July 30 2020

Martin Hirst, Commercial Director for First West Yorkshire & First York, has written this week’s guest blog post. Martin writes about the importance of partnership working, using Connecting Leeds as an example of the work being done to transform travel in Leeds.

Someone once told me that the true test of strength of a partnership is not how organisations work together in good times but how they support each other in challenging times.

Nothing has been as demanding as the impact of the current pandemic yet there has been no let-up in partners’ focus on the ambition to transform travel in Leeds.

Leeds is the UK’s fastest growing city and one of the key priorities for growth and indeed recovery post Covid-19, is infrastructure and connectivity. At the heart of the travel transformation, branded Connecting Leeds, is the critical role of bus.

To achieve an aim of being a ‘world class connected city’, Leeds City Council has declared the ambition to provide ‘exemplar public transport’ which they accept will require bold decisions and the need to prioritise bus users.

But there is already a record of brave choices around bus. When Elland Road Park & Ride opened in 2014, despite the doubters, demand quickly outstripped supply and capacity almost doubled within two years to 800. Leeds City Council and the Combined Authority followed this with a 1,000-space P&R in 2017 at Temple Green. I’m proud of how all partners have worked together to deliver this success, which is shown in a recommendation rate higher than 97% among users. A true measure of this partnership is the further expansion of both sites funded from the Leeds Public Transport Investment Programme (LPTIP) and a new, 1,100-space P&R at Stourton in 2021 served with electric vehicles.

A shared vision to transform the transport network with firm commitment is infectious and builds confidence. So much in fact that First has already delivered over half its planned £71m investment in close to 300 new buses including the first fully electric route conversion later this year. This is not unique to First with significant investment by all operators.  Not only does this support the ambition for cleaner air but provides customers with the travel comfort and service that can compete with the car. This passion is highly visible in both the Leeds partnership and the wider West Yorkshire Bus Alliance supported by the CPT.

That’s all very well, you might say but what about reliable bus services and quicker journey times for customers? And that’s the key to this partnership. It’s not just operators asking the questions but all the partners challenging each other to ensure we can provide the reliable and faster bus journeys to create the modal shift necessary and deliver long term growth and tackle congestion.

Work is underway or about to start on key sections of highway across the Leeds network and through the centre – a challenging disruption message for us to get across for our staff as well as our customers before we can reap the benefits. It’s no secret that congestion in late 2019 was significant but Leeds hasn’t sat still, setting up a Resilience Group to identify and implement quick mitigations to help traffic flow. And partners haven’t stopped there, with Leeds leading on a travel ‘behaviour-change’ project to launch once construction has finished with the goal of Leeds being ‘a city where you don’t need to own a car’.

Now more than ever we need to continue to work together to continue providing the safe, reliable and high-quality bus service that will not only support our communities and local economies but help rebuild them.