Why West Yorkshire mass transit plan is flawed – Andrew Cooper

A new mass transit scheme is proposed for West Yorkshire.A new mass transit scheme is proposed for West Yorkshire.
A new mass transit scheme is proposed for West Yorkshire.
I CAN’T have been the only person feeling a bit of déjà vu reading headlines of the new latest plans for a West Yorkshire mass transit scheme.

We have seen this before from the Leeds Supertram Project to the drip feed of news stories over the last five years.

Those in charge of our councils, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, do seem obsessed with these grandiose schemes.

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But it’s clear that our council leaders have failed to grasp one unavoidable reality – the world has changed over the last 12 months.

How can public transport be improved in West Yorkshire?How can public transport be improved in West Yorkshire?
How can public transport be improved in West Yorkshire?

It is too early to say what things will look like in the future, but what we knew as normal is probably in the past.

Public transport use has plummeted since March last year. You only have to see the passenger numbers at Leeds railway station to know that many people are still choosing the avoid the buses and trains.

But even in January of this year, the number of people using their car to get around is also around half of what it normally would be – in fact, the only personal transport not to have seen a significant decline is the bicycle.

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The reality is that the coronavirus has resulted in about nearly 20 years’ worth of change in behaviour in a fraction of the time. But coronavirus isn’t the only crisis that has changed things. The climate crisis means that we do not have 20 years to deliver a greener transport network for West Yorkshire – we need a solution much sooner.

From the flooding we are seeing in our region’s rivers, to the summer heatwaves, we are already seeing the impact of climate change her in Yorkshire. We need to act now. And there are things we can do.

In its report last year, the Campaign for Better Transport laid out the importance of improving connectivity and co-ordination within existing networks, permanent changes to sustain the increases in people getting about by walking and cycling and the shift towards zero-emission road transport.

The mass transit system WYCA is proposing has many virtues and has its merits, but ultimately achieves none of these goals. There are things that we must do in the next two or three years in West Yorkshire to deliver the improvements we need now.

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Firstly, we can take control of our bus networks. Buses are the backbone of local public transport networks and an important part of what our plan for transport should look like. A full double decker can take up to 75 cars off the road.

Privatisation of our buses has been a disaster. We have seen prices go up whilst quality and frequency of services has gone down. Many of our more rural communities have completely lost their bus services – forcing people into their cars.

Once we have taken control of our buses, we can then really invest in renewing our bus fleets with new electric buses and ensure that fares are affordable. Public transport that is truly for the public benefit.

Secondly, we need to invest in providing the infrastructure to make sure the increases in cycling and walking are sustained.

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The Government has thrown money at our councils to invest in “pop up cycling schemes”.

And whilst this is a good start, the timescales involved has meant that many schemes are poorly thought out and failing to deliver long term benefits. 

We need to invest in proper joined- up cycle networks that provide a safe alterative to cars and even public transport.

Thirdly, if we want to properly address the problems with our transport system, we need to stop spending millions on building new roads that simply move congestion around.

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Projects such as the £120m scheme to widen the A629 between Huddersfield and Halifax, or £68m new road through the Tong Valley – which will destroy one of the last green spaces between Leeds, Bradford and Pudsey – and the £48m road widening between Bradford and Shipley are just three of the road building schemes being pushed by WYCA and our Labour-run councils.

Road building projects have been proven time and time again to be a sticking plaster to cover up a large gaping wound. If we want to tackle congestion and air pollution, we need to stop spending on new roads.

The world has changed and it’s time for our leaders in West Yorkshire to catch up.

Andrew Cooper is the Green Party candidate for the West Yorkshire mayoral election.

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