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Campaigners call for South Yorkshire's next mayor to take ambitious action on public transport

Dan Jarvis's successor should prioritise bringing the region's buses back under public control, say activists.

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Dan Jarvis announced last week that he would not stand for a second term as Mayor of South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.

Public transport campaigners have called on the next Mayor of South Yorkshire to do more to improve the region's failing transit network.

Activists told Now Then that the current system was "a disaster", and that "ever-worsening services" were the result of "years of decline."

Last week Dan Jarvis, the current mayor, announced that he would not stand for a second term after facing sustained criticism for keeping his other job as a Barnsley MP.

Jarvis took little action on transport during his four year term, and in June declined to follow Labour mayors in Manchester and West Yorkshire in starting a process to bring buses back under public control.

"We need public control of our buses to reverse years of decline – it’s disappointing that Dan Jarvis has not committed to this way forward," Fran Postlethwaite of Better Buses for South Yorkshire told Now Then.

"We hope a future mayor will use their powers to implement franchising so we can put the needs of communities and passengers before private profit."

Campaigners want the next mayor to use new powers to switch to a so-called 'franchising' model, which would see the mayor's office design routes and timetables and collect bus fares.

Individual services would then be contracted out to private companies, as happens in London. The current deregulated system means that private companies set routes, timetables and fares, giving them little incentive to serve less profitable routes.

"Since deregulation in 1986, bus journeys in South Yorkshire have halved whereas in London, where the mayor has more control over the service, the number of journeys has doubled," Roy Morris of Sheffield Green Party told Now Then.

"The main priority of the bus operators is to make a profit – we need a franchised system where the mayor is able to create a service whose first priority is to provide a service to the public."

Phil Bown, regional officer with Unite the Union, said that franchising should form part of a plan to "deliver a fully-integrated bus, tram, rail, and taxi service to the residents of South Yorkshire", adding that public control would reduce reliance on cars.

"Dan Jarvis stated in his mayoral campaign during 2018 that he would “work with local authorities to take bus provision back in to public ownership," pointed out Lucinda Wakefield of the Campaign Against Climate Change.

"Yet three years down the line we are still light years away from a comprehensive shift away from private car use to a public transport system which is needed to challenge the climate emergency and to reduce the often illegal levels of toxic air pollution."

Bus

In the 1970s and 1980s Sheffield's buses were among the cheapest in the country.

Eddie Smyth on YouTube.

It's likely that Labour will win the upcoming South Yorkshire mayoral race next year, with Jarvis taking 47.1% of first preference votes in 2018 compared to the second-place Conservatives' 14.5%.

But the Green Party will look to challenge for the post, after their resurgence at May's local elections and their recent higher profile as part of Sheffield's 'Cooperative Executive'.

The Conservatives will also hope to replicate unlikely electoral successes elsewhere in the north of England, such as Tees Valley, but are likely to face animosity over decades of widening inequality.

Now Then asked Matthew Topham of We Own It to explain some of the context around bus regulation.

“In his term as mayor, Dan Jarvis has been overtaken by the Tories on transport policy," he said.

"Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen municipalised Teesside Airport in 2018. Earlier this year, the government announced that the ban on new, locally-owned bus companies is “ripe for review” and even pointed out a loophole for delivering publicly-owned buses under the current law."

“It’s easy to see why. Award-winning Reading Buses, one of England’s existing municipal bus companies, is able to invest an additional £3m a year because it doesn't pay out dividends – a policy crucial to reducing fares, increasing frequencies, and guaranteeing reliability."

"It even opens the door to delivering fare-free travel efficiently, as nearly happened in Sheffield before privatisation."

Topham went on to call on Jarvis's successor to "lead the rest of the UK by bringing buses into democratic public ownership, ready to deliver a just transition.”

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The election for the next Mayor of South Yorkshire will take place on 6 May 2022.

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