West Yorkshire Combined Authority is exploring using powers such as enhanced partnerships and franchising to gain more influence over the area’s bus services.
Consultant Ernst & Young is advising the WYCA on the Bus Services Act powers and on the likely implications of Covid-19 on the long-term health of the area’s bus market.
The election of a mayor for the combined authority will take place next May. Mayoral combined authorities have automatic access to the Act’s to bus franchising powers.
WYCA policy manager Helen Ellerton said in a report to last week’s combined authority board that relying on a market-driven bus network “could lead to a significant shrinkage in the bus network” because of Covid-19.
Utilising powers in the Bus Services Act would secure a greater level of influence on service provision. “Due to the risk of increased pressure to increase expenditure on bus services, it is recommended that this option is progressed as the most appropriate way to ensure an effective use of public funds,” she said.
The WYCA has allocated £150,000 for further consultancy support to explore the “financial, legal and technical issues faced by the industry”.
The combined authority is braced for operators withdrawing services if the DfT’s emergency Covid-19 bus grant comes to an end when passenger numbers are still below pre-virus levels. This would place increased pressure on the WYCA to fund additional supported services.
The combined authority has agreed a process to manage this situation in the short-term and a full review of supported services will take place in 2021/22.
This will establish a new set of criteria and metrics for deciding what bus services should be supported in the long-term.
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