Kayleigh Ingham_Commercial Director N&WY

Buses for better business

Buses have always been an enabler for West Yorkshire’s business community. They are a means of connecting our towns and cities, bringing footfall to our shops and centres of commerce, getting employees to and from work and helping to promote social mobility.

In short, buses are a real economic driver for the region, playing a crucial role in overall connectivity.

Whilst business’ working practices and cultures may have changed over the past four years, we have seen bus patronage return to pre pandemic levels in some customer groups, such as young people. Bus operators working more closely with each other and with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) under the current Enhanced Partnership has played an important role in that.

Since that model was introduced in 2021, we have been able to work collaboratively to bring major reforms. This has included working closely together on timetable alignment, promoting bus priority in our region’s built-up areas to help journeys run on time and supporting the popular Mayor’s Fares scheme, which caps single ticket prices at £2. But it’s clear that, together, we can go further.

We’ve been engaging with bus users, businesses and politicians from across the region about bus reform. A WYCA consultation finished in January, with Mayor Tracy Brabin due to make a final decision on which path to take, this coming March.

Operators have been strongly making the case that a partnership approach is best. We have joined with colleagues from the other major operators in the region, Arriva and Transdev, as well as smaller and community operators represented by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) to make the case for an Enhanced Partnership Plus.

How does this model differ to franchising and how does it help the West Yorkshire region? Well one of the biggest benefits is that we can start delivering improvements to bus services almost immediately, rather than in 2026 or 2027 at the earliest, as it would be under a franchising model. Working within an Enhanced Partnership Plus model can also reduce burden on the public purse,  and significantly reduce ongoing financial risks for local authorities at a time when budgets are stretched.

In late 2023, we commissioned a survey in West Yorkshire from British Polling Council member, Censuswide, which provided a proof point for public support for an Enhanced Partnership Plus.

The poll was of more than 1,000 people from across the region, three-quarters of which said they were regular bus users with 56 per cent travelling daily or weekly. 

Sixty per cent of respondents want bus reform ‘from 2024 with an Enhanced Partnership Plus model between bus operators and the Combined Authority’ as opposed achieving bus reform in 2026 at the earliest under franchising. More than half of respondents who had an opinion on bus reform felt that operators, with greater oversight from a public body, were best placed to run services (53%) whilst 38% felt the Combined Authority should be responsible. Two-thirds (66%) thought the financial risk of running the region’s buses should sit with private bus operators.

We agree with the Mayor that bus reform is needed. We strongly believe that partnership can deliver the benefits that the people and businesses of West Yorkshire deserve, and that partnership can deliver these improvements at speed and without financial risk to the Combined Authority or the public purse.


Kayleigh Ingham, Commercial Director for First Bus North and West Yorkshire

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