Campaigners welcome end to 'wild west free market in buses' in Leeds as Government announces national investment

Government moves to end the "wild west free market in buses" are welcome - but are not enough to reverse the "catastrophic decline" in bus passengers in Leeds, campaigners have said.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 4:45 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched a shake-up of England’s bus network, with a framework for franchising and a pledge to invest £3bn, including on 4,000 new green vehicles.

The plan will see passengers across England benefiting from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better coordinated and cheaper bus services, the Department for Transport said.

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Leeds Bus Station.

But TUC Regional Secretary Bill Adams said: “We won’t take pie crust promises on transport investment.”

He added: “Whilst we welcome the creation of any new jobs in our region, the government have undermined their own announcement by gutting Transport for the North’s budget.

“The only way to reverse decades of decay in our transport network is for government to hand over the power and the money to mayors and local councils – so that local communities can fix the transport problems that central government have let fester."

The success of bus services in London and the trams in Greater Manchester is widely attributed to the fact they are each operated by a single body.

Tom Forth, head of data at ODI Leeds, which is part of the Open Data Institute, said fare capping was an unrealistic aim when services are run by multiple companies as in Leeds.

He added: "I think that this government are quite anti-cities, they don't really like them.

"They want everywhere to level up, they don't want to let Leeds pull away from let's say Darlington, and they will hold back cities like Leeds in order to stop them from doing well.

"It frustrates me enormously, but that does seem like what they're doing."

Mr Adams said: “The government’s recognition that the wild west free market in buses must end is welcome and long awaited.

“It is only by recognising the failed 36 year record of bus privatisation that has led to a catastrophic decline in bus patronage in Yorkshire, whilst local control of bus services in London has led to record growth, that we can begin to plan for a better bus service for our communities and our climate."

Mr Adams added that the Government's already existing legislation was a "huge impediment" to delivering better buses as it makes franchising "so hard and expensive for local government."

He added: “The strategy could have set out to simplify the franchising process, allowing mayors to bring in integrated ticketing and flat fares in a snap.

"Instead it sets out vague commitments for a national approach which will leave city regions who want to press ahead chomping at the bit.

“In addition, government imposed cuts to local authority funding over the last decade have forced councils to end many evening and weekend services for local communities.

"Our councils know what our communities need. Government could easily achieve improvements in our bus systems by giving councils more money and cutting their own red tape."

Responding to the Government’s bus strategy, Coun Kim Groves, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “Buses are critical to the economic and social well-being of West Yorkshire’s communities and will have an even bigger role to play as we seek to accelerate our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while also tackling the climate emergency.

"As part of our Connectivity Infrastructure Plan we have shown how improving frequencies, linking to areas of economic growth and investing in vehicles and bus priority measures, could lead to an additional 24 million bus journeys by 2033.

“It is now widely accepted that deregulation has not delivered the bus service our region needs.

"We continue to review the case for franchising.

“The dramatic fall in passenger numbers through the pandemic has create huge economic pressures and we will need long-term funding in local control to recover and then dramatically grow the number of people using bus services in the coming years.”

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