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Mayor Oliver Coppard

SOUTH YORKSHIRE’S MAYOR ANNOUNCES MAJOR NEXT STEP TOWARDS RADICAL TRANSFORMATION OF BUS SERVICES

Published 4 March 2024 at 10:16am

South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, has welcomed the conclusion of the Franchising Assessment which states that buses in the region should be taken back under public control with depots and fleet owned by the Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) as the preferred option, paving the way for a radical transformation of bus services as quickly and legally as possible.

The Franchising Assessment report is subject to approval at an MCA Board meeting on 12 March 2024. If it is approved, the next step is for the MCA to obtain a report from an independent auditor in order to proceed with the Franchising Scheme. Then a 12-week public consultation must be run ensure that local passengers, businesses and transport providers can have their say before the MCA takes the decision as to whether to implement the Scheme.

Mayor Coppard has been committed to bus reform since day one of being elected, with feedback from 30 public meetings on bus services across all four boroughs in South Yorkshire telling him the current system is not working for them.

Radical transformation

South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, said: “At next week’s MCA Board meeting, we will be taking a big decision about the future of our buses; the next big step towards radically transforming how buses work in South Yorkshire.

“Because right now our bus services are in a spiral of decline. That’s not just a disaster for our economy, or our environment, it’s denying opportunity to people right across our communities.

“That’s why I have always been committed to radically improving our public transport network; because ultimately if we want people to stay near and go far in South Yorkshire, we need a better public transport system. We are already getting the tram back under public control, and now this is another huge step towards us getting better buses and getting back the world class bus system we once had.

“Having seen the full Franchising Assessment, I believe the assessment shows that bus franchising – taking buses back into public control, so we make all the major decisions not private bus companies – is the best way to do just that; to radically transform how our buses work, and to deliver the services we deserve. Next week’s meeting will allow us to take the next big step towards bus reform and if the MCA Board agree, we will then move to an independent audit; the next stage in the process.

“I want us to have nothing less than a world class, fully integrated public transport system connecting up our buses, trams, trains and active travel routes, so we can give everybody choice and freedom about how to travel and move across South Yorkshire.”

Strategic control

The bus market in South Yorkshire has been experiencing a continuous cycle of decline while its reliance on public funding to sustain bus service levels has been increasing:

  • Over the past decade, bus mileage declined by 42%.
  • In 2012/13, 13% of the bus network mileage was supported by public funding. By 2022/23 this had grown to 20%.
  • For 2023/24, the forecast is that the proportion of publicly supported buses will increase further to 24%, which is being enabled by the MCA investing one-off reserves to maintain and stabilise service levels.

Bus services have become less frequent, less reliable and operated by an ageing fleet of buses. South Yorkshire’s buses on average are 11.5 years old (the national average is 8 years) against a life expectancy of 15 years. Investment to renew the ageing bus fleet is required urgently from an economic perspective, but also to achieve net zero aims for South Yorkshire, to reduce pollution and improve the health of residents.

In terms of investment to improve bus services, South Yorkshire receives just over £10 per head of population of government funding towards buses while West Yorkshire receives nearly £40 per head. Greater Manchester gets £39 per head and West Midlands £36 per head. On top of this, South Yorkshire received £0 from the first round of the government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan funding, and it was the only MCA not to receive anything.

Through a Franchising Scheme, the MCA would have strategic control of the bus network in South Yorkshire, and the flexibility to make changes within a more sustainable investment model and reinvesting revenue into growing the bus network.

Greater impact

In turn this could help improve punctuality, reliability, consistency of standards and accessibility, giving the MCA stronger contractual levers to do this, and could contribute to improving bus patronage.

Franchising could also have a greater impact on addressing the existing challenges around fare and ticketing complexity, as fares policy would solely reside with the MCA in this model.

In terms of the financial implications of franchising, the Assessment notes that it will require significant capital investment to procure depots and renew the bus fleet as well as funding to support the transition period. It also requires ongoing revenue support which will be achieved by raising income through the transport levy, the element of which funds bus activity, would need to be inflation linked (RPI +1% from 2030 onwards). These financing methods are making the franchising option affordable and able to generate a surplus that can be used to support a further cycle of fleet investment needs.

South Yorkshire’s Franchising Assessment is clear that the MCA taking control of the depots and fleets is affordable and value for money and the best option it considered which also included assessing the current model of Enhanced Partnership and Enhanced Partnership Plus.

Under the preferred franchising model, the MCA would make the depots and fleet available to bidders for the relevant franchise lots, to be used for franchise contracts under the contract terms. The MCA would acquire the legacy fleet from incumbent operators. They would also be responsible for financing, funding, procuring and delivering enhancements to the depots and fleet, with the operators being responsible for routine maintenance of the fleet and depots. This option opens up access to new entrants to South Yorkshire’s bus market and encourage financially competitive bids.

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Last Updated: 07/03/2024

Published In: Governance, Transport, Mayor, Featured

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