Why a bus revolution will be just the ticket in Yorkshire in fight against pollution on Clean Air Day – Jayne Dowle

I’M not easily impressed by fancy London ways. I lived there for years before coming back home to Yorkshire, so I am all too aware of the good bits – and the bad.

Should local leaders in the North have a greater say over the provision of bus services?

However, I’m not one of those Tykes who regard the capital with suspicion. I embrace it. And, in my view, there’s no better way to do so than from the top deck of a bus.

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And what buses they have down there now. Bear with me as I segue into what my family call ‘Roy Cropper’ mode (after the nerdish Coronation Street character played by David Neilson), but I do love buses.

Jayne Dowle says the North's bus services should rival those enjoyed in London.

And since we came back from a work trip to the capital last month. I haven’t stopped talking about the ones in London. Any opportunity to discuss a bus and I’m straight in there, extolling their affordability and kindness to the environment.

For a start, travelling by London bus is now so incredibly cheap and convenient. It is £1.50 a journey, regardless of where you want to go. If you have to change buses within an hour, your next journey is free. There are contactless payments throughout. And so quiet and clean.

Greater Manchester mayor AndyBurnham is calling for the North's bus services to be transformed.

We stayed overnight between Tottenham Court Road and Covent Garden. I kept saying to my partner that London seemed very quiet despite the usual crowds thronging the pavements. And then it dawned on me. More than a third of all London’s 9,396 buses are now fuelled by electric, hydrogen or hybrid means.

I know this because I was so fascinated by the change in atmosphere, I looked it up. I remember the days when Oxford Street was a dirty, noisy, diesel-fuelled hell-hole, buses belching fumes all over the place. Not now. And as today’s Clean Air Day event reminds us, diesel fumes are one of the most detrimental causes of ill-health, including severe breathing difficulties and asthma in children, in the UK today.

So what’s good for London should surely be good for the North of England too. Right? Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham certainly thinks so. He’s calling on the Government for more public transport parity, claiming “there is no Northern Powerhouse” without increased fairness in the way that transport subsidies are managed.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he pledged his backing for this newspaper’s Power Up The North campaign which is demanding a fundamental shift in decision-making out of London to address issues like public transport.

Mr Burnham called on the Government and the next Prime Minister to give Northern regions the same level of subsidy and investment for buses as London receives.

“Buses have to change here,” he said. “If you want a very everyday example of the North/South divide let me give you one. It costs £4 here for a single bus journey, capped at £1.50 in London. How can that possibly be fair?”

He might like to speak to my 13-year-old daughter, who finds the whole idea of travelling by bus on her own intimidating. It’s the different fares that confuse her and she never quite knows what to ask for. A flat fare for all journeys would make the experience a lot less alarming.

With my inherent love of buses, I feel sad that what should be a lifeline to independence is hampered. When I tell Lizzie that when I was her age I could travel anywhere in South Yorkshire for two pence a journey, she looks at me as if I’m weaving an ancient fable involving dragons and mythical beasts.

Like more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of Northerners polled in February by the campaign group Better Buses, Burnham wants the system to be fully regulated by local authorities so that there is 
more control over services provided by commercial companies who can raise fares and withdraw services at will.

If you recall, bus services outside London were deregulated in 1986 in the name of privatisation. And since then, travelling by bus in the North has become a kind of Cinderella service, regarded with disdain.

Yet anyone with an eye on economics, employment opportunities, the environment and general social mobility knows that this must change.

Reliable and affordable services could cut congestion, reduce the strain on the trains and join up the dots between – and within – rural communities, towns and cities.

I say if it’s good enough for London, it’s certainly good enough for the North. So all power to Mr Burnham’s elbow.

The first step is for local authorities to be given the power and cash they need to take proper control of bus services once again and to invest in the latest technology.

The second is to make them accessible and approachable for everyone and to de-stigmatise the idea of travelling by bus.

It would reduce our reliance on the car and make the air we breathe better for us and our children. Who would argue against that?