THIS summer’s continuing chaos on the region’s railways has demonstrated that the North’s leaders need to take back control of these services from the Department for Transport and ambivalent ministers, like Chris Grayling, who still don’t grasp the economic, and human, cost of months of delays and disruption.
However it does not end here.
For many, the state of bus services in Leeds is making it harder for the unemployed, or low-waged, to actually get to and from work. This issue is, for many, just as important and even more pressing, as the future of the failing Northern and TransPennine Express rail franchises.
Now the need for better oversight of bus franchises is highlighted in a report being published today by the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Sheffield’s two universities, which reveals the negative impact of unaffordable and unreliable local public transport on low income neighbourhoods.
This is particularly pertinent to Leeds where much of the research took place – one of the reasons its doomed Trolleybus scheme was so fundamentally flawed from the outset was because the proposed routes would have led to very few benefits for those areas in greatest need of improved transport links.
Yet, while this episode did not reflect well on Leeds City Council whose leader, Judith Blake, has subsequently highlighted the fact that people have lost their jobs because of poor and unreliable bus services, today’s report makes a number of recommendations which should be adopted by all local authorities.
First, bus franchises should be the subject of stricter performance criteria.
Second, new housing and employment developments need to be built with public transport in mind from the outset – too often bus and train links, as well as facilities for cyclists, are treated as an after-thought.
There is no point creating jobs if people cannot get to them to fill the vacancies. Could it be time for the return of the works bus, as places like First Direct already provide? Finally, there needs to be greater recognition for all those people, NHS staff and carers being a prime example, who work anti-social hours. For them, a quality, reliable bus service is essential. And, as the economy evolves, this cohort is only going to grow and policy-makers need to be more responsive.