First: Leeds bus fares on hold for 2011

The biggest bus operator in Leeds has handed cost-conscious passengers the perfect early Christmas present.

First today defied the expectations of some of its service users by announcing it would NOT be putting up its fares in the New Year.

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The firm also pledged that the price freeze - which applies to all the buses it runs in West and North Yorkshire - would continue for "the foreseeable future".

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News of the move comes just days after rival operator Arriva Yorkshire announced a 10p rise in the cost of several of its single fares from January 2.

Ian Humphreys, managing director for First in West and North Yorkshire said: "A comprehensive price freeze on all our tickets makes them even better value for money, especially at a time when fuel is going up and

general goods face a VAT rise next month.

"We are working hard to keep our costs down and we will keep them as low as possible for as long as we can."

Mr Humphreys also denied speculation that First was on the verge of implementing widespread service cuts.

He said the only changes scheduled in January were a "small number" of timetable tweaks designed to improve punctuality.

Details of the routes affected by next month's shake-up are not yet being made public.

First faced criticism over the summer when it hiked the price of some of its day and week passes.

Campaigners said the increases underlined the need for Metro, West Yorkshire's publicly-funded passenger transport authority, to press ahead with plans for a new bus contracts system.

The 'quality contracts' scheme would hand Metro control of matters like fares and routes, currently decided by profit-driven private operators.

First, though, recently put forward an alternative proposal for a halfway house partnership agreement.

It would give Metro more input on key issues such as fares without taking the operator out of the loop completely. First says the scheme would limit ticket price and network changes to once a year.

Joanne Mjadzelics

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