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Sheffield marks one year until it takes its trams back under public control

From March 2024, the mayor's office will be able to set timetables and fares for the first time in almost three decades.

City centre park hill trams supertram

All candidates indicated that they would prioritise transport in South Yorkshire.

Rachel Rae Photography

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard has marked the one-year countdown until Sheffield's Supertram network is taken under public control for the first time since 1997.

The move will mean that the mayor's office will set timetables, routes and fares, instead of for-profit private companies like the current operator, Stagecoach.

It could also open the door to future expansions of the network, with some calling for new lines to areas of north Sheffield, as well as along Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall Road.

"Bringing the tram back into public control is the first big step towards creating a fully integrated, affordable and reliable transport network across South Yorkshire, that works in the interests of our communities," tweeted Coppard.

"This is a down payment on our ambitions for the world-class public transport we want in our region; it’s how we connect our communities, hit our net-zero goals, and build a bigger, better economy."

The majority of the network opened in phases between 1994 and 1995, and cost £240m to build. The infrastructure itself, including the track and the trams, has always been publicly owned.

Operations were also initially overseen by a public body, but were privatised in 1997 after problems including a confusing ticketing system and disappointing ridership numbers. Bus operator Stagecoach were awarded the contract until March 2024.

Since then the system has returned to profitability, but has not seen the rapid expansion of Manchester's Metrolink or the publicly-owned and publicly-controlled London Underground network.

A photo of Matthew Topham from Better Buses for South Yorkshire, speaking into a megaphone in the street

Matthew Topham of Better Buses for South Yorkshire said the mayor's decision would "focus public transport on public good"

Public transport campaigners say Coppard's decision sets a precedent for bringing the region's failing bus network back under public control as well.

“We know that public ownership of tram operators is the norm across much of Europe, and it’s fantastic to see the mayor taking positive steps to end the region's zombie experiment in privatisation," Matthew Topham, a campaigner at Better Buses for South Yorkshire, told Now Then.

“Alongside taking our bus network into public control, this move could see South Yorkshire have the integrated transport network we deserve."

The mayor's office is currently exploring the feasibility of using legislation to reregulate South Yorkshire's buses under a system known as franchising, a move that would follow in the footsteps of Manchester and Leeds.

Any such attempt is likely to be fiercely contested by the big bus companies, as it was in Manchester, who see deregulated and privatised networks as a valuable source of profit.

Topham said taking the Supertram in-house would "focus public transport on public good, ensuring local businesses and communities thrive rather than centring Stagecoach’s hunt for profits to satisfy their overseas shareholders."

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