Based upon studies by its own studies and the benefits already seen on the city's first guided busway on Scott Hall, Metro the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, was able to initiate this unique funding approach with its partners, Leeds City Council, and First Leeds and Arriva. Progress was then straightforward with the bus operators having the confidence to put their hands in their pockets and invest for the first time anywhere, in the scheme's infrastrucure, without needing to go through a formal PFI scheme.
Most of the Elite scheme's infrastructure improvements are within a few miles of the city centre, but the benefits of the project will be reaped far out into the surrounding districts such as Garforth and Scholes - a population of over 100,000 residents.
Elite passengers will be able to travel on new buses which - using the scheme's guideways at key sections and dedicated, red bus lanes - will leave queuing traffic standing. They will enjoy priority at junctions as signals are triggered to ease their bus's journey through the jams.
As well as faster journeys passengers on the elite services will be able to enjoy travelling on a fleet of new buses purchased specially for the routes, upgraded shelters and stops, and better information. Low floor buses together with raised kerbs at stops will also greatly improve accessibility for a broad range of people.
Opening the scheme, Cllr Mick Lyons, chairman of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority said: 'This scheme shows just what can be done through innovative thinking and forward-looking partnerships. Working together we can make a difference to people's lives.
'We can improve their access to jobs. We can enable them to get out of the house and travel round the city independently. We can help them meet up with friends and enjoy leisure activities.
'And not only do we affect individuals,' added Cllr Lyons, 'By improving journey times and reliability and reducing road congestion, our inventive public transport solutions give people a real alternative to the car and contribute to the development and economy of individual cities and the region as a whole.'
'Through the significant and immediate benefits to the 100,000 or so people travelling into and out of the city centre from East Leeds, and those coming into the city from further afield to work, the Elite scheme is a symbol of how through Metro and its partners, modern public transport is making a difference today.'
What is Elite?
Elite is a scheme which will improve the whole bus travelling experience for the people of East Leeds, increasing reliability and making journey times shorter. Elite passengers are now riding on comfortable new easy-access buses and enjoying upgraded bus shelters, stops and information facilities.
Guideways enable buses to avoid traffic hold-ups by separating them completely from other road users at certain sections, generally at approaches to road junctions. No other traffic is permitted to enter guideway.
As a bus approaches the guideway, the driver steers into a funnel section and this adjusts the path of the bus smoothly into the guideway itself. Once in the guideway, the steering is controlled automatically by guide-wheels running against vertical kerbs. As the bus bypasses the queuing traffic, the driver simply controls the acceleration and braking, staying alert to pedestrians crossing the guideway.
Once in the guideway, buses can travel quickly; bypassing traffic queues and are automatically given priority at traffic signals at the exit from each section of guideway.
The two bus operators, First and ARRIVA Yorkshire, have invested heavily in
new vehicles for the elite scheme. Between them, the two companies will be providing a total of over 40 new 78-seater double-decker buses, enabling passengers to travel in style and comfort.
Costing the two companies in the region of£6m, the new state-of-the-art Volvo buses are built specifically with accessibility in mind. Low floors and easy-opening ramps mean pushchairs, buggies and wheelchairs can be rolled directly onto the buses, with no need for lifting or folding. On the buses, there are spaces for the pushchairs or wheelchairs to be 'parked' and passengers report that the new seating styles are more comfortable than on other buses.
Shelters & Stops
Over 330 bus stops are being reconstructed and 150 shelters replaced
throughout the Elite scheme. All stops are being raised to 160mm at the kerb
to allow easier access onto the kneeling elite buses.
Better pedestrian crossing facilities have been provided for passengers who have to cross the road to reach the guideway stops.
Improvements in safety and security have also been made. The new shelters are modern in design, have internal lighting and have a large area of transparency so that waiting passengers can see all around them as well as being seen by others.
The roof is also transparent to allow in more daylight. The shelters will also have better information displays, which will be larger and easier to read.
