Every time I visit Europe I realise just what an embarrassment Leeds public transport is, particularly compared to Zurich with its perfectly integrated system of trains, trams, trolleybuses and buses.
One example shows how our councillors and transport bosses have not progressed things much at all in the past 20 years. Leeds Bradford Airport has just one type of public transport for the weary traveller to reach Leeds – the bus. You might then expect a superlative service to impress the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors from all over the world to Yorkshire.
The reality is laughable. The nervous, foreign passenger is greeted by no information at all about ticket types or prices in the airport building or the bus shelter. Is it beyond the wit of the bus company, Metro or the airport to put up a poster with ‘£3.60 – single ticket to Leeds’ and ‘£6 for MetroDay day ticket’? It costs next to nothing. Worse still, there is no opportunity to buy a ticket before entering the bus to avoid the delay and stress of dealing with the driver.
Every single one of the 200 plus tram stops in Zurich has a ticket machine while Metro cannot install one where it is most needed.
On a recent experience my 757 bus turns up exactly on time and every one of the 20 passengers takes on average 30 seconds to buy their ticket, so we are already 10 minutes late. Many of our foreign friends have only large notes from the cash machine, proffering £20 notes to the poor driver. The Yorkshire Tiger bus is an old single-decker with no air-conditioning and little space for luggage. There is no onboard screen telling the visitor what the next stop is – invaluable for city centre stops – common on buses throughout Germany and Switzerland. An American asks me if we are in Leeds yet as we pass the town hall.
The bus is not even exclusively an airport bus – it picks up passengers at all stops on the route, slowing down the journey even more along the congested Aire Valley. This shows what little priority is given to impressing our visitors, many of whom will be tourists vital to our economy, spending money on a city break or longer holiday in the Dales. Will they return if treated like this or recommend us to their friends? First impressions count.
The bigger question is whether our leaders, transport authority and bus companies will spend the £173 million they now have wisely. Will they make any headway in reaching the standards of other cities like Nottingham? I am hopeful yet doubtful.