps we are taking will ultimately result in better value and improved service for the millions of people who use buses in and across West Yorkshire every week.

“This goes alongside the £457 million the Combined Authority is investing in improved bus, cycle and walking across our region, which together will take the equivalent of 12 million car trips a year off our roads by 2036.”

In response to the proposals, First Bus, Arriva and Transdev released a joint statement saying: "“We remain committed to working with the Mayor and the Combined Authority and firmly believe we can deliver the transformational bus service for the travelling public of West Yorkshire through partnership.

“Through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance Partnership, we have already demonstrated positive progress by all operators working together with local councils and the Combined Authority.

“Positive and productive relationships between all parties already exist and are our foundations upon which to build. This means that together we are already well along a path to delivering an effective Enhanced Partnership, which is the quickest way to deliver what everyone wants to see from the bus network of the future: giving customers confidence to travel by bus, providing a reliable and convenient alternative to car travel, better customer service with simpler fares, driving economic recovery and creating cleaner air in the region’s towns and cities.

“We are keen to build on the full rollout of contactless and mobile ticketing and are already developing a ‘London-style’ multi-operator ticketing solution for customers, building on the popular MCard range of tickets.

“Millions of pounds of investment continues and has led to the introduction of hundreds of ultra-low emission buses and the start of all-electric vehicles to help deliver an even greener bus fleet.

“We share the Mayor’s ambition to grow passenger numbers, give customers improved value-for-money services and avoid a car-led recovery from the pandemic.

"This will be achieved through working with the Mayor and her team on the best locations for new bus priority measures to ensure reliable journeys, by simplifying ticketing and decarbonising the bus network. We are confident that a strong, committed Enhanced Partnership is the most effective, simplest and quickest way of delivering these benefits.”