The new shelters are red and cream in colour but can be identified as elite shelters by their purple 'half-moon' ends and purple timetable cases. So, if passengers see a bus shelter featuring the elite purple, they can be sure that the new elite buses will be serving it.
In addition to the 2.1 km of guideway, the elite scheme includes 2.6 km of new
bus lanes. All bus lanes will operate 24 hours and will be closely monitored by
West Yorkshire Police. Drivers of other road vehiclesfound to be abusing bus
lanes in East Leeds will be heavily prosecuted. The better timetable
displays in the shelters will provide travel information.
The Elite scheme will also pilot a Global Positioning System (GPS) across 100 buses and 30 signal approaches within East Leeds. The GPS system will provide flexible and rapid information on bus positions. The software within the system will then be able to forecast arrival and departure times at stops. This information could then be made available to passengers by web site, telephones (including mobile phones) or on electronic bus stop displays. This first phase of this should be in place within 12 months of the Elite scheme becoming operational.
SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ELITE SCHEME
Why is Elite needed?
The East Leeds Quality Bus Initiative was desperately required in response
to a number of local and national trends.
Local Issues - Leeds could potentially become a victim of its own success. It is the fastest growing city in the UK and is widely considered as the primary city of the Yorkshire & Humberside region. Leeds is experiencing phenomenal growth in a number key business sectors such as financial services, media and manufacturing.
Out of a total population of 740,000 there is a workforce in excess of 375,000
people with a further labour force in the region of 1 million commuting into the
city from the surrounding areas.
Projections suggest that commuters from outside the city will take approximately 80% of the net additional 48,000 jobs to be created within Greater Leeds between 2000 and 2010. If they all turned up to work in their cars it would be chaos.
According to research carried out for the 10-year plan by the department of environment transport and the regions, road traffic is predicted to increase by 22% between 2000 and 2010.
York Road (A64) and Selby Road are the main carriageways serving the East
Leeds area. These roads already have to cope with a two-way traffic flow of
approximately 76,000 vehicles each day. Unchecked, this would mean that
these roads would have to accommodate a further 17,000 vehicles a day by
Governments all over the world have had a great deal of success in forcing vehicle manufacturers to reduce road traffic emissions. However, the sheer volume of new cars, increasingly inefficient older vehicles, and slower moving traffic mean that overall pollution levels from road vehicles will still be increase over the next 10-year period.
It was with these local and national issues in mind that Metro, whose role it is to co-ordinate public transport right across West Yorkshire and Leeds City Council, which plans road travel around the city, approached First Bus and Arriva about the Elite scheme. Leeds already had a guided bus route on Scott Hall road and the significant rise in passenger numbers on that route persuaded the bus operators to contribute to the£16m scheme.
Will there be much reduction in journey time for the buses?
There should be some time saved on the journey. However, the real benefit is on reliability of service as the new system allows the buses to avoid a great deal of traffic congestion and keep to their schedule.
Over time we anticipate that the number of passengers will increase and that more buses will be provided.
Will fares go up as a result of the scheme?
No, the bus operators are expecting to pay for their investment from the increase in passengers and do not plan to charge premium rates.
Why does the guideway not go all the way and is just in parts?
The guideway is designed to get buses through likely areas of congestion and then thanks to the priority traffic lights, deliver them back to traditional bus lanes in other areas.
How do people get to the bus stops in the middle?
There are new crossings just like the normal pedestrian crossings and have the same facilities for the blind and disabled people.
Will people be safe waiting at a bus stop on the guideway in the middle of the central reserve?
Yes. The new shelters are all lit at all guideway stops. There is no difference than if people were waiting for a bus at the side of the road.
If people have to get to bus stops in the middle of the road, what is being done about speeding traffic, road rage drivers who jump the lights etc?
The new traffic signals enable people to cross safely and we are looking into signage in the vicinity of the crossings warning drivers that people are crossing.
What happened to Leeds' promised tram scheme?
Supertram is coming to Leeds and along with another guided bus scheme in Bradford and new bus stations across the region is an example of how the region is at the forefront of public transport issues in the UK.