Aisha Iqbal: Let’s put the ‘public’ back in transport Leeds

ON BOARD: What would make you get out of the car and onto the bus?
ON BOARD: What would make you get out of the car and onto the bus?
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covering politics can be a bit like waiting for a bus. Loads of hanging around and listening to the sound and fury of the world around you, and finally - after achingly long delays - something you can get on board with.

Crude analogies aside, I have sat through hundreds of Leeds council meetings over the last few years where transport has been top of the agenda. And so it should be.

The city’s battle to get a decent public transport system is one we must collectively win if we are to ever reach that nirvana of globally recognised powerhouse status.

But how will we ever achieve that if we can’t even get the basic stuff right?

Despite listening to and writing about hundreds of hours of bluster about ‘transformational’ transport schemes and the like, I personally am no closer to my life being transformed, or even made a little bit easier, by Leeds’s public transport.

And when I talk about public transport, I actually mean our buses.

I have been living in Leeds for more than 10 years, and in those 10 years, I have seen bus ticket prices shoot up, but little improvement (at least to the routes I regularly use).

The buses are more often than not rickety and smelly, and the single journey prices especially seem extortionate.

As a busy professional with various logistics to manoeuvre. I often find it’s cheaper for me to use taxis to get around the city than to use the bus network. I imagine many long-suffering bus passengers in the city have similar stories to tell.

I often get the impression that our leaders are so dazzled by the bigger picture, that they miss the all important basics.

For example, this seeming obsession with rail. I rarely use trains, and my guess is that for most ordinary working folk in the city, the bus is their public transport mode of choice.

Most people don’t commute to another city, and don’t want to. But the debate and discussion has been dominated disproportionately by HS2, the railway station, etc.

Yes, attracting big business to the city is absolutely vital to creating jobs and growth, and improving the rail commute is a key part of that.

But it’s no point building work opportunities if you don’t give people in your own city the means to get to them.

I am a car driver, but I know that if we had a better bus network in Leeds, I would abandon my car completely.

In fact, I did exactly that a few years ago, but found the bus network so unworkable for my everyday needs that I was lured back into driving.

When it works, it works, but when it doesn’t - and that is often dictated by where in the city you live - boy is it annoying.

A case in point. I do voluntary work several times a week in the Roundhay area.

To get to my destination from my home in the south of the city, I have to take a minimum of two buses, one into the city centre and one out again.

A car journey of 10 minutes or a trek of at least an hour. Which would you choose?

It’s pretty simple really.

If our leaders are serious about improving our public transport, then they need to start putting the public - and their views and experiences - at the heart of all their decisions.

And I don’t just mean with endless consultations. I mean by genuinely listening.

If the trolleybus fiasco has taught us anything, it is that the free advice of one person who will use a service is worth 100 times more than that of an uber-expensive consultant or a roomful of advisers. So take this as my £2.50’s worth.