South Yorkshire leaders to formally examine bringing buses back into public control through franchising

Mayor Dan Jarvis has said South Yorkshire will formally examine bringing buses back into public control through the system of franchising.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 25th February 2022, 4:56 pm

The mayor said the assessment process of franchising was right for the region and that the current system in South Yorkshire is ‘not delivering as it should’.

But he added that franchising was ‘not a silver bullet’ and that challenges will remain whichever system is taken on in the future adding that central government needed to step up to provide proper funding for services.

A document published by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority shows from start to finish, bringing in a bus franchise to the region would take three and a half years to fully implement.

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A document published by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority shows from start to finish, bringing in a bus franchise to the region would take three and a half years to fully implement.

The costs of the assessment exercise are forecast to be in the region of £3 million. In addition, a further £2 million would be required for the next phase of activity.

The announcement comes following a public war of words between the mayor and bus bosses in South Yorkshire.

Mayor Jarvis published a letter to both First and Stagecoach which said operators were ‘hiking fares and slashing services at the earliest possible moment’ which was harming the recovery of bus patronage in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision, which will set the wheels in motion for greater public control over buses, will be put before a special Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) meeting on March 4.

South Yorkshire’s proposed assessment of bus franchising follows plans to develop an Enhanced Partnership in response to the government’s National Bus Strategy.

The partnership’s blueprint for bus reform – founded on feedback from the region’s Bus Review – 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.

The Enhanced Partnership, recently subject to public consultation, would form a legally binding agreement between SYMCA and bus operators to deliver the actions set out in South Yorkshire’s Bus Service Improvement Plan.Mayor Jarvis said: “I continue to believe in the huge potential of our buses, but it is clear the current system in South Yorkshire is not delivering as it should. We have to look at every option to transform our region’s transport – and that has to include franchising.”

“Franchising is not a silver bullet and we should be under no illusion about the challenges we face, irrespective of which bus model we choose. But greater public control has the potential to help build a bus system that better meets the needs and priorities of South Yorkshire. The assessment is a critical step that sets the stage for franchising if we are satisfied the case has been made.

“Nevertheless, we’ve set out strong ambitions and invested millions to improve services. But just when we should be working together to rebuild public transport, bus companies that received millions in public subsidy during the pandemic are rushing to cuts and fare hikes that will cut off communities and lock in the harm done by Covid – while the government is asleep at the wheel.

“Moving to the formal franchising assessment is the right decision for South Yorkshire.

“But I want and need operators to act like real partners now, for government to continue emergency funding support, and provide the transformative investment they promised. Without that we cannot hope to reverse the cycle of decline – and build the future that South Yorkshire deserves.”