When one door closes, another opens – that’s the message from Leeds’s biggest bus operator following the failure of the city’s trolleybus plans.
Bosses at First hope civic leaders will now get behind the firm’s proposals for a state-of-the-art fleet of buses modelled on the latest version of London’s Routemaster double-deckers.
The vehicles themselves would be provided by First while cash for infrastructure improvements and signal priority measures to speed up journeys would come from the public purse – and possibly from the £173m that has been ring-fenced for transport projects in Leeds after the Government’s rejection of trolleybus.
First West Yorkshire’s Paul Matthews said: “We believe this decision [on trolleybus] provides the opportunity for transport partners to plan the future travel networks for Leeds that would deliver a step-change in public transport, supporting and stimulating economic growth and connectivity.
“We will continue to work hard with our partners at Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) and fellow operators to build on the improvements made in recent years.
“We are looking forward to playing our full part in providing solutions that improve journey reliability and attract more people onto public transport.”
Meanwhile, the WYCA, which includes what was Metro, West Yorkshire’s passenger transport authority, is preparing to launch a major public consultation to establish exactly what people want from their bus services.
It is also studying the ramifications of the Buses Bill announced in last week’s Queen’s Speech.
The bill aims to give areas with new-style elected metro mayors the right to control bus services through franchises, as is already the case in London.
How this could play out in Leeds remains unclear, with the introduction of an elected mayor in the city still very much up for debate.
Coun Keith Wakefield, chair of the transport committee on the WYCA, said: “The opportunity to support economic growth through better bus services should be open to all areas and we trust that the Government will find a way to support the Leeds city region in developing its bus vision.
“To help us achieve this, we will also be launching a major consultation this summer to find out what bus users, non-users, business leaders and other groups think.
“We will use this feedback to work with the bus companies and our partners to deliver the modern, accessible, environmentally friendly bus network West Yorkshire expects and deserves.
“However, we do not agree that the Government should restrict the opportunity to make important changes to bus services to areas with elected mayors and believe that opening up the Buses Bill to all areas is the way to help to achieve a Northern Powerhouse.”
Metro spent a number of years pushing for the introduction of a quality contracts system in West Yorkshire that would have given it – at the expense of profit-driven private operators – similar powers to those made available by the Buses Bill. But the legal process of imposing the contracts has proved so difficult that no area has managed to bring them in, with local authorities in the North East failing last year with what was seen as a test case for the system.
The Government pulled the plug on trolleybus earlier this month on the advice of a planning inspector but said the £173m it would have contributed to the project can be retained by Leeds for use on other transport schemes.
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