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Dan Jarvis Mayor's report slams poor and unreliable bus services

Sheffield City Region review calls for radical change to buses.

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Bus ridership outside London has halved since deregulation. Photo by Alex Everitt (Wikimedia Commons).

A review into South Yorkshire's buses has found that services are "poor and unreliable", and that significant change is needed to improve the network.

Commissioned by Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, the comprehensive report took into consideration submissions from 5,900 members of the public, bus users and businesses.

It found that frequency on many parts of the privatised network "is poor or has fallen dramatically", and that passengers are faced with an "overwhelming" range of tickets from competing companies.

Over 60% of respondents said they were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with bus reliability in South Yorkshire. The report found that passengers "cannot rely on buses because they do not turn up, are already full, and are often late."

The chair of the commission Clive Betts MP said that the pandemic presented an opportunity to create a "better, stronger and more financially resilient" bus network.

"Buses should be the backbone of a public transport system, yet in South Yorkshire, due to a number of factors, buses have been allowed to decline and passengers have been the ones to suffer," he said. "This cannot continue."

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The commission team. Photo by Sheffield City Region.

The report recommends a series of changes, including bringing oversight of the network under the Mayor's direct control within 12 months.

It also says that a franchising model should be explored, which would see services brought back under public control. Authorities in Manchester and Liverpool are considering a similar move.

Privatisation outside the capital is widely considered to have been a disaster. In 2012, the Yorkshire Post reported that bus journeys had halved since deregulation in 1986 - over the same period in London, where buses remain regulated, journeys had doubled.

"If our ambition is high and we are serious about a sustained increase in the number of bus passengers, the system needs to operate fundamentally differently in order to address the significant challenges that currently exist," the report states.

"Only franchising will provide [Sheffield City Region] with control over network planning and simple fares."

The current system allows competing companies to choose routes and collect their own fares. This means busy routes like Ecclesall Road are over-served by competing companies, while less profitable routes are under-served or have no buses at all.

A franchising model would see a public body decide routes and collect fares, and then commission out the operation of individual routes to bus companies.

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ACORN's bus campaign. Photo by ACORN.

"We welcome the results of the bus consultation," Jamie Sims of ACORN Sheffield told Now Then.

"When we launched our campaign for public control of our buses, we were told franchising was not possible, that the funding was not available. Now Mayor Jarvis has changed his position to agree that full scale change is necessary and that he will fight for the funding."

He said that ACORN activists have spent "countless hours" speaking to passengers at bus stops about the state of the network.

"We've had enough of rip-off fares, cancelled routes and late buses. The people of South Yorkshire deserve public services that work for us, not to make profits for private companies."

In October, Now Then explored some of the options available for the future of South Yorkshire's buses.

Another long-term possibility raised by the bus review is the formation of a publicly-owned bus company, similar to those in Reading and Nottingham.

While the review notes the "clear financial, political and operational gains" of public ownership, it also found that legislation currently prohibits local authorities setting up new bus companies, and that buying an existing firm would be prohibitively expensive.

"In difficult circumstances, with yearly cuts to budgets, we have lost sight of what a good bus service looks like and it's time that we regain this perspective," said Mayor Jarvis.

"This is not going to be an easy task, especially in the current climate of a health and economic crisis. But we do now have a golden opportunity to build back better - providing a bus system that properly serves passengers, the economy and the environment."

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