First’s latest weapon in its battle against Leeds NGT and Bus Quality Contracts

In February 2014 First Group announced ‘a radical alternative to controversial plans for the introduction of trolleybuses in Leeds. Its own scheme would see 200 vehicles, modelled on London’s New Routemaster, deployed on routes across the city.’

The NGT scheme would lock Leeds, they said, into “outdated 100-year-old trolleybus technology for decades to come. It claims that bus technology has made great strides in the last few years with fully electric buses due to be introduced in York in the coming months. Further significant advances are certain to be achieved by 2019, the forecast date of the first trolleybus, let alone by the end of the 30 years life of the scheme. Through having committed £250m to NGT, with further hoped for routes elsewhere in Leeds, the city will be deprived of investment in much more advanced, better value and more flexible alternatives.”

Now First are deploying the same weapon in public consultations around West Yorkshire, but this time with Metro’s Quality Contract proposal additionally in their sights: “”The other factors that will determine whether we go ahead with this significant investment are the completion of a bus partnership agreement with Metro and the new West Yorkshire Combined Authority” Paul Turner, head of commercial at First, said.

“Negotiations have been going on between all the bus operators and Metro for a couple of years now and we need the agreement to provide the stability necessary to make major investment decisions. In other areas, similar partnership agreements have led to significant fare reductions and increases in passenger numbers.”

The consultation is taking place at the same time as the public inquiry into the trolleybus scheme, and Mr Turner added: “Unlike the trolleybus, the New Bus proposal would bring significant benefits to a much larger number of customers throughout West Yorkshire and not just one route in Leeds. It could start to be introduced within the next 18 months and there is no financial risk to the tax-payer.” Bradford Telegraph & Argus 9th August 2014  Photo courtesy of Huddersfield Examiner

We’d like to tell you the WYCA side of the story about these protacted negotiations but since (at the time of writing) either their website is down or none of their QC information pages are dated – we can’t! The counter-proposals by the Association of  Bus Operators in West Yorkshire  are here (with a Charter to download): extremely slickly presented but what about the substance?

Here, for example, is what they have to say about Fares & Ticketing:

• “We fully support the enhancement of the range of Metrocard ‘multi-journey,
multi-operator, multi-mode’ tickets to ensure that the integrated ticketing
arrangements are continually improved
• We believe in more flexible Smartcard style ticketing systems region-wide, along
with a better off-bus retail network for ticket sales
• We are keen to explore opportunities with new technologies – e.g. for systems
that intelligently identify the optimum charge rate for customers and best value
for money”

Nothing too precise there, then. And so the stand-off continues. Meanwhile, down in London, you can already use contactless bank payment cards (in addition to Oyster) on the buses, and with a £4.40 daily cap irrespective of the number of journeys made, across the entire London Bus Network.