Enthusiasm for Quality Contracts wanes following confirmation that bus funding streams will not be available to areas seeking greater regulation

It would seem that plans for Quality Contracts in West Yorkshire could be cooling with the news that the region’s Integrated Transport Authority has opened the door to further talks with local operators over renewed partnership proposals.

Speaking at the launch of First’s new Hyperlink-branded high frequency route between Leeds and Bradford, James Lewis, the chair of the WYITA, said that while the ITA would sanction further work on the QC proposals, it made sense to listen to new proposals from operators. In particular it would seem that there has been movement on the issue of integrated smartcard ticketing – a subject where previous partnership proposals have fallen down.

“We made a unanimous decision to go-ahead with Quality Contracts last June,” he said. “That was very much a response to our aspirations, but also in response to the offer that we’ve seen from operators in proposing how a partnership might work.”

Lewis said that West Yorkshire’s bus operators have collectively indicated that they want to come back with a revised partnership offer. Meanwhile, the government consultation on proposed changes to BSOG have confirmed that Better Bus Area funding will not be available to areas taking forward proposals for a QC. Lewis said that this move would place West Yorkshire at a distinct disadvantage. He added that it was clear that the financial aspects of the QC proposals now needed additional work in order to reflect these changes.

“We couldn’t go out to consultation on the public interest statement as Metro officers are looking closely at what the implications are for funding,” he added. “If we did it without doing that, then we could clearly be challenged on fact and process.”

Dave Alexander, the regional managing director of First’s bus operations in West Yorkshire, said that it was “easy to get consumed by the whole debate about QCs”.

“You can imagine mine and First’s view about that mechanism [QCs] and it’s that I don’t think that it gives the answers,” he said. “It’s a mechanism and one way of achieving something. I think that the same and more can be achieved in partnership and that we do need to revise what our partnership proposals are.”

Alexander added that he felt there needed to be more certainty about the proposals. He continued: “I think we can address the ticketing issues and
I think that a smart platform will give us the ability to do that, so I’m more confident about the future.”

Alexander pointed to the launch of the Hyperlink service, which uses a refurbished fleet of Wrightbus StreetCars with a high frequency service on the Leeds/Bradford corridor, and said that it demonstrated what could be achieved through partnership. “I’d rather spend the next three years doing what we’ve been doing [with Hyperlink] rather than arguing about different mechanisms,” he concluded.

 

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