Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


MARCH 2001 



Doubt has been expressed by a Leeds Councillor at the overall effectiveness of the Scott Hall Road guided bus route. Is it actually accomplishing claims made by the operator that motorists are deserting the car to ride the bus? This claim contrasts rather sharply with the Councillor's assertion that some commuters have tried it and gone back to their cars (1). This failure to take up spacious parking facilities at King Lane in Leeds could well indicate that Brisbane in Queensland may after all be right in not providing any. According to the Council's Opposition Leader there, a lack of parking provision threatens to turn the south east busway project into a white elephant. It will be interesting to see if motorists there make use of the busway by using the feeder buses or just park in adjacent streets (2).


The Energy Minister (John Battle) opened in 1998 the first park + ride site in King Lane, specially designed for the Scott Hall Road guided bus routes. Also opened at the same time was the latest stretch of guideway bringing the total length up to 6km. This 350 metres of busway and adjacent 157 space car park cost GBP700,000, well spent if patronage increases of nearly 85% (3) are correct. It has come somewhat of a surprise though to be told by Councillor Brown that he had counted only 40 cars, a quarter of which he estimated belonged to shoppers. To a certain extent, this does tend to demonstrate that although light rail infrastructure is more costly, it has certain proven advantages. METROLINK in Manchester for instance has shown that, unlike the guided bus route in Leeds, any patronage gain is not only substantial but also sustainable. A survey of METROLINK's passengers revealed that 51% had a car available (4). Such a strong public response has probably played a part in gaining Government acceptance for the "big-bang" expansion plans.

Enthusiasm for light rail developments outside Britain is also spectacular with Dallas in Texas attracting an encouraging public demand for additional parking places adjacent to tram stops. This high passenger demand is something the average American believed impossible and has proved once again that if the service is fast, safe and dependable, motorists will use it (5). In Denver (Colorado), another US city with a new light rail system, motorists have learnt to be early because the car parks are usually full by 7:30am (6).


Although this design and build guided bus project has cost the Leeds City Council around GBP300,000, it was helped financially by a GBP1m grant from the Department of Transport. The Rider Group, the then title of the bus operator, bought a fleet of 21 superbuses at a cost of between GBP110,000 and GBP115,000 each, about GBP15,000 above the original quotation. The new low-emision single deckers were built by Scania GB and offered self levelling air suspension, less engine noise, efficient heaters, more comfortable seating and easier boarding. It was hoped that these measures would help to reverse the trend which has seen bus travel in West Yorkshire decline by 38% since services were deregulated.

The first track section was opened during September 1995 by Stephen Norris, then the Transport Minister, (7) and although he praised this new-look public transport, he did warn of the dangers of speeding alongside queues of drivers and making enemies of the motorist (8).


The above heading was the wording of a newspaper headline when road tests were conducted just prior to its opening. A statement made at that time gave Leeds the credit of being the first city in Britain to introduce guided buses, forecast as an attempt to speed up public transport and woo motorists out of their cars. The claim of being first was apparently justified because an earlier experiment in Birmingham had been abandoned. When asked, transport campaigners in Leeds gave it a cautious welcome ahead of its public service because, as one observer put it, any investment in public transport was a step forward. Some comments were sceptical though because the only two other countries in the world to try it had not extended their systems. One typical comment was: IT'S BEING DONE HERE BECAUSE THEY GOT THE CASH AND IT'S CHEAPER THAN TRAMS. It would appear that what makes the busway so much more attractive than conventional bus travel is that the guideway cannot be abused by other road users or by parked vehicles (10).


The above heading, this time taken from a US newspaper, tends to backup the Leeds Councillor who appears to have "blown the whistle" on Scott Hall Road's guided bus service. A US example, designed to carry 65,000 bus rides a day along the "HARBOR" transitway, from Wilmington to downtown Los Angeles, has so far attracted a disappointing 3000 per day. In an attempt to bolster patronage the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has slashed the fare by more that a half, from USD3.35 to USD1.35.


The principal operators of bus services in Leeds are still showing confidence in guided bus operation despite the Councillor's criticism, and guideways are continuing to be constructed in York Road at a fast pace with the ultimate aim of attracting the motorists who currently drive. Although this may be possible it should not be overlooked that other places are beginning to recognise certain warning signs and have started to change their transport direction. Because bus services are now "withering on the vine" (12) good advice could well be: by all means continue laying guideways but include some tram rails at the same time.


  1. PARKING SCHEME A FAILURE - Howard Williamson's article on Councillor Jonathan Brown's Park & Ride Survey of the King Lane site on the Scott Hall Road Corridor NORTH - THE LEEDS WEEKLY POST - 9th February 2001.
  2. PARKING PROBLEM BUGGING BUSWAY - Lachlan Heywood in the Brisbane COURIER MAIL - 8th February 2001.
  3. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 16th July 1998.
  4. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 13th March 1997.
  7. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY 28th September 1995.
  8. YORKSHIRE EVENING POST 26th September 1995.
  9. Vanessa Bridge in YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 27th July 1995.
  10. SURVEYOR - 28th September 1995.
  11. LOS ANGELES TIMES - 18th November 2000.
  12. YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 17th February 2001.
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