Appeal for county’s bus links to receive overhaul

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TRANSPORT BOSSES have issued a rallying call for an overhaul of bus services in West Yorkshire amid shouts of “what’s good enough for London is good enough for us”.

The calls are led by senior figures from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority who have thrown their renewed support behind new proposed franchising laws which they say would give our region a London-style service, with Oyster-type ‘all-in-one’ ticketing, cheaper and simpler fares, better customer guarantees and a reversal of what they claim is decades of declining passenger numbers.

A meeting of a Leeds City Council inquiry panel - which is examining the future of the service and options to improve it - was told that at the moment, many key elements of the region’s bus services are inadequate,

The committee was told that customer dissatisfaction is high, while ticketing options are hugely confusing.

The cross-party panel heard that First and Arriva - which run 80 per cent of the buses in the district - have a “duopoly” and deregulation has had the opposite effect long-term of the one that was intended,.

Across West Yorkshire, around 180 million bus journeys are carried out every year.

However bus usage has “declined significantly” over the last 20 years, the panel was told, and the high and ever-changing cost of tickets and perceived unreliability are major factors.

There has also been a big decline in fare paying passengers, with more travellers using free bus passes, and this is driving the decline overall.

Franchising would be a major shot in the arm for services, the panel was told,

However it involves a potentially controversial trade off - as it is part of a wider devolution package including elected mayors.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s regeneration, transport and planning boss, said giving people incentives to get back ON the buses was vital to the city’s transport network

“Buses are actually central to us solving our traffic problems within the city,” he said. “Huge amounts of time is expended on talking about rail services.

“But actually in most parts of the city, people are going to be dependent on bus transport. With the congestion on our roads, it is important that we get people onto buses.

“We have got to improve things in terms of bus transport and bus patronisation.

“We have been bumping along at the bottom for far too long - we really need to make a change.”

Keith Wakefield, chairman of the Transport Committee at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said many people still believe - mistakenly - that bus services are run by the council.

“When it was deregulated it was premised on the idea that this would bring in extra competition,” he said,

He said: “Everyone looks at London, with the Oyster system there, passenger growth, and everybody knows that a single ticket gets you round and you don’t have the problems that you get here.”

Neale Wallace, Bus Services Manager at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, told the panel that according to a competition commission report for West Yorkshire, the “adverse effect” of a lack of competition was “around £25 million”.

BUS INDUSTRY bosses say that while they recognise there is “much to do” to improve services in Leeds and, franchising would be a counter-productive move which would bring additional risk and burden onthe taxpayer.

Paul Matthews, managing director of First West Yorkshire, said: “Our objectives and those of the City Council and the Combined Authority on growing bus usage are well aligned and we welcome this debate about the best way to achieve those objectives.

“First Bus believe that we can get the best service for customers by working together and we note that the Scrutiny Board have highlighted a number of key achievements delivered in partnership such as the Elland Road Park&Ride.”