BUS services are by far the most-used form of public transport in West Yorkshire with around 150 million journeys being made on them every year.
Recent research by the Urban Transport Group shows that one in 10 people would be out of work without their bus service.
The importance of bus services is why the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has renewed its commitment to working with the county’s bus operators including Arriva, First and Transdev to improve bus services though a formal West Yorkshire Bus Alliance.
Encouraging more young people to travel by bus is a shared objective of the Combined Authority and the bus companies. In 2015, the Combined Authority extended its funding of half-fare bus travel for everyone in West Yorkshire’s under the age of 19 and in 2018, we made it easier for under 19s to prove they are eligible for cheaper fares.
Through Bus18 we also introduced the popular £2.75 countywide MyDay ticket for under 19s and we have a range of discounts for under 25s available through our MCard smartcard ticketing scheme, the largest of its kind outside London’s Oyster card.
Providing an affordable, easy-to-use ticketing offer that enables more young people to travel to work, education and training and enjoy their leisure time by bus is one of my aims for the Alliance.
I am investigating how we can work with a range of bodies such as West Yorkshire’s seven further education colleges to pool the money currently being used to support young people’s travel to enhance the £10m the Combined Authority is already spending on concessions for under 19s.
Buses can make a positive contribution to making our air cleaner.
Around £1m has been spent on measures to helping buses get through congestion hotspots more rapidly and 2,000 new and updated real-time displays are being installed at bus stops throughout West Yorkshire.
Our joint development of the new Elland Road and Temple Green park and ride facilities, which people can use for as little as £2.70 per day, is already having a significant impact.
Between them, they are already removing around 9,000 cars each week from Leeds city centre’s streets and in December they clocked up their two millionth customer. We are working with Leeds City Council on providing park and ride in the north of the city.
Through the Bus Alliance, we need to make bus travel attractive to people who don’t currently use them. Easier payment methods using contactless bankcards and apps are already being rolled out and buses are becoming more comfortable with free wifi and device charging.
Making it easier to understand which bus to catch to get to popular destinations like shopping centres and hospitals is also important. And above all, we need people to have confidence they will get where they want to be on time, which means making it easier for buses to get through traffic congestion.
As with any alliance, achieving our shared aims is going to require action by all of its members. West Yorkshire’s local authorities and bus companies are currently facing huge financial pressures, hard decisions and conflicting demands. However, we are not going to achieve the improvements passengers need by working against each other.
We want people in West Yorkshire choosing to use buses because the services are reliable and punctual; not because of which company’s logo is on the side. Passengers also need to know how much they can expect to pay regardless of who runs the bus. And they must have the ability to plan their journeys simply, and be updated about diversions or delays.
Creating better bus services for the people of West Yorkshire will need us to use current legislation with flexibility and creativity.
I can understand that some may want us to adopt a more proscriptive approach and we can’t rule that out entirely. However, customers expect to see improvements and I am firmly of the belief that we can deliver those changes for them through the Combined Authority and the bus companies working together rather than against each other.
A climate of conflict won’t help us achieve our shared aims of increasing passenger numbers and customer satisfaction. Nor will it help us to reduce costs and increase value for money for local council tax payers.
Councillor Kim Groves is Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee.