By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
BUS operator Arriva is facing renewed calls to perform a U-turn on its decision to axe a popular bus service.
The company announced an overhaul of its services in February – and the withdrawal of the 253 bus received widespread condemnation.
But Arriva is standing firm, saying the 253 – which covers Dewsbury, Mirfield, Roberttown, Hightown, Cleckheaton, Gomersal and Bradford – will not be reinstated.
The company said it cut the 253 and made other changes to focus on routes “with greater commercial potential”.
Now three Labour MPs have written jointly to Neal Wallace, head of transport operations at West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), calling for bosses to reconsider their decision, taken last month, not to fund the reinstatement of the 253, which is a victim of government cuts to bus grants.
Chairman of WYCA’s transport committee, Coun Kim Groves (Lab, Middleton Park), said budget cuts prevented WYCA from offering subsidies as it had in the past.
MPs Tracy Brabin (Batley & Spen), Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) and Judith Cummins (Bradford South) say the withdrawal of the 253 is having “a detrimental impact” on the lives of residents.
In a separate letter to Dwayne Wells, head of commercial for Arriva Yorkshire, Ms Brabin wrote: “Many local residents are struggling to get to work, school, college and to medical appointments on time due to the changes, with some saying the new timetable has left them feeling completely isolated.”
Mr Wells responded: “Following a consultation exercise with our customers, we made some big improvements to many services in North Kirklees but we have had to make the difficult decision to remove the 253 route.
“The majority of our customers have a direct alternative service but we do recognise that some customers will need to change buses mid-trip to complete their journey.
“We continue to engage with the local community to explain the changes and to promote the alternative travel options available.”
The MPs’ action has been described as “ironic” by Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield), whose suggestion to subsidise a commercial service rather than fund a tendered service to support schoolchildren and older students, was defeated by a 5-3 vote at WYCA transport committee on March 15.
Among those who voted to oppose it were Labour councillors Eric Firth (Dewsbury East) and Mick Lyons (Temple Newsam).
“These MPs are coming on board but it was their colleagues that voted it down. That’s ironic,” commented Coun Bolt.
He added: “At that committee we sadly saw politics at its basest – a straight blocking motion by Coun Lyons.
“It’s hard now for Metro to change its course as the transport committee has voted but at least I have the support of three Labour MPs. I hope they will join me in expressing concern that members of the Labour group on that committee should have recognised the benefits of my proposal and not blocked it.
“Had my proposal been supported then we may have seen the review completed and hopefully funding in place.”
In a statement this week, Paula Sherriff said: “People depend on a decent bus service and I’ve been asking for residents’ concerns to be addressed from the outset.
“I have a further meeting planned with Arriva to reiterate my concerns about cuts made to our bus services that are having a serious effect on local people and I hope that WYCA will also review their decision to see if more support can be offered for this service. Buses are crucially important to our towns and villages and a lifeline for many, particularly older people. But a poor regulatory framework and insufficient funding means they’re often left at the mercy of private business interests.”