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October 13, 2021

Waiting for the bus…

“Bus passes should be available all day, not just after 9:30am. Bus drivers won’t let you on any earlier.”

“It’s hard to get to early appointments when you can’t use your bus pass.”

Those two ladies at a lunch club in Chapeltown were quite right. I’d been enjoying their Caribbean food and ginger beer while helping Leeds City Council on a series of visits to various communities, asking older people about their health and lifestyle needs. Social housing residents in Seacroft and Hunslet said the same things about the buses.

In those engagements, many people took the time to explain their views and hopes, so I decided there and then to try to repay them. I would try to do something about the bus passes. Having lived and worked in London, I knew that older and disabled Londoners got free travel all day and every day on buses, tubes and even rail services.

So I began to learn more about how the bus passes work in West Yorkshire. I’m an older person who doesn’t have or want a car, so I use my senior pass to get around Leeds.

In England outside London, there’s a concessionary scheme. The basic deal gives free travel only after 9:30 am on weekdays. Local transport authorities can provide extra concessions, but in West Yorkshire we only get the basic deal, so we have to pay before 9:30am.

I found out that in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the bus passes give free travel at all times, just like it had been in London. So West Yorkshire was missing out.

Next, I was surprised to learn that in London and the three devolved nations, you can get a senior bus pass as soon as you turn 60. In West Yorkshire, you have to wait until you reach the state pension age, well over 65. Again, West Yorkshire was missing out.

For our disadvantaged communities, buses are the only travel option but they’re very expensive in Leeds – I paid £2.70 to go just four stops recently. Any bus journey within all of London costs just £1.55, even if you change buses!

Leeds aspires to be “the best city to grow old in”. We have the unique Neighbourhood Network Schemes, nurtured and sustained by Leeds City Council. Our NHS in Leeds is a national vanguard of innovation and best practice. And through Forum Central and Voluntary Action Leeds, the charity sector provides great value to the city.

But right now, the buses are letting everyone down. Even the government accepts that privatised public transport in England has failed. So let’s support the West Yorkshire Mayor, who has pledged to take the buses back under public control.

But before that, let’s address the poor and unfair deal for older and disabled people on the bus passes. It’s within the power of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to deliver something better.

David Smith
Cross Gates Good Neighbours