CAMPAIGNERS are ‘very pleased’ that new South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard has committed to making moves towards publicly-owned bus services - as they prepare to launch a survey to find the worst service in the region.
Mr Coppard joined the Better Buses for South Yorkshire group at a rally following his first mayoral meeting and expressed his support for the campaign to franchise local services.
Exploration of a franchising model has been given the backing of local authority heads, although Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told a meeting before this year’s mayoral elections there was ‘no quick fix’ and made reference to legal action raised by transport operators in Greater Manchester.
About £5m is set to be spent on assessing the franchising model and its development, but ‘further substantial costs’ would be incurred if the nod is given.
Better Buses convenor Fran Postlethwaite, from Jump, said: “We are very pleased that the new Mayor met with us just two weeks after his election to discuss how we can create a much more effective bus service.
“After almost two years campaigning to win change, we welcome the commitment he has made to take more decisive action than we saw under the previous administration.
“Our communities and our climate need effective and reliable public transport, especially in the light of the current cost of living crisis.
Franchising should be the first step towards a return to full public ownership of the buses.
“This demands a shift in government policy and we hope to work with the Mayor and the local councils to bring about this change and the increased funding we need.”
Under a franchising scheme, accountability would be taken from private operators - who have overseen numerous service cuts, fare increases and recent strike action over pay - to local councils.
The process, once started, is expected to take more than three years.
After speaking to the more than 40 people at the rally, Mr Coppard signed the Better Buses pledge promising to move quickly forward with the franchising process.
Trade unions have backed campaigners’ calls to instate a 100-day pledge for the successful candidate.
The vote in favour of the 100-day pledge was passed unanimously following a similar vote in 2021 which led Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, to begin the bus franchising process just 50 days after she was elected.
Outgoing Mayor and current Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis claimed the region had been ‘shafted’ by the government over a recent refusal to award South Yorkshire any government funding to improve services.
Mr Jarvis’ ambition in putting forward the £474m bid - from a total £1.2bn government funding pot - was questioned in a special debate at Westminster Hall in the days preceding the election, where it was claimed he was ‘more concerned with attacking the government’.
The bid would have resulted in a fare cap, greater priority for buses, new high-tech shelters and free travel for under-18s - but the plans were dismissed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Following the meeting, the Better Buses campaign is to launch a competition to find the worst bus service in South Yorkshire.
If you would like to nominate your local service, contact firstname.lastname@example.org giving details of your bad experiences.