York wants rid of ftrs

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Talks are being held about how to replace York’s controversial ftr buses, after the city’s council leader confirmed they are to be axed.

The Labour group which controls City of York Council vowed, in the run-up to May’s local elections, if it won power it would end an agreement with First York to operate the distinctive purple bendy buses.

The party said it was now seeking alternatives to the ftr as part of a proposed wider package of public transport improvements, which will be discussed at a meeting next week. The current agreement between the council and First for the ftrs, which run between the University of York and Acomb, expires in June.

The buses have been criticised in some quarters since their arrival more than five years ago, due to their size and claims they cause problems for other motorists and damage the city’s roads.

Labour pledged in its election manifesto to work towards scrapping the services, describing them as “a costly disaster” which had absorbed £1.5m of public money.

Dave Merrett, the council’s cabinet member for city strategy said: “In May, we decided not to renew the agreement between First and the council for the ftr.

“Discussions have been taking place about how to provide an acceptable replacement for users of the No. 4 services to the University of York and Acomb, and this is being discussed along with other possible public transport improvements.”

Next week, cllr Dave Merrett, will also be asked to approve a study into ways of improving to the quality, reliability and punctuality of York’s bus network.

Proposals include a city-wide survey to ask residents what they want from bus services, holding further surveys on buses and at key bus stops, consulting with parish councils, ward committees, residents’ associations and the 11 companies which operate bus services around York. The consultation will also include organisations such as Visit York, York Youth Council and York Independent Living Network.

Cllr Merrett said: “The council is committed to working with bus passengers, bus operators and key local stakeholders to develop and deliver a bus network which better meets the aspirations and needs of existing and potential new bus passengers.”

After the announcement, Dave Alexander, regional managing director for First in the North of England, slammed the city’s transport leader for revealing “private” discussions about plans to get rid of the controversial ftr buses, which could affect 60 jobs.

He said no alternative proposals had yet been developed and for the time being the ftr vehicles would continue to operate on the number 4 route between Acomb and the University of York.

Mr Alexander criticised cllr Merrett for trying to “claim victory” over the ftr decision.

Alexander said: “I am extremely disappointed cllr Merrett has chosen to make public the private discussions which have taken place between us, particularly as he is only too well aware of the job losses which would result from the withdrawal of ftr vehicles.

“The majority of the 60 staff working on ftr Service 4 in the city also live in the city and to claim victory for the removal of ftr has introduced a degree of uncertainty for our staff in a most insensitive manner.”

He said the ftr was a “groundbreaking concept which has been proven to stimulate growth in public transport demand,” adding: “We have been discussing a range of alternative uses for ftr in York and more generally ideas for the further development of the bus networks within the city. Throughout these discussions we have always been mindful of Coun Merrett’s and the Labour Group’s long held view that they did not wish to see the ftr vehicles continue to operate in York.

“At this stage no alternative proposals have been developed. Any changes to the services are a decision which First will make and we do not require permission to continue to operate these vehicles in the city.

“First remains committed to providing a high quality bus network in York, with service 4 being one of its key routes.”

Cllr Merrett said: “I am due to meet with Dave Alexander next week which will give us an opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding which may have occurred. More importantly, we will continue the discussion about how we can continue to work together to support York’s residents.”