South Yorkshire’s four council leaders - including Sir Steve Houghton - will hold crunch talks with Mayor Dan Jarvis, who is also MP for Barnsley Central, to discuss the feasibility of starting a county-wide franchise amid concerns over major operators’ failing services.
However, a report released this week from regeneration and culture service boss Kathy McArdle - which will be discussed by Barnsley’s cabinet members on Wednesday - outlines the potential cost in doing so.
About £5m would be spent on assessing the franchising model and its development, but ‘further substantial costs’ will be incurred if the nod is given.
The report said: “The £5m estimated cost would simply be incurred in doing the development work to implement franchising and does not cover the eventual running and operating costs of any future franchising scheme.
“Of more significance, there are likely to be further substantial costs associated with moving to a franchising model including transition costs, planned improvements to bus services which are currently unfunded and significant additional costs associated with maintaining existing services as a consequence of declining patronage and other factors.
“Based on figures from the Transport for Greater Manchester franchising scheme and other local estimates, these costs could be in the region of £200m over the period of the development and transition phases.
“These would have potentially huge consequences for the council’s budgets, council tax levels and services moving forwards.( “The costs - and time - of the formal assessment would be saved if a decision not to proceed was taken at this stage.
“However, proceeding to undertake a formal assessment would give a greater detail about the costs and benefits as a whole, making for a more informed decision on the impacts for Barnsley.”
Under a franchising scheme, the overall accountability and balance of financial risk for bus service delivery will transfer from private sector bus operators to South Yorkshire’s four councils.
Members from the Better Buses for South Yorkshire campaign group have been supporting the model and believe there is ‘no alternative’ in order to reverse the decline, with Stagecoach and First coming under particular scrutiny.
A spokesperson added: “Public control, the system used in London, means fares, routes and standards are set by local politicians, not private companies as is currently the case.
“South Yorkshire Mayor and Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis’ own bus review recommended starting the investigation in June 2020.
“They delayed, the government gave another opportunity to start last summer, but again they delayed.
“If leaders think passengers can afford yet another delay, they clearly don’t have the first idea about the state of local services.
“Members have met young families isolated for hours at bus stations due to cancelled buses, shop workers who see their first couple of hours’ pay each day spent before they even get home and older people who put off hospital appointments because the direct bus route has been axed.
“Over a quarter of households in Barnsley do not have a car - without a decent bus service, people are left isolated, unable to access services or keep in touch with friends and relatives.
“The only way to encourage car owners to use public transport is by providing the kind of transport system we had before 1986.
“We need buses to be frequent, reliable and affordable but as long as our buses are run for the benefit of the bus companies and their shareholders, we won’t see the fundamental change we need.”