Warning over Leeds bus scheme

A FLAGSHIP £21.5m bus improvement scheme planned for Leeds could prove a costly failure, a councillor has warned.

The Department for Transport is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to give full approval to the A65 Quality Bus Initiative.

The cash would be spent on a series of public transport and road improvements along the A65 between the Inner Ring Road and Kirkstall Lane.

They include 4km of new bus lanes, bus priority signal arrangements at major junctions, cycle lanes, pedestrian crossings, pre-signal arrangements to give buses priority at bus lane exits, new bus shelters and real time information displays.

It is predicted the scheme will reduce morning peak hour bus journey times by six minutes, evening peak hour journeys by four minutes and off-peak by three minutes. With quicker journey times, it is forecast that the number of bus passengers along the route will jump by nine per cent.

But Coun John Illingworth (Lab, Kirkstall) fears the scheme will not deliver the expected benefits. He said in the original plans, drawn up in 1992, buses were fully segregated from general traffic but now the scheme did not include bus lanes along some of the most congested sections.

Coun Illingworth said: "It's the fact that motorists stuck in jams can see buses sailing past with a clear run that encourages them to switch to public transport, but that won't happen with this scheme."

He said he had done his own computer modelling work that indicated major junctions would not cope with the changes and more congestion was likely.

He said: "I have repeatedly challenged the council as the promoter of the A65 scheme to publish its own computer models of these junctions with all the reasonably anticipated development in place. The council has consistently failed to do this."

Coun Illingworth has now lodged a Freedom of Information request for technical details about the design of the scheme and is also calling for the council's City Development Scrutiny Board – a watchdog body – to carry out an inquiry.

Coun Andrew Carter, council leader, said the Quality Bus Initiative was an important scheme for one of the city's key corridors and it was essential it got approval.

He said senior highway officers and highly qualified engineers had worked on the scheme. He added: "I have no doubt the scheme is capable of improvements – most schemes are, but there is a constraint put on us by the limit of Government funding, which we haven't got yet."

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