Leeds bus bosses respond to your major concerns

Paul Matthews, MD of bus company First Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
Paul Matthews, MD of bus company First Leeds. PIC: James Hardisty
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This week the YEP has been looking into why bus passengers in Leeds face a daily battle to get to work on time. Today, reporter John Blow puts your questions to the managing directors of the city’s two biggest bus firms...

Strong views about frustrating problems with bus services across Leeds continue to flood in during the YEP’s week-long series of articles on the issue.

Our job is to provide a timetable which can cope with normal levels of traffic. But I’m aware there are major concerns.

Paul Matthews, managing director of bus company First

And yesterday Paul Matthews, the managing director of First – which runs the majority of journeys in the city – answered questions sent in by readers who are fed up with delays, cancellations and price hikes.

Mr Matthews said that he accepted customers’ criticisms, but insisted that the buses in Leeds were “not rubbish”.

Raminder Kaur Ryatt, a commuter from Morley, uses the 51 and 52 buses but said earlier this week that neither his 6.58am and 7.05am services turned up.

When one did arrive at 7.14am the bus was “completely full,” and the one after was cancelled.

He said: “Everyday there’s issues with the buses and I don’t know why. The time I get the buses the traffic hasn’t even started yet. What can be done?”

Mr Matthews replied that the two main issues which bring about these sorts of problems are buses being held up when other vehicles break down and drivers not reporting for duty.

He personally monitors daily cancellations and insists that unpredictable traffic at one end of Leeds can wreak havoc for people waiting at other locations.

“One incident can cause delays of two hours. If someone is stood in Headingley and something happens in the city centre, why should they understand why their bus is two hours late?

“Our job is to provide a timetable which can cope with normal levels of traffic.”

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But he admitted: “There shouldn’t be cases where consecutive journeys are cancelled. I’m aware there are major concerns.

“Everyday we carry about 350,000 people on buses throughout West Yorkshire so trying to get it right every time for each one of these people is challenging.

“When it goes wrong I accept that unfortunately people suffer.”

But on the issue of absent drivers, reader Damian Barrett asked why Mr Matthew’s company does not provide more cover to prevent shortages leading to cancellations.

Mr Matthews said: “A driver could decide to give us a week’s notice to leave their job but it could leave up to three months for us to train new drivers.”

He said that in the second half of last year “we were suffering from a level of staff shortage that was far greater than what we would have liked.

“Now we have enough drivers and not having enough drivers is not an excuse anymore.”

Sharron Walker asked: “How do you justify price increases when the buses can’t even turn up on time?”

Although Mr Matthews said that the vast majority of buses turned up on time – claiming that 95 per cent did – he added that since 2010, 16 more services have been introduced to the city centre network to accommodate existing timetables.

“That’s not giving customers better frequency [of journeys] or more links. It’s a factor of how many more cars are on the road during that period.

“Those buses have to paid for and drivers have to be paid for.

“We are not necessarily going to get more people travelling because of it but we have a responsibility to maintain a punctual service.”

Diane Wilson wanted to know why there are less buses on Sundays because people now work a seven-day week.

Mr Matthews responded: “Sometimes people don’t like us saying it but we are a private operator and need to make a return on investments.

“Unfortunately we will never be a taxi service for low levels of demand but if there are lots of people who need to get to the city centre then it’s in our interests to make sure we do so.”

Consultation events into services in the north-west area of Leeds will begin soon, Mr Matthews said. And £71m is being set aside to provide 284 new state-of-the-art buses in Leeds by the end of 2020.

Mr Matthews said: “I want to get away from this idea that buses in Leeds are rubbish. They are not where they need to be, they are getting better. They are not rubbish.”

Paula Dillon, President of Leeds Chamber Commerce.

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