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MP's public meeting holds bus company's 'feet to the fire'

Alex Sobel MP last night hosted a public meeting in Heart with First Bus to discuss passenger concerns and to promote constructive dialogue between the company and bus users in North Leeds.

Alongside the MP for Leeds North West sat Cllr Neil Walshaw (chair), Neil Wallace from WYCA as well as Brandon Jones and Tom Bridge from First Bus.

[caption id="attachment_1058" align="alignleft" width="299"] Otley resident Mike Blackwell wants a better service at Menston[/caption]

In a lively meeting, concerns were raised about reliability and the green efficiency of buses as well as faults with the First app and complaints regarding customer service.

One young passenger described her persistent problems with the e-ticketing on her phone which left her without a ticket for journeys at night and facing refusal from drivers. This comment was received with great concern by the First representatives, who described the service as ‘unacceptable’ and vowed to investigate the incident.

There were several calls from residents of Bramhope for improved reliability of service on the X84 and from an Otley resident concerned with connections at Menston station.

First Bus reported passenger growth on services through Headingley following the introduction of new, cleaner buses with smart ticketing which they hoped to encourage further to reduce the time buses spend at bus stops.

Headingley Councillor Neil Walshaw has been a key advocate for bus improvements in the city and was delighted to chair the meeting. He said, “I was pleased to chair the meeting on Thursday with First Bus. There were concerns represented from across Leeds North West, not least by people from my ward of Headingley and Hyde Park. I was alarmed to hear from students who feel like they are treated like second class citizens on buses and hope that this will be rectified quickly. Like our MP, I believe in a locally controlled London style bus service for Leeds.”

Alex Sobel said, “I want to thank all of my constituents who came to the meeting as well as to those who have written to me their concerns. I can assure you I have followed these up with First and will continue to do so.

I am a bus user and I share the frustrations of many of my fellow passengers regarding the reliability of the service. Punctuality, it’s fair to say, has been an issue since I first used a First Bus in Leeds and is something that we need drastic improvement on if we are to provide a decent service to existing passengers and encourage car users to leave their cars at home and instead use a public transport alternative.

There were many concerns raised regarding the new fares and the app and I will be following up with those and monitoring First’s progress closely. My job is to represent my constituents and ensure that they are getting the best service possible. That is why it is vital to hold the major institutions, like First, who run the most important services, to account.

I thank First for agreeing to this meeting and have requested a further meeting to take place in Wharfedale so that as many passengers as possible in my constituency will have the opportunity to air their views."

Passenger Mike Blackwell said, “As a resident of Otley, I was pleased to have the opportunity to express my concerns, particularly about connectivity issues at Menston station. I am so grateful to Alex Sobel for arranging this meeting and am pleased that he seems to be holding First’s feet to the fire on behalf of passengers like me.”

[caption id="attachment_1060" align="alignleft" width="434"] Passengers reflect concerns to First[/caption]

Passenger Sally Bavage said, “I use buses most days of the week, during the day so in theory outside of commuting windows. The legendary missing buses that show on the First app still don’t show up. Last night the First reps would not give a clear reason except blaming drivers. They blame drivers and I really do not. Thanks to Alex Sobel for setting up the meeting but came away even more convinced that First don’t care about customer service.”

Passenger Sue Timme of Bramhope said, "As a regular user of the X84 bus route for work and pleasure, it was a good opportunity to give feedback to First Bus and Metro and listen to their responses.

The current service, which is the only way to access Leeds on public transport, can be very frustrating, but it was encouraging to hear of future improvement plans. I would welcome an opportunity in the future to be updated on the activities discussed in the meeting."

Brandon Jones, External Communications Manager at First Bus said

“I thank Alex for setting up this meeting which was a valuable listening exercise for us. There were a wide range of topics discussed, many of which that we are working hard to address so that we can improve our customers’ experience.

Congestion is one of the major challenges in our city that First Bus alone cannot solve and we are addressing these issues by working closely with WYCA and Leeds City Council to transform bus services, which includes over £70 million of investment in new ultra-low emission buses and a range of highway measures to help bus reliability through the ‘Connecting Leeds’ project.

We are committed to transforming bus travel across the region and improving the experience that our customers receive. Alex has expressed to me his wish for another meeting in Wharfedale to address some of the concerns of his constituents in the North of the constituency. We are more than happy to do that and are arranging it with his office.”

Also in attendance were Cllr James Gibson (Lab, Weetwood) and Cllr Jonathan Pryor (Lab, Headingley). Cllr Gibson said, "It is a good thing that residents from my ward had the opportunity to air their grievances directly with First Bus. I will continue to fight, alongside my Labour colleagues for a transport system worthy of our city."


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