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Better Buses Overdue

by Now Then Sheffield
563 1564651047
Fem Sorcell

Travel by bus to Sheffield city centre more than halved in the 25 years to 2010, according to a Council report called 'A Vision for Excellent Transport in Sheffield', published that year.

The title was to become ironic, as there was a further fall in passenger numbers of 18% from 2009 to 2019. Routes and timetables have been slashed, many buses are still dirty diesel models and a significant portion don't arrive on time, fares rise above inflation, and car use, pollution and congestion are all increasing. Bus passenger satisfaction in South Yorkshire was reported as 61% in 2017, lower than for trains and trams.

How did things get so bad? Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis says, "We need to understand the reasons for declining passenger numbers." Well, we don't have to look far.

Bus use has been in decline across the UK since a peak in 1985, when the Tories deregulated public transport everywhere except London. In theory, competition was supposed to produce a better service. In practice, Sheffield's bus services are now dominated by two massive Scotland-based companies, First and Stagecoach. There's a mismatch between competition and coordination under South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) which seems to give us the worst of all possible outcomes.

competition was supposed to produce a better service

In February we had the announcement of a review chaired by Clive Betts MP. Its conclusion is due in late 2019 or early 2020. But we've been here before. For example in 2015, when Sheffield Bus Partnership said it had "considered all public sector and commercial operator bus services to create a city-wide network that is better coordinated". Cars and taxis are still often cheaper than buses and air quality in some areas of Sheffield is in breach of EU legal limits.

It's hard to beat the straightforward solution, put forward by the Freedom Riders, of completely free bus services. The group campaigned for the return of elderly and disabled train concessions in 2014. They ignored platitudes about concessionary travel being "in line with bus and rail schemes across much of England". Some were arrested and charged during protests at Sheffield train station, but they succeeded in persuading SYPTE to reinstate the concessions.

Local authorities were given increased but very limited powers over buses in the 2017 Bus Services Act and it looks like Greater Manchester may use these powers to take back some level of control over its transport. But local governments are generally prohibited from reversing bus deregulation. Why? Because it would cut pollution, improve services and return a degree of democratic control? Or because the profits of already wealthy companies would be hit? Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling wants to "retain the strengths of the private sector". What strengths? I doubt he's ever waited for a bus in Sheffield. On the other hand, Nottingham still has local authority-owned buses, with the highest customer satisfaction of any bus operator in the UK.

We're all suffering under this highly unsatisfactory system. We're choking, paying through the nose and waiting for improvements. Just don't expect three to come at once.

Hosted by Alt-Sheff

alt-sheff.org

bettertransport.org.uk/local-groups/south-yorkshire-freedom-riders

Lowedges Festival

Sun 11 August | 12-5pm | Greenhill Park, S8 7HN | Free

In terms of volunteer-run community festivals, Lowedges offers a pretty amazing free event which attracts thousands. No surprise, because it features a mix of everything from proper funfair rides, medieval battles and classic cars to reggae and ska from the likes of Abelwell Foundation and Macka B.

UBI Lab Summer Social

Wed 14 August | 6:30pm | Rutland Arms, S1 2BS | Free

The idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is taking off as a better kind of economy, replacing means-tested welfare benefits with standard income for all. Sheffield could be one of the pilot areas under a future Labour government. Come and hear from World Basic Income UK, followed by informal discussion and socialising. (Note: venue has stair access).

by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 137

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