South Yorkshire leaders to consider bringing buses under public control after Manchester move

South Yorkshire will consider following Greater Manchester in bringing buses under local authority control, the county’s political leaders have said.

Public transport users in South Yorkshire wearing masks as they travel by bus. PIcture: Dean Atkins

A joint statement issued by Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis and the Labour leaders of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley Councils confirmed franchising is “on the table” as they look to reform the way bus services are run.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester announced last week that Transport for Greater Manchester would now control local bus services on behalf of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – bringing them under local authority control for the first time since deregulation in the 1980s.

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Buses in Greater Manchester are going to be run under a franchising system from 2023 onwards, whereby the GMCA will co-ordinate the bus network and contract bus companies to run the services.

Nine of the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester backed the move, though some local bus companies – privately run firms – are not supportive.

Greater Manchester is the first region outside of London to end the deregulation of the bus network.

TfGM will control the bus services in the region as Transport for London manages the fares, routes and standards of bus services in the capital.

The joint statement by the South Yorkshire leaders said: “We’re urgently working on a plan to ensure cheap fares, improved services and better integration with other transport, as well as conversion to zero-emissions vehicles – it’s the practical detail of what good looks like, and how to get us there quickly.

“That includes ownership structures.

“We have to make sure franchising works for us, but it is on the table. Our bottom line is we need a structure that lets us build the service we need.”

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson revealed plans for a £3bn ‘bus revolution’ which aims to see lower and simpler flat fares in towns and cities and new flexible services to reconnect communities.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Mr Jarvis said: “The Government’s National Bus Strategy promises a ‘revolution’: a welcome, overdue admission of just how disastrous their ideologically driven deregulation has been.

“But the strategy is long on aspiration and short on detail, with no clarity over how 85 per cent of the promised £3bn will be spent, nor how much will reach places like South Yorkshire.

“As a one off investment for the whole country, £3bn is still very modest.”

Mr Burnham hailed the introduction of bus franchising as a ‘game changer’ for a city-region which had looked on ‘with envy’ at the capital’s integrated public transport system.

Mr Burnham, announcing his decision inside Ashton-under-Lyne interchange, said that privatisation had led to “35 years of rising fares and routes being cut”.

A move towards a uniform livery across the network is also expected in a nod to the pre-Thatcher days of Greater Manchester’s orange buses, though a decision on the colour of the new fleet has not yet been made.

Mr Burnham said the scheme was affordable, with a large chunk of it – £78m – paid for through the devolution agreement with the Government.

He said franchising would put the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) at more financial risk, but insisted that it was still the best value for taxpayers’ money. However uncertainty remains around long-term funding.

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