Liberal Democrats urge Sheffield Council to leave Bus Partnership

Councillor Ian Auckland with fellow Liberal Democrat councillors with a 'save our buses' placard
Councillor Ian Auckland with fellow Liberal Democrat councillors with a 'save our buses' placard

Liberal Democrat councillors have called on Sheffield City Council to leave the Bus Partnership, following a fall in the number of passengers.

The Bus Partnership is a voluntary agreement currently made up of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), the council and First South Yorkshire bus operators, Stagecoach Sheffield, TM Travel and Sheffield Community Transport.

Liberal Democrat councillors Steve Ayris and Ian Auckland waiting at a bus stop

Liberal Democrat councillors Steve Ayris and Ian Auckland waiting at a bus stop

It was set up to provide a better coordinated network of buses and trams and make it easier for people to travel around the city.

But councillors Ian Auckland, shadow cabinet for transport and development, and Penny Baker, who represents Stannington ward, have said it is currently failing to deliver and Sheffield would benefit from leaving the partnership to 'take back control'. 

Coun Auckland said: “Decisive action needs to be taken to put the passenger in the driving seat. I am very concerned that the long slow decline of our bus services will accelerate and we will enter a dead-end of service cuts, higher fares and fewer passengers.

“In the area I represent I fear for the future of services such as the 18 and 19 which link Norton Lees, Woodseats and Chancet Wood, on which holders of concessionary passes depend particularly.

“Quite simply, the Labour Council are party to every service cut and fare increase. That’s not what the public expect from a Labour council. We demand better.”

Coun Auckland will put forward a motion to a full council meeting next week, outlining why they believe residents will benefit from the change, which will be seconded by coun Baker.

In their motion they state the partnership is currently failing to meet residents needs in terms of ‘unnecessary’ cuts to services that are preventing people from going about their daily life.

They said a better alternative would be to terminate the contract ‘at the earliest time’ and introduce a statutory bus quality contract.

They also called on Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis to use his bus franchising powers to improve services.  

It comes after it was revealed the partnership lost 10 percent of their patronage since 2012, approximately five million passenger journeys per year.

Coun Auckland said he was also concerned this would lead to an increase in car use which would add to air pollution.

He put the decline down to service cuts, increases in fares and lack of confidence in the reliability of the service, considering the decline in punctuality from 87 percent to 84 percent.

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Lib Dems, said: "Under the partnership, bus companies come to us and say what big changes they want.

"While we are in the Bus Partnership we can't have much control over the service, which is causing growing discontent."

Ben Gilligan, director of public transport at SYPTE, said the decline was part of a national trend that has been dropping since 2008/9.

He said the increase was down to a number of factors including congestion in urban areas leading to extended journey times, increase in car ownership, people working more from home and a recent growth in online shopping.

He added that the partnership was crucial to delivering the best service possible.

He said: “Another factor is a modal shift among passengers, that is people switching from bus to tram, for instance, or trains, or bikes and other modes of travel. Key factors in the Sheffield area also include the relative cost of taxis compared to public transport.

“Despite the national trend, SYPTE is working hard to attract more bus passengers in the region.

“The Sheffield Bus Partnership has had 1.3million more fare paying passenger journeys per year and the reliability of bus services have increased and is now measured at 99% for 2018.

“The original objectives of the SBP – a stable and co-ordinated approach to the network and services; partner agreement on dates for service changes and previous consultations; reduced fares; agreed highway interventions; agreed bus fleet investment; improved network promotion and accountability for service delivery – have been successfully achieved.

“And the enhanced multi-operator ticketing offer introduced in 2015 has resulted in fares that are the second cheapest in the country. This was also coupled with a more efficient use of resources across the network resulting in more co-ordinated services across key bus corridors. These changes could only be delivered through the innovative Partnership approach adopted in Sheffield.

“We still have challenges ahead to increase bus patronage, of course. We’re now looking into how to make journeys faster with limited stop services and review of bus stops, for instance, simplified fares and tickets and network simplification to attract more customers.”

The Green Party have also submitted a motion calling on Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis to improve the bus services.

Both will be discussed at a full council meeting on Wednesday, November 7.