Talking Transport at the Leeds Climate Strike

Shona McCulloch, DecarboN8 Network Coordinator

The Climate Strike in Leeds on Friday was one of the best attended demonstrations I’ve seen over my years in the city. The atmosphere was energetic and optimistic, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together in the sun to support the global youth-led movement to stop climate change.

Whilst the blazing sun and clear blue skies raised people’s spirits, they also served to underline the issue: it was 20°C, which is 8°C hotter than Leeds’ average for this time of year.

Some of the protesters kindly shared their time to explain how they thought transport could be decarbonised where they live, to help end the climate crisis.

Arjun

Man in a hi-vis vest in front of Leeds Civic Hall with crowds and flags in the background

“Public transport is far too costly to justify using it long term. I used to go to school on the train and as soon as I was able to drive it was cheaper for me to take a car, so it needs to be a lot cheaper to encourage people to use it. Keighley has a lot of really good transport connections in terms of you can get pretty much everywhere, but it’s just so expensive, even with a Railcard it costs a lot of money to go anywhere in the country really.

“For example, last summer I was able to InterRail around Europe for less than £400, I went to 8 different countries, but if I just wanted to go Skipton for a month it would cost me about the same amount! It cost me £80 to get to Inverness the other week, and that was with an advance fare and with one of these split tickets you can do now that are cheaper, but even so, that was extortionate. I think that the more expensive you make it the fewer people use it, so the less they can invest in making it better, so they’re in a downward spiral and it’s not going to get better unless there are some changes from the very top.

“The buses are too expensive as well, because I’m used to public transport in London where I study, where for £1.50 I can travel for an hour on the bus. I came back here at the beginning of summer and was getting a bus from my grandparents’ house, they live in Clayton in Bradford, just down to the town centre, and it cost me £2.50 for a single, and it was walking distance, it’s too much. The thing is in London transport works, I mean of course you do see loads of cars in London, but for most people they tend to use public transport because it’s the most efficient way to travel in London, it works and it’s affordable.”

Valentine (right)

Two young people holding a placard that reads 'there is no planet B'

“I live in the city centre and I don’t drive at all, I usually take the bus a lot, and I think there’s this thing in England where the way buses are priced is really, really expensive and really weird, and that doesn’t push people to take the bus, rather it pushes them to use their cars.”

Richard (Burgon, MP for Leeds East)

Richard Burgon (East Leeds MP) in Millenium Square with crowds in the background

“I’m here today because free market fundamentalism has actually brought the globe to the brink of climate catastrophe. It’s killing species around the world, and if anyone thinks that the species of humanity is somehow immune from this threat, then they’re wrong, because this really could see the end of humanity on this planet. So I’m here today to say enough is enough, to celebrate the fact that trade unions and young people leading grassroots campaigns against climate catastrophe are working together.

“Cross Gates, where I live, has a train service which I use. It would be good to have those trains more frequently, and I think we need an expansion of train services, and we need to bring the buses back into local authority regulation. It’s very easy to condemn people for not using public transport, but when the public transport is not there for them to use, or is disproportionately expensive, or disproportionately awkward, or requires older or vulnerable people or women to walk on their own through secluded areas to get to bus stops etc. that needs to change as well.”

Fran

“I live just outside Leeds, and I walked to work today and then to the strike. Leeds needs better buses, more reliable buses, better cycle routes that aren’t as dangerous, and maybe cycle paths you don’t have to share with a bus. Putting a cycle lane and a bus in the same place is quite scary, I would cycle more if it was safer.”

Dawn

a woman stood in Millenium Square with a crowd of people and a large Greenpeace banner in the background

“I live up Meanwood / Moortown way and work over in Gipton, and since there are no buses that go that way, and I don’t want to cycle with the traffic, I went by car to work this morning and then I’ve come by car into the city centre.

“I think there needs to be a decent public transport system across Leeds that doesn’t just centre on the city centre, it needs to link across the city centre. I think there need to be roads that are simply for bikes and, it’s a bit of a contradiction, but turning all the streetlights off after midnight is not particularly helpful or safe for cyclists either.”

John and Kina

Two people holding placards in front of Leeds Civic Hall

John: “As a union branch (UNISON at Leeds Teaching Hospitals) we recognise that Leeds Teaching Hospitals has a massive carbon footprint because of all the travel that comes into Leeds, what with all the staff and all the patients and ambulances, so I think we’ve got a responsibility to discuss how in 2019 people travel to work and to think about public transport. I think public transport should be nationalised.”

Kina: “I usually use public transport and I live in South Leeds. Public transport is rubbish where I live to be honest, it’s very unreliable, but I got here, which is the most important thing! I don’t know how the transport could be improved really because the buses aren’t electric are they? Not all of them. So hopefully, with this protest, they would consider that and make some changes in the near future.”

John: “I come to Leeds every day on the bus from Morley, the service is rubbish, really infrequent, and I think, yes, electric buses, I completely agree with that, but also the frequency: if they were more frequent, more reliable – which is important, they’re very unreliable – fewer people would use their car. If you knew your bus was coming you’d use the bus. You know, people tend to take the easier option, because they’re not sure of the service, if you think “I’ve got to get to work in X amount of minutes” and you know that the bus may or may not come, you might have to take the safe option.

