What it's really like to get into Leeds on the city's bus network

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In the grand scheme of things that contribute to inequality, transport probably doesn’t come up as one of the first things you would think of.

But from being able to get to that job that you really want, to that all-important hospital appointment with a cancer specialist, to being able to meet friends for birthday cocktails, getting to the cinema to catch a new film or a museum to see an exhibition – we all need to get there somehow.

A bus makes its way through the city centre.

A bus makes its way through the city centre.

Some take it for granted that they can drive there in the comfort of their own car with the heaters on and their favourite tunes on the radio at their own leisure.
And others might pay for a taxi and relax while they let someone else do the driving.

But for many, this can be a journey and a navigation of the city’s public transport system at the mercy of whether a service turns up on time - if at all.

As we continue the Yorkshire Evening Post’s series on inequality, A City Divided, Emma Ryan takes a trip on the buses to see how many people have to get from A to B.

Picking a place at random where the main source of public transport is bus – we started from Swillington and opted to see how long it takes for residents to get to St James’s Hospital in Burmantofts.

Starting on Wakefield Road, the main road that runs through the former pit village I was struck by one problem I hadn’t thought of, but was quite pertinent - which side of the road do I wait at?

I asked a pensioner waiting at one bus stop and she directed me to the stop across the road and the bus number I should look out for.

Swilllington

The 168 due at 11.42am was just a few minutes away, so I duly hopped on that and paid my £3.50 bus fare to Leeds city centre. Trying to make vague sense of a Google-searched timetable, I figured out that I needed to get off on The Headrow and catch another bus from Vicar Lane towards the hospital.

Off we went along Wakefield Road and into Woodlesford before turning off to go onto North Lane which is much more densely populated with houses. A couple more people get on here and it is interesting to see the mix of people using public transport.

An elderly woman gets on and a young man in his late 20s perhaps.

Also getting on at the same stop as me was Ebsalom Matapo. The 41-year-old is a support worker who lives in Bradford.

Passengers

He told me he uses the bus to get to work and to also travel around Leeds visiting clients. He has to do this as he doesn’t have business insurance cover on his car.
He said: “This bus service is more efficient, to be fair, compared to a few others that I travel on in Yorkshire. It is a bus every hour and I have been using it for the last year and six months to get to work.
“I am working right now and will use the bus every day.
“It is never usually an issue and I don’t remember it not turning up but it might be too late. I do have a car but I would rather use the buses.”

Meanwhile, on Holmsley Lane a student gets on the bus using an app on her phone to pay. I used my debit card to pay my fare earlier.

After going around the houses, quite literally, we end up on the main road towards Leeds city centre and the motorways. To the right the skyscrapers of Leeds stand imposingly to the right hand side yet we seem to be moving away from them.

Read more from this series: Meet the Leeds PC tasked with policing the streets of Chapeltown

This particular route heads to the industrial area of Stourton where the likes of big employers such as Arla, Royal Mail and Parcelforce are based and the chap that got on at North Lane gets off - assuming he works at one of the dozens of businesses down here.

We start making our way into the heart of Leeds city centre via Hunslet.

It is about 12.05pm by this time as we weave around the back of The Tetley, the bus station and Victoria Gate and onto Eastgate.

The Headrow

As The Headrow area is being re-configured, so are the buses and bus stops (just to add to my confusion).

The bus driver sticks his head around his cabin before he sets off again and points towards a bus on the other side of the road. “You’re better off getting off here and catching that one”, he says helpfully.

All in all, it takes half an hour to make the journey of just under eight miles passing 31 bus stops along the way and there is still the connection to the hospital to go. With two minutes to spare, we make the First Bus 42 service to Fearnville via St James’s Hospital.

They are frequent at this time of day - which is now going on for 12.20pm – every 11 to 15 minutes.

Cost

This journey of a mile to a mile-and-a-half at most to the hospital costs £1.30.
However, what is interesting is that from Swillington to Leeds centre via the bus route at £3.50 – you get more miles for your money.

And this is something that retired Beeston couple Michael and Cathy Emmett notice.

They don’t have a car and rely on public transport for everything from going shopping, going out to socialise and on this occasion they too were heading to St James’s, having already caught a bus from Beeston into the city centre to catch another to the hospital.

They say shorter services seem to be more expensive but weekend passes prove good value for money.

They said: “Weekend passes are good value, especially if you use quite a few buses but you could get a bus from Churwell to Morley and it is £2.50 for a five minute journey. The short journeys – Beeston, Leeds, Morley – that kind of thing, is expensive.

“We get let down all the time. A lot are cancelled or late and I have heard people say they have been waiting an hour-and-a-half for one because it is going to Headingley and there is a rugby game and it has a knock on effect but I guess they can’t help that.

“You get on when it is rush hour or the school kicking out time and it can take 40 minutes just to get from there to there.”

They felt that with Leeds only having buses and trains as forms of public transport, and Arriva and First Bus being the main operators, they had the monopoly on routes, times and prices and it was sometimes intimidating getting on buses at night.

They added: “Sometimes I feel when I get on the bus, they are not very clean and if we are going out and I am wearing my nice clothes sometimes I think I don’t want to get on the bus, it is filthy.
“And at night you see all sorts carrying on.”

By now, we are at St James’s Hospital and it took around 15 minutes.

All-in-all the journey took around 45 minutes and buses on this day were running regularly and to time.

But for those where the car journey, which would take 18 minutes from start to finish, isn’t an option – it is as twice as long a journey to get home again.