Monday 15th October 2018
I’ve been spending a few days travelling by bus around West Yorkshire. Always a pleasure for me as, aside from brief spells with London Transport in my student days, this was where my first ‘real’ job ‘on the buses’ began (in Wakefield) over forty years ago so I’ve always found an affinity with the area. It’s a lovely part of the country too.
First a few positives.
Bus stations. Everywhere in West Yorkshire is endowed with a well appointed prominent bus station. From the huge Bradford Interchange to the small cosy affair in Ossett. Even Wetherby’s bus shelter and ‘Bus Stop A’ warrant a ‘Bus Station’ designation especially when ‘Bus Stop B’ round the corner is included.
Castleford has the most recent rebuild completed a few years ago and very smart and functional it is too including all the facilities you’d expect.
Heckmondwike gained a smart ‘Bus Hub’ a few years ago: a few individual bus shelters around a rather nice piece of grass rather than a fully fledged Bus Station. Presumably a Hub because there’s no single roof span covering the waiting area. I see Morley also gained a Bus Hub earlier this year.
All the major locations have a Travel Centre with timetables (although sadly never a full set for the local area) and in some cases maps. There’s also a Customer Assistance kiosk which is a euphemism for where high-vis wearing security staff are based and who relentlessly patrol the waiting area supposedly giving reassurance to passengers and keeping out those with no thought of catching a bus but just wanting some shelter from the elements. Notwithstanding their reputation for having a serious aversion to photographers I managed to sneak out a few photos to illustrate why West Yorkshire gets Five Stars for its bus stations.
Bus maps. There was a rumour a while ago West Yorkshire Combined Authority (METRO) were going to jump on the ‘save money at all costs even if it means ceasing the production of helpful bus maps’ bandwagon (TfL being the founding member of course) so I was delighted to see a full set of METRO’s seven area maps were produced as recently as May 2018. Another Five Stars awarded.
Not only that, but I picked up a full set of all seven from Pontefract bus station – the first bus station I visited on Friday afternoon. I spotted maps in all the other Travel Centres but sadly not a full set. It really should be the default – to always offer a full set with extra supplies of the local area.
Tickets. There’s a Five Star comprehensive range of tickets available across West Yorkshire not only from METRO (including travel on buses and trains; buses only; trains only); peak and off peak versions and all available from Travel Centres and smart new smartcard machines in bus stations including the issue of a first card for just £2 as well as top ups.
There are some great fare offers too. I used the METRO Weekender which for just £8.20 gives unlimited bus travel from 6pm on Friday and all over the weekend to midnight on Sunday. A real bargain.
Arriva, First Bus and Transdev Blazefield also sell their own ranges of operator specific tickets at very reasonable prices. Some say this makes it all too complicated but I say it gives passengers a choice. Indeed on Friday I opted to buy one of Arriva’s m-Tickets as I knew I’d only be using their buses that day.
One thing I would like to see is greater clarity on what services tickets can be used particularly those crossing boundaries into neighbouring counties. It’s clear drivers don’t really know either so I happily used my METRO weekender into and from Skipton and Bolton Abbey (both in North Yorkshire) on Saturday.
A few suggestions.
Branding. It’s a bit of a mess. As usual with PTEs, METRO seem very protective of their brand ‘boring’ for bus timetables. For years they were produced to a standard design that featured strictly black and white colouring only, so it was nice to see some flashes of colour on a display in Leeds bus station but it’s still far from inspiring.
But if Transdev Blazefield can produce and distribute colourful attractively branded timetable leaflets for each of their high profile branded bus routes, why can’t Arriva do the same for their MAX and Frequenta brands (as well as the high profile Sapphire branded 110 between Wakefield and Leeds). Similarly First Bus are missing out on getting the best out of their high profile branded routes including the X84 Leeds-Skipton, the new X6 Leeds-Bradford and X63 Bradford-Huddersfield.
As it is there seems to be much welcome investment in attractively branded buses (including new colour coded groupings from First Bus for its Leeds city routes based on a green livery as a nod to the former Leeds City Transport) but there’s no follow through to other ‘touch points’ including the all important printed bus timetables as well as online. It’s all very well having nice branded buses, but that’s only part of the story.
Even more disappointing, there are far too many examples of branded buses on the wrong routes. Far too many.
Arriva in particular needs to up its game on bus allocation and both they and First Bus need to take a leaf out of Transdev Blazefield’s book and really invest in getting branding right and follow it through to leaflets and their distribution (I even spotted a CITYZAP leaflet in Pontefract and Castleford bus stations).
It was good to see Transdev Blazefield’s recent branded departure stands in Leeds bus station have now been copied by First Bus. More please.
Network. The West Yorkshire route network is certainly comprehensive; almost too much so. I sampled a range of routes during my visit including long inter-urban, short city/town routes and circuitous rambling routes which seemed to go on for ever; the ultimate destination always seemingly another round-the-houses away. A cursory look at the bus maps for Leeds, for example, shows just how complex the network is.
It’s laudable to give passengers many travel options and have buses diverting off their trajectory to serve small communities, but it’s important to keep a balance so as not to put off longer distance travellers with too many bifurcations. I’m not convinced that balance is right in parts of West Yorkshire.
I’m also sure there’s scope to introduce some speeding up with more direct routes or brand new routes.
First Bus now have a very limited stop X6 running between Leeds and Bradford taking advantage of some of the area’s urban ‘motorway’ type roads. There’s the infamous CITYZAP of course and Transdev Blazefield have recently speeded up their Aireline 60 towards Keighley by using the faster A650. Arriva have a couple of fast peak journeys from Heckmondwike to Leeds but it’s a drop in the ocean of what the potential could be. Much more of these please.
I’m also convinced there’s a place for a simplified map showing only the high profile inter-urban and branded bus routes run by the three operators across West Yorkshire. This really would show the great travel opportunities available in addition to the well used rail network and I’m sure would generate travel for the bus companies.
Frequency. Some evening frequencies are very poor relative to daytimes. It’s commendable to have 10 minute frequencies to encourage daytime passengers to ‘turn up and go’ but it’s a real turn off to switch to half hourly in the evenings; and in some cases quite early evening too. Routes 36 and 110; yes I’m looking at you but only as just two high profile examples!
You only need a breakdown or untoward problem which inevitably leads to the following bus getting delayed coping with a double load and passengers can face up to a miserable hour waiting. They’ll soon be lost as customers in the daytime too after such an experience.
That’s it for now; but more Yorkshire travels are still ahead.
Roger French 15th October 2018