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Mayor Coppard ramps up 'fair funding' campaign for South Yorkshire's buses

Trips on the region's buses have fallen by an alarming 15% since October last year, and South Yorkshire has lost 40% of its network in the last ten years.


Coppard speaking at a campaign event in Pensitone.

Oliver Coppard.

South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard has announced plans to tour the county to try and win support for his campaign to reverse drastic government cuts to the region's bus network.

Before Coppard's election, his predecessor Dan Jarvis put in a bid for £434 million from the government's 'Bus Back Better' fund, but last month officials were told they had been awarded nothing.

This compared with £95m awarded to Greater Manchester, £88m to the West Midlands and £70m to West Yorkshire. South Yorkshire is the largest mayoralty in England to come away empty handed.

These wild discrepancies are the result of England's competitive system for transport funding, almost unheard of in Europe, which pits cities against each other in 'winner takes all' style contests.

"We shouldn’t have to bid against other regions for bus funding, and we certainly shouldn’t have to campaign for funding for basic public services," tweeted Coppard. "Public transport should be treated like the vital public service it is."

"I’m tired of our buses being at the mercy of a political bidding war, with uncertain and declining funding, and empty promises about levelling-up and a ‘London style’ transport system."

According to the mayor's office bus trips in South Yorkshire have fallen by 15% just since October 2022, while the number of individual services has fallen from 588 to 338 over the past ten years.

The 'Bus Back Better' funding – which South Yorkshire received none of – is to help cities work with private bus operators to improve services, but it does not extend either to public control or public ownership of bus networks.

Crookes the punch bowl pub bus first

Bus services in the last 10 years have fallen from 588 services to 338 services.

Rachel Rae Photography

The region has been awarded £6.3m from a separate pot of money to support local services that private operators do not want to run themselves because they are unprofitable – many of them rural.

But even this funding, which will cover services from July 2023 to April 2025, has been cut by around 50%, and the mayor's office says it is using an additional £11m from its reserves to protect as many services as possible.

At the same time, the authority continues to explore the possibility of bringing the region's bus network under full public control through a process known as franchising.

This would follow in the footsteps of Andy Burnham, who will launch the first stage of a fully franchised network across Greater Manchester later this month.

Franchising sees fares, routes and timetables fall under the democratic control of the mayor's office – a model that has seen ridership increase in London over the last 30 years while it has halved outside the capital.

Coppard's tour, which aims to gather stories from people affected by the quality of the bus network, includes events in Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Stainforth.

"It’s no exaggeration to say we once had a world class bus network," he tweeted recently.

"I remember the days of reliable, frequent and cheap buses in SY. With your support and a fair funding deal from government, there’s no reason we can’t have a public transport network we’re proud of once again."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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