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South Yorkshire Mayor's office to "consider" bringing buses under public control

The statement comes as Barnsley Council joins Sheffield in calling for the introduction of franchising to improve the region's services.

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Bus drivers striking for better pay in Barnsley on Sunday.

Better Buses For South Yorkshire.

A statement released by the Mayor of South Yorkshire, and co-signed by the county's four council leaders, has said they will consider starting a process to bring buses back under public control.

The news comes amid strikes on Stagecoach services in Sheffield and First Group's announcement of new cuts to services across South Yorkshire.

Tram services in Sheffield, which are run by Stagecoach, have also been temporarily halved due to a shortage of drivers.

The statement said that First's proposed cuts were "deeply disappointing" and that the threat of further reductions to services by bus operators "remains very real."

"At a moment when we have shown our commitment to build a better bus service for South Yorkshire, cuts would directly undermine that ambition, and risk fuelling a vicious cycle of decline," it continues.

"Whatever the challenges facing operators, a rush to reduce services seriously calls into question their willingness to be credible partners in building the transformation they claim to support."

The leaders have said that at the January meeting of the Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) they will "consider starting the formal process of investigating bus franchising as a way to deliver the service South Yorkshire needs."

Franchising would see the mayor's office set bus routes and timetables and collect fares, with individual services contracted out to private operators.

On Thursday, Barnsley Council voted to join Sheffield Council in calling on outgoing mayor Dan Jarvis to start the process of introducing franchising.

Other 'metro mayors' across the UK including Manchester's Andy Burnham and Tracey Brabin in West Yorkshire have already started this process, and campaigners say South Yorkshire has been "stuck in the slow lane."

Six of the seven contenders to be Labour's candidate for Mayor in next year's elections have also backed franchising, which would see the region adopt a system similar to London's.

In 2012, the Yorkshire Post revealed that bus journeys outside London had halved since deregulation in 1986. In the capital, where buses have remained under public control, ridership was found to have doubled.

“By continuing to argue for a so-called partnership with local bus operators, where the final say about our services lies with First and Stagecoach, the region’s leaders have fallen into a trap of their own making", Matthew Topham of Better Buses for South Yorkshire told Now Then.

“In the good times, bus operators are more than happy to pocket public money in return for a few minor changes. When the chips are down, they will cut routes, hike fares, underpay their drivers to protect their bottom line – and to hell with our communities."

He continued: “Public control would protect our city against route cuts, unreliable buses and rocketing fares. We’re delighted that after our campaign has forced Sheffield and Barnsley to support bringing buses into public control, the rest of the MCA is coming around to the idea.”

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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