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LEEDS: ‘Stop putting obstacles in the way of improving buses’ – council leader

LEEDS: ‘Stop putting obstacles in the way of improving buses’ – council leader

Leeds bus station, Image: Google Maps

The leader of Leeds City Council has complained about the “obstacles” faced by local authorities wanting to improve public transport, claiming “it’s almost like governments don’t want us to improve bus services”.

The comments came during a meeting of regional leaders when discussing the latest plans for West Yorkshire’s “bus enhanced partnership”, which is required by government for the region to access extra funding for improvement schemes.

Members were told that while bus franchising – in which the West Yorkshire Mayor’s office would have more control over bus services – is the long-term goal, the enhanced partnership would be a first step towards that.

But one member claimed it was difficult to see what real benefits would be gained from this arrangement, and suggested he had seen agreements like this before.

Leeds City Council Liberal Democrats leader Coun Stewart Golton listed numerous previous initiatives that had been started, including the quality bus contract.

He told a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA): “We wanted to have one of those, but then that was difficult to achieve, then we were going into a quality bus partnership which was going to deliver these amazing partnership outcomes.

“More recently we had the West Yorkshire bus alliance, and now we have the enhanced partnership model.

“I’ve read the paper and am finding it very difficult to understand what the practical outcomes are for local bus passengers will tangibly understand.

“The mayor has made comments about how frustrated she is when discussing fare structures.

“When do we get to talk about pricing?”

Leeds City Council leader James Lewis (Lab) responded: “I share Coun Golton’s frustrations that successive governments have not allowed us to do what we want – either to own services outright or to franchise the services.

“The hoops they try to make us jump through for our residents – frustrations with bus services is often the biggest issue in my email inbox, and we just want to get on and deliver improvements.

“I regret the obstacles put in place by successive governments and all the obstacles put in the way. I wish we could do it much quicker. We do have to be absolutely clear: if this was true devolution, we would be able to get on with talking about fares and services.

“I regret the history of all the different initiatives of Government – it’s almost like they don’t want us to improve bus services for local people. We have had 10 or 15 years of this now and we all just want to get on with it.”

According to a document produced by WYCA officers, the partnership would “set clear targets and standards” to bus operators to help increase bus usage.

It lists initiatives such as including extra facilities to support passenger safety, particularly for women and girls, as well as better accessibility. The scheme also claims it “seeks to grow and enhance” the bus service, and increase frequency and service hours, especially in economically deprived and “non-urban areas”

The authority hopes the scheme can be in place by April 2022, and hopes to consult on a new franchising model the following year.

WYCA’s transport committee chair Coun Kim Groves (Lab) said: “It’s a step towards public control of buses.

“It’s quite a detailed plan and there is a lot of work that sits behind the document. This is what we have to do to enhance bus services in West Yorkshire.

“The plan includes bus infrastructure fares and ticketing, customer information, bus connectivity, decarbonisation and communication.”

“There have been achievements under the bus alliance – there has been the young person’s fare which was launched recently – a young person can travel at a single fare for 60p.

“It shows you what can be achieved when we get funding devolved down. We have to get people out of cars – to do that we have to offer them an alternative.”

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin added: “My manifesto pledge was to bring buses back under public control.

“On the way to getting us there is an enhanced partnership and we hope to develop a game changing relationship and partnership approach with our bus operators.

“It’s exciting that we can finally get to a point where buses can serve the public, going the routes they need and hopefully about affordability and reliability.

“We can’t access Government funding and make buses better without entering this partnership.”

Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter

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