By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Bus operators First and Arriva have refused to rule out making further service cuts, though both say they now want to “grow” the network.
Passengers across West Yorkshire have endured two years’ of misery as rafts of routes have been axed and timetables repeatedly chopped and changed.
Many of the cuts have been blamed on lower bus patronage post-pandemic and uncertainty over government funding.
Statistics published by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) this week show passenger satisfaction with bus services in the region is at a five-year low.
There are indications that the chaos may have bottomed out, with WYCA sources suggesting in recent weeks that operators may be looking to introduce new routes, or lay on more frequent services.
But grilled at a regional transport committee meeting on Tuesday, neither First or Arriva offered cast-iron guarantees over the future.
Asked by Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe if they could rule out further cuts, Kayleigh Ingram from First Bus said: “What I’d say is it’s not in our interests to cut services.
“We know it’s a huge point of feedback and it’s not something we want to do.
“I think we’ve made real headway over the last six to 12 months in planning for service changes, ensuring we’re listening to district leaders on the wishes of their constituents and trying to respond to those as best we can, while bearing in mind that the sustainability of the network relies on, in many respects, profitable services.”
Kim Cain, Arriva Yorkshire’s commercial director, offered similar sentiments.
She told councillors: “We are always trying to grow the network. We still do have a couple of routes of concern but I’m very optimistic that colleagues at the Combined Authority will be able to find solutions to those.”
Mrs Cain warned that government funding for the bus industry and how much firms are reimbursed for concession tickets were “two unknowns” going forward.
But she added: “We’re hopeful there will be good outcomes and that no further cuts will be needed. That’s certainly our ambition.”
Transpennine Express defend planned timetable cuts
TransPennine Express (TPE) has defended planned cuts to services this December, which it insists will be “temporary”.
The operator, which serves Leeds, Huddersfield and Dewsbury, is slashing the number of trains it runs in a bid to improve reliability, with the changes set to be in place for up to 12 months.
The firm was nationalised earlier this year over its poor performance and has seen passenger numbers fall by a quarter since 2019.
TPE’s business development director said on Tuesday that “challenging decisions” had to be made so it could work through the driver training backlog it blames for its punctuality issues. A total of 66 carriages will also be removed from TPE’s fleet.
Speaking at a West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) transport committee meeting, George Thomas said: “At the moment we’re at a lower (customer) base than we were before Covid.
“Getting that right is dependent on getting to a stable position, with a timetable customers can rely on.
“We definitely recognise that’s not something we’ve been providing to date.
“That means taking some challenging decisions around the rolling stock mix and challenging decisions around the timetable in the short term.”
The news comes as passenger satisfaction with trains in West Yorkshire has fallen to a five-year low, according to WYCA figures.
A WYCA report ahead of Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the removal of carriages in particular, which it suggested will lead to a lack of capacity and space on TPE trains at peak times, “especially on the York – Leeds – Huddersfield corridor”.
But Mr Thomas said he disputed WYCA’s description of the changes as an “emergency” timetable.
He added: “This isn’t a quick reaction to try to stabilise something. This is a carefully thought out plan to provide that training and give us a stable base, from which we can reintroduce service frequency.”
TPE are still set to introduce a new Manchester-Huddersfield-Wakefield-Castleford-York service, but the frequency and times are to be confirmed, WYCA says.