Tory mayoral candidate pledges bus franchising assessment

Keane Duncan.

The Conservative Party candidate to be the first Mayor of York and North Yorkshire is prepared to use franchising to improve local bus services.

Bus franchising, which is used in London, Manchester and in numerous cities across Europe, means that bus operators are only able to provide services under contract to the local transport authority.

According to the Urban Transport Group, the current free market method means that bus operators are free to run whatever services they like, the fares they charge and the vehicles they use, resulting in “an uncoordinated network with a confusing array of ticketing options.”

Keane Duncan, the 28-year-old Conservative candidate for the York and North Yorkshire combined authority mayoral election in May 2024, has pledged to assess whether bus franchising is an affordable method to improve transport.

“Our buses should work better,” he said. “They need to be available, reliable and affordable. I really want to revolutionise bus services in our region.

“I’m prepared to use franchising, which is a new power the government is handing to the new mayor.

“It’s right that the new power is looked at seriously, it’s right to pursue it and do that with a totally open mind.

“My pledge on day one as mayor is to launch a full assessment of bus franchising.

“That is a pledge not based on ideology but based on what is best for buses and bus passengers across our region.”

If Mr Duncan wins the election, he could be the first Tory metro mayor to introduce bus franchising.

Estimated costs for the scheme in Greater Manchester were £135m, and while Mr Duncan said there are no estimations of cost for franchising buses in York and North Yorkshire, the assessment would determine this.

“It must be cost-effective and it must make sound financial sense,” Mr Duncan said.

“I’m not prepared to write a blank cheque and we’ve seen the extreme costs that can come with bus franchising.

“Whatever we do has to command public confidence.”

Once the York and North Yorkshire combined authority is set up, it will have control of a long-term investment fund, with £18m per year of funding promised by the government over 30 years.

Mr Duncan said: “That’s immensely powerful, but it’s just the start.

“I need to be very clear that what we’ve got now is great, but I want more over future years.

“That requires demonstration of our credibility, showing that we can get results to government.

“This is the start and I’m very excited by what we’re going to achieve looking ahead into the future.”

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “I welcome the fact that politicians of all stripes are open to the idea of bus franchising.

“This is not about ideology but delivering a sustainable, affordable network for passengers.

“Private companies will still have a role to play in running day-to-day services under a franchise model, while routes and fares will come under public control.”