By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Bus operators and unions have hit out at those responsible for roadworks across Leeds, which they say is making services late.
Arriva said roadworks on Whitehall Road in the city centre meant it was considering rerouting some of its buses, while Transdev claimed congestion was “killing” its network.
The comments were made at a Leeds Council scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, where the current state of bus provision in the city was discussed.
The council’s executive member with responsibility for transport, Helen Hayden, said operators’ remarks were “disheartening” and added that buses had been given priority in areas across the city centre.
Council representatives also stressed the authority is not responsible for all roadworks that take place in Leeds. Some are carried out by utility companies and developers, though the council is responsible for much of the major redevelopment work in the city centre over the last year.
But Dwayne Wells, Arriva’s head of commercial, told the meeting: “We do have some challenges. The biggest one is punctuality, particularly with the recent infrastructure work in the city centre – Whitehall Road in particular.
“We have taken it up on ourselves to add time into the timetable to account for this congestion. Up to 30 minutes were added onto some journeys and and it still isn’t enough unfortunately.
“So we’re giving consideration to rerouting our services in the city.”
Paul Turner, commercial director at Transdev, said that traffic congestion had been “killing us” a year ago and that the situation hadn’t improved.
“Probably the number one bit of feedback we have from customers is the reliability and predictability of bus services,” he said. “It’s a massive issue.”
Trade union representatives added their voice to the criticism.
Andrew Dyer, from Unite, said that while a “decent pay rise” for bus drivers had improved staffing numbers, congestion and the knock-on effect on timetable changes were affecting retention.
“The traffic situation in Leeds is ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it’s decimated the punctuality for the buses.”
Gary Bartlett, the council’s chief officer for highways, acknowledged the previous “12 to 18 months” had been “particularly difficult” for drivers and public transport to get around the city.
But he insisted congestion in Leeds was not as bad as in other major cities and that some of the major works would soon be “coming to an end”.
Councillor Hayden added: “As somebody who is responsible for the transport decisions in this city, our focus has been on bus priority. We get heavily criticised for it.
“We are, especially in the city centre, reframing the roads give priority to buses, so it’s a bit disheartening to be criticised for doing that by bus operators.
“Maybe criticism is too harsh a word. But we are doing that because we want people to use public transport.”
Passenger safety discussed
Extra PCSOs are being drafted in to help tackle rising anti-social behaviour on the bus network in West Yorkshire.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is paying for more officers at local bus stations and on services, councillors in Leeds were told on Wednesday.
Operator Arriva said it had reduced capacity on one of its major routes because of crime and missiles being launched at buses.
So-called “Trojan buses”, where plain clothes officers ride on services, are also still being used, having been introduced in West Yorkshire three years ago.
Speaking at a Leeds Council scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, WYCA’s interim director of transport operations, Dave Haskins, said: “There’s been quite an increase in anti-social behaviour in general post-pandemic, but certainly it’s been experienced at our bus stations and on the bus network.
“Some of the BSIP (bus service improvement plan) money has gone towards paying for PCSOs to be funded.
“They’re starting to come through their training now. The work we’ve been doing in terms of operations and reducing anti-social behaviour has yielded a lot of fruit.”
Mr Haskins referenced violence at Ossett Bus Station, in Wakefield, which led to Arriva initially announcing they were stopping evening services there in August.
Buses were quickly reinstated, however, when WYCA arranged for security to be hiked at the station, with crime having fallen significantly since.
Mr Haskins said: “The intervention there, which was during the summer holidays, was addressed. (The trouble) was nipped in the bud and I think things are starting to settle down again now.”
Dwayne Wells, Arriva’s commercial director, told councillors that the authorities’ response to the problems in Ossett had been “phenomenal”.
But he warned that the disorder was “sadly not isolated” to the town.
He said: “We had one route into Leeds where we had to downgrade capacity from a double decker to a single decker.
“At some points, particularly on an evening, we had PCSOs travelling on the buses. At every place the bus stopped at, the PCSOs would stand in the doorway, making sure no undesirables boarded.”