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‘Leeds needs a congestion charge’

Paul Clarke on a flawed transport plan and some possible alternatives

Published on April 6th 2011.


‘Leeds needs a congestion charge’

Oh No. Here we go again with yet another Soviet style 15-year plan for Yorkshire’s creaking transport network, full of warm words but lacking one vital ingredient – money.

‘Although I pay well over a grand for my yearly ticket neither the rail companies nor the government will put their hands in their pockets to buy more carriages. Nice words about integrated pricing systems are a joke when people can’t even get a seat they’ve paid for.’

This latest missive from the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority is clearly written by people who don’t endure the daily ordeal that is commuting into Leeds. If they did they wouldn’t have produced this sad collection of empty promises and grandiose plans.

I commute in every day from Hebden Bridge and because I’m so far down the line I always get a seat. Not so lucky are the people who get on at Dewsbury onwards, who have to stand every day. These unfortunate souls are not cattle but customers, who pay good money to stand like animals on an overcrowded train. Today’s misery was compounded by an hour marooned on a stuffy train due to yet another points failure.

It’s even worse on the way out of Leeds during rush hour and the 5.13 to Manchester Victoria is a classic example. Every day it’s like a the Japanese tube experience as hundreds of people try to squeeze onto two carriages. When you complain and point out the sensible solution is to just put on extra carriages, you are told by harried station staff there is no extra rolling stock. This feeble excuse is offered to us despite earlier trains leaving with half full carriages. Doh.

That’s the nub of the problem; because although I pay well over a grand for my yearly ticket neither the rail companies nor the government will put their hands in their pockets to buy more carriages. Nice words about integrated pricing systems are a joke when people can’t even get a seat they’ve paid for.

The other big issue this daft document highlights is the simple fact that public transport isn’t cheap -so it’s little wonder people resort to the comfort of their cars. Of course, when you run a transport system purely for profit and not for the public good, there’s no incentive to reduce prices or – god forbid – subsidise our transport services.

On a strategic level it makes no sense if Leeds is to meet its aspirations of being the dominant northern city to have such a ramshackle public transport system. Sadly, the flimsy proposals in this document don’t even begin to address the key economic arguments.

So my alternative six ‘big ideas’ for change are:

- Double the investment in rolling stock over the next five years so everyone can get a seat

- Give all regular train/bus users a loyalty card with free rides for points to encourage regular use of public transport

- Scrap the proposed expensive trolley bus system - a pointless vanity project when the existing system is so rubbish

- Slash bus fares to 50p a ride using the money from the scrapped trolley bus scheme

- Introduce a congestion charge in Leeds to reduce car use

- Rapidly accelerate the creation of safer cycle ways in and out of the city centre or - even more radically - create a free bike hire system like London

I wonder what this latest collection of silly ideas has cost but it would be at least a down payment on an extra carriage.

What we don’t need is this more of this sort of tired tosh masquerading as a plan that just insults every irate passenger who endures the second worst commute in the country.

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