Mayor Dan Jarvis and local leaders have given the green light to assess bus franchising in South Yorkshire.
It sets in motion the legally-required work to see whether a franchising model – which would bring regulation of routes, frequencies, fares, and tickets under local control – could help efforts to transform the region’s transport.
Mayor of South Yorkshire, Dan Jarvis, said:
“This is a big day for our region. The shortcomings of the current free-for-all bus system have become painfully clear to everyone in South Yorkshire, and we need to establish whether greater public control would deliver the transformation we are working to achieve. This assessment will let us test that case and create the foundation to move to franchising if it is confirmed.
“There are no silver bullets – most of all, there will still be an urgent need for more investment whatever we do. But I promised to make strengthening our buses a top priority – and by putting all the options on the table, that is exactly what we are doing.
“In the short term, we face serious and urgent challenges, with Covid adding to already-significant pressures on our buses. But while we’ve fought to protect our services, we’ve not lost sight of wider ambitions for them – we’ve put in millions to improve services, create fare concessions, and give buses greater priority on our roads.
“Now we need the Government to belatedly fulfil their own promise of transformative investment, so we can bring passengers back, build a bus network our people can be proud of – and help create a stronger, greener, fairer South Yorkshire for all.”
Under a franchising scheme, accountability for bus services would transfer from private operators to South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority. Putting franchising in place would take a number of years.
Co-chair of the MCA’s Transport and Environment Board, and the Leader of Rotherham Council, Cllr Chris Read said:
“For too long when people have complained about bus services, there has been almost nothing councils could do. That must change. We’re determined to do all that we can to improve our bus services and I’m glad that we’ve now got to a position where we can formally begin the legal exploration of franchising, and taking on some of the new legal powers of regulation.
“This is only the beginning of the process and nowhere in the country outside London yet operates a franchising model. We’ve got to work our way through all the options, scope and cost over the next few years.
“In the meantime, we need the government to ensure services aren’t lost before passenger numbers have fully recovered from Covid. They must come good on their commitment to capital investment in new buses and bus priority measures, and we need the funding now to cap ticket prices across South Yorkshire so that bus users like me can see the benefits of that before it’s too late.”
The assessment of bus franchising follows plans to develop an Enhanced Partnership in response to the government’s National Bus Strategy (Bus Back Better). The legally binding agreement between SYMCA and local bus operators includes proposals for free travel for under 18s and capped fares for all passengers, bus priority measures to make journeys quicker, better journey planning information, ‘turn up and go’ bus options, and zero emission buses to make travel cleaner and greener towards a net-zero future.