After months of deliberation, members of the ITA will reject wide ranging partnership proposal from bus operators in favour of taking back control

Members of West Yorkshire’s Integrated Transport Authority are to reject partnership proposals from the region’s bus operators and instead vote to bring local bus services under public control.

The vote at an ITA meeting today will end months of deliberation. It is expected to conclude that the introduction of a Bus Quality Contract Scheme is the best way to provide significant customer benefits, including integrated ticketing, higher service standards, a more stable network and pricing structure and better local accountability.

The decision may trigger a legal challenge from the region’s bus operators. However, the ITA’s chairman, James Lewis said that “with declining patronage numbers and passengers saying that they have nowhere to voice any dissatisfaction they may have with services, [bus operators] cannot want to continue with the current framework which is failing everyone.”

West Yorkshire’s two largest bus operators, FirstGroup and Arriva, had responded to the threat by teaming up with smaller operators to form ABOWY, the Association of Bus Operators of West Yorkshire. They had put forward a wide ranging partnership proposal as an alternative to Quality Contracts. However, while Lewis said the ABOWY offer was strong, he said it had fallen short on offering a common integrated ticketing system which, he said, was at the heart of successful public transport systems in London and mainland Europe.

Examples in Denmark and Sweden show that partnerships under the contractual framework that the ITA is proposing can flourish, he added.

ABOWY’s offer also failed to address significant concerns about value for money raised by a recent Competition Commission investigation and did not provide sufficient certainty about its delivery, Lewis added.

“When any of my ITA colleagues and I attend a public meeting on transport it is clear that people across West Yorkshire are not happy with some bus services and this has been reflected by a steady drop in passenger numbers over the past 10 to 15 years,” said Lewis.

“Because councillors are listening to what the public are telling them, Metro’s work towards the Quality Contract framework has at each stage received cross-party backing on the ITA.
“No matter what party they represent, my colleagues recognise that buses are vital to West Yorkshire’s economy and wellbeing and that the current deregulated framework, which has led to fragmentation, a lack of long term planning, instability inadequate rewards for some operators and excessive profits for others, is not working.”

Metro, the region’s passenger transport executive, currently spends £23m per year subsidising non-commercial local bus services and nearly £50m on the county’s concessionary fares scheme.

Meanwhile, based upon the Competition Commission’s recent research into buses, Metro estimates that “adverse effects on competition” resulting from the bus industry’s deregulated structure could equate a loss of as much as £25m through higher fares and poorer services in West Yorkshire.

It is understood that the ITA intends to awarded a number of Quality Contracts covering the entire conurbation. These would be introduced at the same time rather than in stages.

 

UPDATE (June 29) – Statement by Metro chairman James Lewis, following the ITA’s all-party decision to continue to develop plans for Quality Contracts:

“Today’s decision, which has cross-party support in West Yorkshire, also has support from bus passengers themselves, as our own consultations and media polling have shown. Everyone involved in transport locally realises that we need to do something to make bus travel more attractive and address falling patronage, and that with the taxpayers meeting half the total cost of bus services, there needs to be more accountability.

“Although the ITA welcomed the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire’s offer of enhanced partnership, the proposals currently fall short in the key areas Metro believes there needs to be change – particularly in providing a seamless, common integrated ticketing option without the confusion caused by the current mix of passes that can only be used on one operator’s services or premium-priced
multi-operator passes.

“Metro will continue discussions with the bus operators and listen to their suggestions as well as consulting with other partners as it prepares a draft Public Interest Statement.

“Future Authority approval of the Public Interest Statement would then lead to a full public consultation exercise towards the end of the year and submission to the Quality Contract Scheme Board.

“I would also like to stress that the Authority’s ambition is to work with operators and District Councils in making local bus services into a growing, not declining, market – which would benefit everyone as well as protecting jobs”

 

UPDATE (June 29) – Statement from Keith McNally, chairman of  the Association of Bus Operators in West Yorkshire

“In consultation with the ITA and Metro, bus operators have put together comprehensive partnership plans for transforming bus travel in West Yorkshire.  These plans include commitments on the introduction of ‘Oyster’ style Smartcard ticketing, huge investment in new passenger friendly buses, fewer changes to services and demanding targets to improve reliability and punctuality.

“Up and down the country, in places like Nottingham, Brighton, Oxford and Liverpool, partnership approaches have been proven to deliver benefits for passengers.  Similar plans for West Yorkshire are ready and waiting to be introduced almost immediately without any extra cost burden to local council tax payers.

“The ITA had been very complimentary about these plans and we believe they have the support of passengers.  The plans are the result of long and detailed discussion with the ITA and we are very surprised that they have now turned their back on them and decided instead to “go it alone” rather than work in partnership.

“‘Quality Contracts, which the ITA are now backing, will take years to put in place, are completely untried and will cost millions of pounds.  The administrative cost, including consultants fees, of just setting up a quality contract scheme, will we understand be some £3m and the scheme will then cost many millions more to operate every year. Metro and the ITA have not yet said what the precise cost of their plans will be to local tax payers and are yet to demonstrate that they can be afforded.

“Bus passengers want to see improvements in bus services but we believe this should be done by working with bus operators and not by a return to cumbersome and expensive town-hall style control of buses, which we last saw in the 1970s and 1980s. Importantly, as major employers in the region, bus operators are also concerned that the ITA’s plans will mean the jobs of bus workers across the region, about 4,500 people, will now be put out to tender.”

 

The original article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport. Click here to subscribe.