'Staggering' fall in bus passengers in South Yorkshire prompts call for tighter controls
The number of passengers using buses in South Yorkshire has dropped by more than three fifths, prompting calls for greater regulation of services.
There were 268 million passenger journeys made in the county during 1986 - the year buses were deregulated, enabling private operators to compete over routes.
That number has since plummeted by 62 per cent to 102m last year - a 'staggering' decline which Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts claims shows the need for tighter controls.
"In 1986, South Yorkshire had a renowned bus service which was cheap, frequent and comprehensive," he said.
"Since they decided competition was going to solve everything and deregulated buses, we've had ridiculous competition on the most profitable routes and very little provision on less commercially attractive routes.
"The fall in passenger numbers is staggering, but it's no longer a public service in the way I understand a public service to operate."
Mr Betts singled out the case of the number 71 bus not travelling up Station Road in Mosborough, which he said had left pensioners in the area struggling to carry shopping bags to and from their nearest bus stop.
With greater regulation, he suggested, some buses could be taken off the best-served routes to cover neighbourhoods like Mosborough which have a more limited service.
Mr Betts obtained the figures from the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), which coordinates public transport in the region.
He highlighted them during a Commons debate on the Bus Services Bill, which is designed to give local authorities greater control over services and is currently passing through parliament.
The proposed changes would give areas with a directly elected mayor - as is planned for the Sheffield City Region - new franchising powers.
This would enable local authorities in those areas to specify the bus services needed, which operators would compete for the right to provide.
Areas without a directly elected mayor would be able to apply for franchising powers, under the bill, but would have to prove they are properly equipped to use them.
The draft legislation is also designed to 'strengthen' transport partnerships and provide a 'step change' in the information available to passengers.
Before 1986, public transport in South Yorkshire was described as the 'envy of the country', with heavy subsidies helping to keep it cheap and accessible.
Fares were then the lowest in the UK, at just 2p a mile, and there were more than 200 routes plus specialist services for workers and students.
Transport chiefs in Sheffield this week announced a hike in bus fares, with the cost of a CityBus Day pass set to rise by 30p to £4.30 from next month.
SYPTE's executive director Stephen Edwards said the sharp fall in bus passenger numbers was not unique to South Yorkshire.
He claimed a decline of more than 46 per cent in England's metropolitan areas outside London had been driven by numerous factors including greater car ownership and more rail and tram travel.
“Bus partnerships between bus companies, local authorities and transport authorities have been developed across the country with a joint aim of better co-ordinating services and simplifying tickets to encourage passenger growth," he said.
"We welcome provision in the Bus Services Bill to strengthen these existing means and to introduce new regulations, to enable continued work to reverse the national trend of bus use decline."