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South Yorkshire's buses "stuck in the slow lane" say campaigners, as crucial election looms

New data from the Department for Transport shows the region is falling behind on public transport improvements – as Sheffield Council urges the next Mayor to look at greater public control.

Bus
Phil Sangwell on Wikimedia Commons.

A transparency request to the Department for Transport (DfT) has revealed that South Yorkshire is further behind any other northern Labour region in bringing buses under public control.

Labour administrations in Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire have all initiated a process known as a Public Control Pathway to eventually introduce a franchising system.

Even Conservative mayors in Cambridge & Peterborough and the West Midlands have started the process, while South Yorkshire has not taken any steps towards public control.

"South Yorkshire's buses used to be the envy of the world – across the UK, speak to anyone over 40 and they will probably recall marvelling at our 5 pence fares, frequent routes and reliable buses," Matthew Topham of Better Buses For South Yorkshire told Now Then.

"The region's current leaders have been given the opportunity by Westminster to start moving us in that direction once again. Instead, they have us stuck in the slow lane with places like Cambridgeshire and the West Midlands overtaking us."

Franchising would see the mayor's office set bus routes, timetables and fares, with individual services then contracted out to private companies, as happens in London and most European cities.

As well as moves towards a franchising system, every other Labour-run region has instigated a private partnership with local bus companies to improve services in lieu of full public control.

On Monday, campaigners with the Better Buses for South Yorkshire campaign lobbied a meeting of the region's leaders, calling on them to kickstart an investigation into public control.

A motion passed by Sheffield City Council on Thursday (18 November) urged the next South Yorkshire Mayor to undertake a "statutory assessment of franchising".

Topham said the development was “a huge step forward.”

Despite promising in his manifesto that he would "use regulatory powers, and eventually franchising, to improve bus services," outgoing mayor Dan Jarvis will leave office without using powers granted to the region by the government.

Campaigners hope that the next Mayor of South Yorkshire, who will be elected on 5 May 2022, will join fellow mayors around the country in exploring public control for services.

Dr Simon Biltcliffe of the Yorkshire Party, currently the only confirmed mayoral candidate, told Now Then that low or no carbon transport was "critical to hitting net-zero", but said the party did not have a specific position on franchising.

"The Yorkshire Party would review each council as to which method would be most beneficial to the area – we don't believe in a one size fits all approach."

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