Leeds councillor's driver shortage fears as two Otley bus routes lose Saturday services

A Leeds councillor has expressed doubts that the chronic shortage of bus drivers will end anytime soon, amid claims it is just a temporary “blip”.

By David Spereall, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Saturday, 28th May 2022, 11:45 am

Liberal Democrat Colin Campbell, who represents the Otley and Yeadon ward, said it was “increasingly difficult” to persuade people to use public transport.

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It follows yet more cutbacks to bus services across West Yorkshire, which have been blamed on an exodus of bus drivers from the profession and the difficulties in replacing them.

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Bus operator Connexions has pulled Saturday services on two of its routes serving Otley. Picture: Tony Johnson

The 781 service, which runs between Meanwood and Otley, and the 923 between Wetherby and Otley were among those affected by changes earlier this month.

Both buses, which are run by the operator Connexions, have had their Saturday services pulled.

Speaking at a regional transport meeting on Friday, Dave Pearson, from West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), suggested the shortage was a “short-term issue”.

He said that public money from the region’s adult education budget was being invested into the training of new drivers.

Mr Pearson, who is WYCA’s director of transport services, said: “We are trying to address the driver shortage problem, which should hopefully be a blip.

“We’ve been here before a little bit in previous years with regard to driver availability.

“As a combined authority, we are doing quite a lot to support the bus companies and the HGV companies, as there’s a similar issue in that industry.

“The driver shortage is a culmination of lots of different factors and an ageing workforce is part of that.”

However, Mr Pearson admitted there was “concern” around services in rural areas like Otley and Yeadon, which he said “sit on the margin” and “can be at risk” of cuts.

There is also deep unease around the Government’s plan to pull Covid support funding for the bus network this October, given the current predicament of services.

Coun Campbell responded: “I fear there’s an element of wishful thinking in relation to the bus driver shortage, because I seem to remember we had this conversation at the beginning of the year.

“The shortage hasn’t got better over the last six months. Perhaps the shortage has got worse because we’ve seen a reduction in services.”

Coun Campbell went on to say that he was “not 100 per cent confident” the problem would be resolved by next spring.

However, a spokesman for the bus operator First, who was present at the meeting, told councillors the situation had improved and that pay levels had been raised to try to attract more staff.

“The picture is much more stable now,” he said. “We’ve had issues post-Covid as a number of drivers retired and because of a more competitive market.

“Moving onto the future picture, we’re very keen to diversify our workforce. We have to look at more varied shift patterns to ensure that life-work balance is better.

“We’re working very hard to increase staffing levels.”