Time to stop sniping and work together on buses

The boss of Stagecoach Group was blunt: ‘Even with any government funding bus networks across the country simply cannot return to their pre-pandemic form’.

Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 6:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 6:49 am
The only way is to collaborate.
The only way is to collaborate.

He raises the spectre of them reducing further if government doesn’t stump up more Covid funding beyond the end of March.

Also, and in some detail, he explains what an even more perilous situation Supertram is in, continuing to make losses throughout the pandemic which are only set to grow if light rail funding ends in early April.

It is doubly tragic because Sheffield once had the country’s best bus service, costing just 2p a journey, and because we face a climate emergency to which buses are an answer.

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Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach chief executive, goes on to blame ‘insufficient action to address congestion’ and a lack of incentives to get people out of cars.

Bus bosses think politicians haven’t done nearly enough to discriminate against the private car – seen as vital to making services better and therefore more attractive to people.

But an ambitious attempt to try just that on Ecclesall and Abbeydale roads is running into ferocious and possibly irresistible opposition, creating division even among the Greens who fear it will cost them votes in May.

Then there’s the cost of living crisis hitting drivers who are demanding more pay – a strike at Stagecoach ended successfully last month – but also bumping up costs for bus companies too.

Meanwhile, exasperated passengers are noisily demanding better and more services. Responding to them, politicians have been increasingly punchy in their criticism of bus companies, firing off angry missives and demanding emergency meetings.

Privatising buses under deregulation in 1986 has been a disaster for passengers. But public sector control under franchising might never happen and full public ownership is even less likely. Politicians and bus operators have agreed to meet. They must use the opportunity to forge a new spirit of co-operation to take on government and demand it honours all of its bus funding pledges.

And it must be top of the agenda for the next mayor of South Yorkshire in May.