‘If we want a bus franchise for South Yorkshire, we have to find a way to pay for it’ – Mayor Dan Jarvis
South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis has said if people want a bus franchise, he will have to ‘find the money to pay for it’.
Mayor Jarvis, speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, said the bringing buses back into public ownership is being considered but admitted the option was ‘expensive’ and not likely to happen in the short term.
The mayor said that bus services in South Yorkshire were ‘not good enough’ and they would be presenting a plan to Government as part of their national strategy in June.
Franchising would enable the Sheffield City Region to have massive influence on setting fares and routes across the county. The option is heavily opposed by private operators.
“We need a system that gets us back to where we were a generation ago, of having a world class service that is affordable, reliable and sustainable. Everybody agrees that if you want it, you’ve got to pay for it,” Mayor Jarvis said.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the area would launch a bus franchise at a cost of £135 million. But Mayor Jarvis said leaders over the Pennines had been planning this for some time.
“While franchising offers huge opportunities and huge potential, it’s also very expensive. So what I’ve got to do is work out what’s the art of the possible and what is the best possible bus service that we can afford,” Mayor Jarvis said.
“If you look at what’s happening in Greater Manchester, they’ve costed it at the 135 million mark and it will take five years to roll out.
“None of these things are easy, but what we’re doing and what we’ve been doing for several years, is looking at what is the best possible system that we can get here in South Yorkshire.”
The Sheffield City Region mayor also bemoaned the current funding situation and the gulf in resources directed to London. Figures show that residents in the capital benefit from £76 per head on bus services compared to just £5 per head in South Yorkshire.
Before 1986, metropolitan areas like South Yorkshire controlled bus services and were able to set low fares with the help of subsidies.
South Yorkshire was nationally recognised for its service and was well known for having fares as little as two pence a journey.
But the then Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher decided bus services should be run on a commercial basis, which then led to higher fares and a less convenient service in some areas.
It also led to companies running the same service on profitable routes while under-serving ones that were less likely to make money, often hitting rural areas the hardest.
In contrast, bus patronage in London, where services are run privately but are still regulated under Transport for London, has more than doubled in the past three decades.
The mayor said he had invested money into the bus system recently and pointed to the extension of fares for young people.
Mayor Jarvis and South Yorkshire leader said concessionary fares would extend to those aged 21 and under which means more young people will be able to board buses and trams for 80 pence a journey.
This has cost Sheffield City Region £6.7 million and will initially run for a year from June 2021.
“We’re investing in our network so from this year’s gain share, we put millions of pounds in, we didn’t have to do that, I could have spent that money on other things, but I’ve done it, because our busses are an important part of our life in South Yorkshire, and we’re ambitious for what we want to achieve.
“I am ambitious for the network, I want it to be nationally leading on this but if you want that better bus service you’ve got to pay for it so we’re trying to map all of out as quickly as we possibly can, whilst at the same time not yet knowing what money will come from national government through the National Bus Strategy.”
The National Bus Strategy was launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in March with a framework for franchising and a commitment to spend £3bn which includes 4,000 zero-emissions vehicles.
The plan also includes simpler fares with daily price caps, increased services on off-peak hours and better connected fares and ticket systems with local tram and train networks.
There is also a national commitment to remove the most polluting buses off the road by an unspecified date.
“The National Bus Strategy for the first time in a generation, provides the opportunity to unlock more investment from Government,” Mayor Jarvis said.
“But as yet, we don’t know what that actually looks like so nobody in Government can say to me as the mayor, you’re going to get X million to invest in your buses.
“Until I know what money is available. I can’t take a final view about what is the best solution for South Yorkshire. We’re looking at a range of options.”