“Patients always get very upset about the cost of parking at the hospital, that’s the main thing, but you know maybe we should be looking at that in a different way, looking for out of town car parking and then park and ride systems, because that’ll take the pressure off patients from having to worry about car parking fees.”

Kevin and Vicky

Man and woman standing under a marquee on millenium square

Kevin: “I’m here to support the workers on strike and the students that are on strike as well, I’m involved in the local Trades Union Council, the Socialist Party, and the Unite Community union, and we want to support the young people taking this action. We think there’s a responsibility on the trade union movement to come up with proper solutions to the climate emergency. We’ve challenged the government, but we’ve equally challenged the trade union movement to come up with solutions, so we’re promoting the Leeds TUC Climate Change conference on the 19th October.”

Vicky: “I’m a socialist and trade unionist, and as Kevin says I think it falls to the trade unions to support the lead that’s been taken by young people over getting out on the streets, walking out of schools and colleges, and making a stand against climate change, but not just that but also system change.

“Just on a tiny microcosmic scale, I live in a satellite type small town where we have two bus companies that service us into the main hub (Sowerby Bridge), they rival each other to provide the service and they run their buses three minutes apart on the hour, so that they can try and jostle for the business, which leaves us waiting an hour for a bus, and is an absolute joke. I’m in favour of nationalising the transport system, properly integrating it, and letting us do our part to help save the planet.”

“I got here today by getting the hourly bus, one of them, luckily, which took me to Sowerby Bridge where I jumped on a train and came to Leeds. My journey was good, I’m a driver but I prefer not to use the car, I don’t have a car at the moment, and I am an advocate for a properly run integrated nationalised transport system. We need to end the transport situation that we’re living with which is absolute joke, for old people as well, I mean, I can walk to the local station, but what if you can’t?”

Tim

Man wearing hi-vis vest that reads 'UCU picket supervisor'

“I live between Headingley and Meanwood and I walk through the woods to work every day. Leeds needs massive improvements in infrastructure for walking and cycling, and better public transport, better subsidised, and much better public transport going around the city as well as going in and out, like the number 91 bus for example.

“By better I mean more frequent and reliable, at the moment there’s some days when the 91 bus is only once an hour, or it doesn’t even turn up, so trying to get from Meanwood to Pudsey, which a lot of people do, it just doesn’t come, and so, it’s just very, very difficult. I do as much as I can with the local Greens, I’m the coordinator of Headingley Green Party, so I do as much as I can to lobby for better transport.”

Isobella, Ellie and Chris

a group of young people holding placards in front of Leeds Civic Hall

Isobella: “I live in Pudsey and I cycled here today. There was a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of pollution so I usually cycle with a mask, but it’s in the washing machine, so I didn’t wear it today and I could just smell all the fumes, it was awful.”

Ellie: “I’m not sure if this is a viable option but could we have electric buses? In Pudsey? In Bristol where I go to uni I’m pretty sure that all of the buses are electric, so I don’t see why we can’t have that. Or trams?”

Chris: “Yeah there was talk a few years ago about having trams in and around Leeds, but it didn’t happen due to costs and changes in the council. Where I live, it’s a small village, one of the trams did come pretty near, and it would have made life so much easier: yes it would have meant having to change half way, so the journey would’ve been longer, but it would’ve been greener. Even the buses around Leeds, a lot of them are now hybrids which is great, but if they’re only local services why do they need a great big diesel engine?”

Ellie: “Also, whenever I wait for the bus I always look at the cars going past the bus stop, and the majority of them have one person in them, so if all those people just got off the road, and got on a bus, then you know, we’d have probably more buses, because we would need more buses, but there would be so much more space on the road, and there would be so much less pollution.”

Isobella: “They need to stop cancelling every other train, that’s really annoying, because sometimes I’ll cycle in and get the train home, or get the train in and cycle home, and the buses don’t run frequently, and the trains are really bad, especially for wheelchair access as some of them don’t have an accessible toilet. We get two-carriage trains for the Leeds-Manchester rush hour, two of the biggest cities in the UK at the busiest time of the day, so it just doesn’t make sense does it?”

DecarboN8 is looking at how to cut carbon from transport in the short and long-term. As can be seen from people’s day to day experiences of transport in and around Leeds, there is a lot that could be done today without huge innovation, if priorities were set differently. We will be doing more to explore carbon quick wins in the coming months.

DecarboN8 at the Newcastle Climate Strike

Dr Sara Walker, Newcastle University

Dr Sara Walker at Newcastle Climate Strike

Today on 20th September I joined the climate strike. Newcastle University had an information stand outside Kings Gate Building, opposite the Civic Centre rally point for the Newcastle City climate strike. Staff were on hand to talk to colleagues, students and the public about our work, and how it can contribute to climate change mitigation.

Newcastle University has declared a climate emergency and is inviting staff, students and the public to join an event on 15th November, to begin the conversation about what we can and should do as thought leaders in this space, and I find it refreshing to see the University engaging with the local community on this topic.

Whilst I stood at the stand on this glorious autumn day (it is 19C here today, above the average of 10-15C for this time of year) it was a little easier to feel optimistic about the future. Millions around the globe are taking action. Small steps by individuals which cumulatively add to a crescendo of voices.