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Private bus companies to hike Sheffield fares by up to 5%

Mayor Dan Jarvis has condemned the increase, but stopped short of committing to full public control.

Harrison qi 1 U81m G Ne0qo unsplash

Passenger numbers on buses outside London have halved since deregulation in 1986.

Harrison Qi on Unsplash.

UPDATE: Since this story was published, TravelMaster have put the planned fair increase "on hold".

Private bus companies have announced plans to hike fares across South Yorkshire, sparking outrage from passengers, public transport campaigners and local politicians.

The price of several TravelMaster tickets, which cover multiple operators, is rising by 5% on 7 June.

Neither Sheffield Council or Sheffield City Region currently have any control over bus fares, timetables or routes, and SCR Mayor Dan Jarvis called the move "beyond frustrating" and "unacceptable."

“Price rises just weeks before the final easing of lockdown measures will understandably be seen as an attempt to profit from the fare-paying public as they consider returning to public transport," he said.

Jarvis added that he was "looking at all options" for reform, including taking public control of the network, saying that the fare hike showed the need for a "fundamentally different partnership" with private operators.

In London, where buses are controlled by the mayor's office, fares are just £1.50 – even for journeys requiring two or more buses.

Andy Burnham, Jarvis's counterpart in Greater Manchester, recently announced that the city will take its buses back under public control starting in 2023.

This means that, as in London, the city will set timetables and routes, and set and collect fares, with individual services then contracted out to private operators.

The newly-elected Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, made public control of buses a major part of her campaign. Now campaigners in South Yorkshire are urging Jarvis to make the same commitment here.

"There's no excuse for private bus companies hiking fares – the service they provide is unreliable, patchy, and already massively overpriced," Jamie Sims of ACORN Sheffield told Now Then.

"This shows why we've been fighting to take buses back under public control, to end the privatisation rip-off. The success of the ACORN campaign in Manchester shows it can be done. It's time for Dan Jarvis to step up and look after bus users in South Yorkshire."

On Monday, South Yorkshire leaders including Mayor Jarvis will meet to decide what action to take about poor bus services in the region.

Campaign group We Own It has called on the mayor and the region's council leaders to start the process of bringing buses back under public control through a system known as franchising.

But activists fear politicians will instead opt for an 'enhanced partnership' approach, which would see the bus companies promise to improve services voluntarily to ward off full public control.

The announcement of the fare increase comes just weeks after Jarvis announced a publicly-funded scheme to give under-21s 80p fares on buses and trams.

TravelMaster, a private company owned by the region's big operators, has launched a PR charm offensive following the announcement.

Attempting to justify the price hikes, their website says that a multi-operator ticket bought in advance is cheaper than "a kids meal", "a latte" and "a Big Mac", but admits that "the timing isn't great."

Mayor Jarvis Water Fountain Landscape

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis.

Sheffield City Region.

"Costs have continued to increase as a result of insufficient investment in bus priority measures and a lack of action on road congestion, which is growing again as the region emerges from lockdown," said TravelMaster boss Matt Smallwood.

"This has made services slower and less sustainable at current prices."

Mayor Jarvis said that the increase was "not just tone deaf, it calls into question the effort to build a functioning partnership with bus companies as we reform our bus services."

“First and Stagecoach talk to us about the value they attach to working in an ‘enhanced partnership’ – and then in practice their attitude seems to be: ‘You pay for the infrastructure; and we’ll put up the fares’. It’s just not good enough."

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