Leighton Buzzard buses operate free

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £2.99.
Five recent Alexander Dennis Enviro200MMCs have transferred from Arriva Kent & Surrey to Arriva Beds and Bucks for the L-prefixed services. ANDY HAMER

Tuesday 9 May saw the dawn of a new network of local bus services within the Central Bedfordshire town of Leighton Buzzard, coupled with a free bus fares trial lasting up to Christmas.

Central Bedfordshire Council has used Section 106 developer funding from large scale residential developments in the east of the town to improve the town’s local bus network and offer free fares on the new bus services. Parts of the former town bus network, which were at risk of withdrawal, have been integrated into the new services, which has enabled provision in these areas to continue. The council was successful in securing funding from the DfT for its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), and is using some of this to match the free fares offer for journeys within the town zone on the commercial inter-urban services 150, F70 and F77, meaning customers travelling on any Arriva bus in the town can do so for free until 24 December.

The new bus network has been designed to improve accessibility within the town, providing new and better links to the town centre and market, local supermarkets and retail parks. Interchange with trains at Leighton Buzzard railway station has also been improved with timetables designed to meet the fast trains to and from London Euston, with up to seven journeys per hour between the station and town centre during Monday to Saturday daytimes.

The new bus network now also operates later into the evenings and offers a Sunday service, which has not been provided for a number of years.

Arriva has been awarded the contract by Central Bedfordshire Council, and has introduced a fleet of nearly new 30-seat ADL Enviro200MMC single deck buses. These feature audio-visual displays, free WiFi and USB charging, and have replaced a number of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter minibuses which had previously been the mainstay of the local services in the town. Four buses are employed on the town network on Mondays to Saturdays whilst two are required on Sundays and public holidays.

The new network has been branded Leighton’s Buses and each of the buses is to be named after one of the characters from The Borrowers – a series of children’s fantasy stories which was written by Mary Norton, once a resident of the town. A formal launch of the new network is scheduled for June.

The free fares initiative, which will operate until Christmas, is intended to raise awareness of the new bus network and encourage residents to sample the new services. In addition, it is hoped that it will encourage a shift to more sustainable transport, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality in the town.

Steve Lakin, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Sustainable Transport and Active Travel Manager, said, “We have worked closely with the developers, who are providing the funding for the new bus network, and Arriva to design a new bus network which will improve accessibility, making the town more attractive to residents and support sustainable commuting. The free fares initiative is the first example of a whole town’s bus service becoming free for a prolonged period. We hope that this will support families and, especially, young people, allowing them to travel, sustainably, within the town, without the worry of the travel costs.

“We will be monitoring the bus services closely during the free fares initiative, and will also be examining the impact of the new network on traffic and parking levels in the town and at the railway station. Hopefully, we will be able to show that offering free fares has had a positive effect on the town.”

Arriva’s Head of Commercial Toby France said “We are delighted to be working with Central Bedfordshire Council to bring this new bus network to Leighton Buzzard. Local bus services play a key role in building vibrant, sustainable communities and we hope that our new routes and new buses will encourage residents to consider the bus as their mode of choice for travel across Leighton-Linslade.

“We are excited to help make Leighton Buzzard a free-bus town and look forward to applying the learnings from this scheme to other networks in the future.”