Villagers’ anger at bus service changes

First Bus.
First Bus.

First Bus and Metro bosses faced some of their strongest critics at an outspoken public meeting organised by Scholes parish council.

It was a discomforting encounter for Metro’s chairman, Coun James Lewis, assistant director, David Pearson and Richard Gledhill, commercial manager of First Bus.

Around 90 bus users who packed the village’s Manor House centre protested at changes in bus operator, timetables and routes which took place last month.

At times parish council chairman Coun Ben Hogan had to call for order.

The strongest criticisms centred on unreliability of bus services linking Scholes and Barwick with Leeds city centre.

“When a bus operating an hourly service doesn’t turn up it becomes a two hourly service, which is simply unacceptable and, for older people, is damaging to their health and well being,” said one villager.

Another declared: “I have been living in Scholes for 35 years and am still waiting for a decent bus service.

“Why should Barwick people get a half hourly frequency while in Scholes the buses are only hourly?

Describing First services to the two villages as “a joke,” another resident said it was not good enough for the company to blame staff shortages, the length of the route or traffic congestion for buses running late or failing to turn up.

A Scholes woman who uses the bus every weekday to get to and from work in Leeds said the route and timing changes had added a whole hour to her working day.

Village resident George Hall said First was failing to meet the conditions of its operating licence and should have relief drivers and buses available.

“You are putting money before people,” he alleged.

Coun Claire Hassell, a Barwick resident, told Mr Gledhill: “You need to educate your drivers that they have to operate (to timetable), even if they are running late.”

However, one member of the audience said she frequently used local buses and generally found them efficient and reliable.

Responding, Mr Pearson said substantial cuts in Metro’s funding from councils in West Yorkshire had made service changes inevitable, especially in rural areas.

While service 64 was a “commercial service,” the cost of extending service 11 to Scholes, running seven days a week from early morning and into the evening, was being met by Metro using council taxpayers’ money.

“If it were not for Metro subsidies Scholes might not have a bus service at all,” he declared.

For the bus operator, Richard Gledhill said recent route changes had been made last month in a bid to make service 64 more reliable.

“Late running is a challenge,”as buses were delayed by city centre congestion.

Mr Pearson said improvement to school buses from next month should help Scholes pupils attending John Smeaton Community High School.

Also, he agreed to look at introducing a late evening service from Leeds to Scholes to help people visiting cinemas or theatres.

Both First and Metro pledged to monitor the reliability of services to Barwick and Scholes during September and October and make greater effort to ensure buses turn up and run as close to timeable as possible.

Coun Lewis told the meeting: “I completely understand people’s frustrations.”