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Mayor plans to bring Sheffield's trams back under public ownership

The plan, which will be discussed by council leaders next week, aims to better integrate the Supertram network with the region's buses and trains.

Rept0n1x (Wikimedia Commons)

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard has proposed bringing the Supertram network back under public control, as part of a plan to join up public transport across South Yorkshire.

The idea could see the mayor's office take over the running of services from March 2024, and will be discussed at a meeting between the mayor and the region's council leaders next week.

Built in 1994, Supertram was originally run by a public body but was privatised in 1997 and has since been operated by multinational bus company Stagecoach.

"Supertram has been part of our region’s fabric for nearly thirty years," said Coppard in a statement.

"But with that legacy, parts of the system are nearing the end of their design life, and – in the aftermath of the pandemic – passengers are using services differently."

Tram operations and day-to-day maintenance are currently overseen by Stagecoach under a private tender, but the infrastructure itself, including the trams, has always been publicly owned.

The new proposal, which will be discussed on 18 October, would see operations including fare collection handed over to a new arm's-length body answerable to the mayor.

Coppard believes this will allow his office to better integrate Supertram into South Yorkshire's wider public transport network, including buses, trains and active travel routes.

Better Buses for South Yorkshire, who have campaigned to bring Supertram back under public control, welcomed Coppard's announcement but warned that it might not go far enough.

“This announcement is fantastic news – a first step towards the modern 21st-century transport South Yorkshire deserves, a system for by and for local people," the group's Matthew Topham told Now Then.

“However, the current proposed model of public ownership for the Supertram operator will be arm’s-length, with private companies potentially providing its managers and the possibility of privatising the operation once public investment has made it profitable again."

“Our long-term aim must be to see a region-wide tram network that is fully public and democratised," he continued.

"That means building up an in-house body of public servants to support a Supertram cooperative of workers, passengers, businesses and local communities to manage the system together.”

Coppard's proposal comes as the mayor looks into similar plans to bring South Yorkshire's failing bus network back under public control as well, as Greater Manchester is currently doing.

Supertram construction

Supertram under construction in August 1994.

P L Chadwick on Wikimedia Commons.

It's hoped that a new public body overseeing both networks could lead to more joined-up services, as well as integrated ticketing and multi-modal investment and improvement projects.

The mayor's office recently secured £100m from the government to invest in Supertram, but this money will only keep the current system operational, rather than fund any major improvements or extensions.

Topham, who is also campaigning for London and Manchester-style bus franchising in South Yorkshire, said a fully integrated network would have social as well as economic benefits.

"An integrated system in public ownership not only makes the system cheaper to run – creating efficiencies by removing duplicated services and reinvesting profits – but also means a journey using train, tram, and bus feels like one smooth and convenient public service."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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