Digital demand-responsive bus travel among West Yorkshire Future Mobility Zone initiatives

A process that could revolutionise how people travel in West Yorkshire as part of the Leeds City Region’s £31 million-plus Future Mobility Zone bid is set to be discussed at next week’s West Yorkshire Combined Authority Investment Committee.

A process that could revolutionise how people travel in West Yorkshire as part of the Leeds City Region’s £31 million-plus Future Mobility Zone bid is set to be discussed at next week’s West Yorkshire Combined Authority Investment Committee.

The bid which was submitted to Government aims to provide people with convenient, affordable and more sustainable alternatives to private cars, helping to reduce congestion and pollution.

The report to the Investment Committee sets out details of the bid which is based around developing the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). MaaS enables people to plan their journey by accessing a range of transport options, including public transport, cycling, car-sharing, taxi or use of a car club vehicle, in one place. This is usually through an app on their smart phone or a website, which also shows them the best value option for their journey and pay for all their journeys through a single channel.

Twelve-month trials of digital demand-responsive buses, which will be in addition to existing services, are planned in several areas, including east Leeds, Wakefield and York. They will be designed to meet the needs of people wanting to travel to local destinations and services or to connect into the wider transport network and key interchange transport hubs for longer journeys.

Most passengers will use a special app to book and pay for their journeys using digital demand-responsive bus services although telephone bookings will also be available for people who do not have a smartphone.  Customers will receive a confirmation of their journey through the app and the time and nearby location where a minibus will pick-up them up, along with details of where it will drop them. The services will be cashless.

The first trial is scheduled to in Autumn 2020 as part of the Connecting Leeds programme. It will improve access to employment, shopping and health services for communities in the Cross Green and East End Park areas of Leeds. The second trial service is expected in winter 2020/21 and will link people in North East Leeds with the key transport and shopping hubs at Cross Gates and Seacroft.

Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: 

“We know that in some areas a more flexible approach is needed to meeting passengers’ travel requirements. As part of our work through the Connecting Leeds programme, we will trial this, passenger-focused approach that provides people with the journey options that meet their lifestyle. If we are successful in our Future Mobility Zone bid, we will roll out more services throughout the region.

“By filling the existing gaps in public transport provision with these new-style services, we aim to reduce people’s reliance on car journeys for local but vital journeys, by providing them with a convenient, value-for-money alternative.

“Trials of additional digital demand-responsive bus services that will complement the regular network are part of a move towards a Mobility as a Service approach, which would see people being able to plan and pay for their journeys by accessing a range of options, including public transport, cycling, car-sharing, taxi or use of a car club vehicle, in one place.”

Cllr Denise Jeffery, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Investment Committee, said:

“This bid is all about developing a transport network for the future, that helps people travel to work, education, leisure and other facilities in the easiest, most flexible and accessible way possible – rather than having to rely on services that don’t currently meet their needs.

“Developing new options for people to plan local journeys and think about the way they travel will have a positive environmental impact, reducing the emissions from car journeys and helping us achieve our commitment to tackle climate change.”

People using the digital demand-responsive trial services will be asked to provide feedback on the services and how they have used them to help the West Yorkshire Combined Authority evaluate their success and consider future services.

Other key elements of Future Mobility Zone bid included in the Investment Committee report are the introduction of mobility credits, which are designed to prevent cost from being a barrier to transport and mobility, together with new mobility hubs would become a focus for local journeys where people could access a range of transport options, including e-bikes, car club vehicles, taxis and demand responsive buses that will complement the existing bus and train network. Improved on-demand access to transport services would help reduce the need for private vehicle use and improve access to emerging employment opportunities.

Tenders for bus operators to run digital demand responsive services for the trials in Leeds will be issued in February. They will call on bidders to ensure the services are compatible with the West Yorkshire-wide MCard schemes and national concessionary schemes. As well as seeking bus companies to run the two-digital demand-responsive trials, West Yorkshire Combined Authority will also be issuing a tender for the vehicles that will be used.

Details of the public West Yorkshire Combined Authority Investment Committee meeting, which takes place at Wellington House in Leeds on Wednesday, 5 February at 11am am can be found here.