New Generation Transport (NGT) is the name coined by Metro (West Yorkshire’s transport authority) for a £250 million trolleybus line planned to run from Stourton in the south to Holt Park in the north via the city centre. The scheme potentially got off the ground in July this year when Nick Clegg announced that the government would provide up to £173.5 of the cost, provided that the scheme overcomes hurdles such as the procurement of a Transport Works Order, and a successful outcome to the expected public inquiry.
MP George Mudie has criticised the scheme as unambitious and says Leeds needs an underground system. Many see an underground as the best choice for Leeds, with a tram system second best. This is why the trolleybus scheme is often criticised as ‘third best.’ No other UK city uses trolleybuses. London and Edinburgh considered and rejected them.
MP Greg Mulholland supports the scheme despite being told on a recent trip to Budapest that trolleybuses do not lead to more people using public transport, and that Budapest wants to scrap its trolleybuses and buy battery powered buses. The trip was organized by German trolleybus equipment manufacturer Vossloh and clearly didn’t turn out as expected.
Metro will not be ordering the trolleybuses from Optare, a local firm based at Sherburn in Elmet which produces award-winning battery powered buses. Instead, the buses will be purchased from a foreign manufacturer, either German or Italian.
Leeds will be paying £250m for 9 miles of trolleybus route, which seems poor value for money when you consider that Nottingham recently built the same length of tramline for £229m at today’s prices.
Trolleybuses are not economically viable where there is competition from diesel buses. That’s why Metro intends giving a route monopoly to whichever private bus company is chosen to operate the service.
Following the announcement at the end of October 2012 that the scheme faces a £20m funding shortfall, Councillor John Procter recommended abandoning the scheme and applying for money from the government’s £50bn infrastructure fund to build a better transit system. But the response from Metro’s chairman Councillor James Lewis was that the shortfall can be made good by charging higher fares on the trolleybuses.
Leeds City Council’s Executive Board will decide whether or not to proceed with NGT when it meets in either February or March 2013. They will decide on the route at the same time.
All requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the detailed route plans to be made public have been refused on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest.
The scheme involves a new road for trolleybuses across part of Woodhouse Moor, demolition of shops at Hyde Park Corner, removal of the cycle lane between Hyde Park Corner and Headingley Hill, a new road across the fields in front of Hinsley Hall and through the Shire Oak Road Conservation Area, demolition of a house in the Shire Oak Road Conservation Area, demolition of stone cottages near the junction with Shaw Lane, removal of some gardens and most of the broad grass verges in Far Headingley, and removal of the central reservation with all its mature trees from West Park to Lawnswood. Since trolleybuses get their electricity from overhead wires suspended from gantries, there would also be extensive cutting back of trees.
Despite all this environmental destruction, journey times would not be significantly reduced, as the trolleybuses would have to share 40% of the route with other traffic (the percentage is higher than this on the northern route). But since the trolleybuses would make far fewer stops than existing buses, Metro is hoping for a three minute saving on current bus journey times from the city centre to Holt Park.
The long distances between stops suggest that the trolleybuses are not meant to be used by the elderly or disabled.
The trolleybuses would be bi-articulated vehicles holding up to 200 mostly standing passengers.
To allow the trolleybuses to move more freely along the A660, other traffic would be held in vehicle stacks, leading to increased levels of exhaust fumes from stationary cars, vans and lorries.
It’s claimed that trolleybuses are energy efficient and less polluting. But because they use electricity from coal-fired power stations, they are no more so than diesel buses. They merely transfer bus pollution from the streets to areas near power stations.