Top-level calls for over­haul of bus ser­vices

Halifax Courier - - News Special - By Staff Re­porters

Trans­port bosses have called for an over­haul of bus ser­vices in West York­shire to bring the re­gion up to speed with the cap­i­tal city. Se­nior fig­ures from West York­shire Com­bined Au­thor­ity (WYCA) have an­nounced their sup­port of the govern­ment’s new pro­posed fran­chis­ing laws.

They say the pro­pos­als would give the re­gion a Lon­don-style ser­vice, with Oys­ter-type all-in-one tick­et­ing, cheaper and sim­pler fares 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 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, which runs bus ser­vices in Calderdale and Leeds, and Arriva, provider of buses in Wake­field and North Kirklees, have a “du­op­oly”.

Wake­field MP Mary Creagh said: “Buses are the back­bone of our com­mu­ni­ties. In my district we have seen com­pli­ca­tions and changes to some bus routes which have re­ally in­con­ve­nienced lo­cal peo­ple.

“Ac­tions speak louder than words when it comes to a fair deal for the north of the coun­try and min­is­ters also need to pull their fin­gers out. “I will be lob­by­ing to make sure that the govern­ment Bus Bill has the pow­ers that our city re­gions need to make pub­lic trans­port bet­ter.”

Across West York­shire, around 180 mil­lion bus jour- neys are car­ried out ev­ery year.

How­ever, bus us­age has de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the past 20 years, the panel in Leeds 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.

Bat­ley and Spen MP Jo Cox said: “In­te­grated 21st cen­tury pub­lic trans­port should not be the pre­serve of Lon­don and only Lon­don. The govern­ment needs to un­der­stand that places such as West York­shire would ben­e­fit mas­sively from the sort of in­vest­ment and strate­gic ap­proach that Lon­don­ers en­joy. There’s no rea­son why we can’t we have the same.

“Arriva, who will soon be run­ning the north­ern rail fran­chise, have pledged im­prove­ments in terms of tech­nol­ogy and tick­et­ing for our trains. But Arriva also runs most of our bus ser­vices and I am hope­ful that we will start to see a far more in­te­grated ap­proach. It is cer­tainly some­thing I will be push­ing for.”

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 re­gion’s trans­port net­work.

He said: “Huge amounts of time is ex­pended on talk­ing about rail ser­vices but ac­tu­ally in most parts of Leeds, 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 been bump­ing along at the bot­tom for far too long - we re­ally need to make a change.”

Bosses from bus com­pany First say fran­chis­ing would be a counter- pro­duc­tive move which would bring ad­di­tional risk and bur­den on the tax­payer.

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

The govern­ment is cur­rently plan­ning new bus leg­is­la­tion to make it eas­ier for lo­cal trans­port au­thor­i­ties to fran­chise bus ser­vices.

The pro­pos­als would al­low bus ser­vices out­side of Lon­don to be pro­vided in the same way as they are in the cap­i­tal, just as na­tional rail ser­vices are pro­vided.

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