In response to Councillor Penny Baker, who published an open letter to Mayor Dan Jarvis in the Sheffield Star on 27 January 2020, Mayor Dan Jarvis said:
I read your open letter printed in The Star.
Like you, I am very concerned by successive rounds of bus service cuts impacting on residents right across South Yorkshire. Like you, I find late running services and the volume of cancellations on some routes frustrating and infuriating. The travelling public has in recent years been subject to steadily deteriorating services as the frequency, reliability, connectivity and the general quality of our buses spirals downwards.
I am working to arrest this decline – though there are no easy solutions.
As South Yorkshire’s Mayor, I have inherited annualised reductions in funding for buses, ultimately attributable to government cuts, resulting in a situation of ‘managed decline’ where passenger patronage has fallen steadily.
At last month’s meeting of the Mayoral Combined Authority I agreed with colleagues from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster that there must be a freeze, rather than a further reduction in the contribution their authorities make to our bus services.
Readers of The Star will know that, at my invitation, Clive Betts MP has been chairing and has nearly completed the independent Bus Commission’s review which I pledged in my manifesto would examine all aspects of bus services in South Yorkshire. This has been a mammoth task involving oral hearings with operators, user groups and participation by over 6,600 South Yorkshire residents in a survey of bus users and non-users.
Many issues have surfaced during the review, including a public perception of a lack of local political appetite to address this managed decline. While the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) does its best to manage and mitigate service cuts by operators, its architecture and approach are no longer fit for purpose. For far too long, we’ve had more of the executive than the passenger – a complete rethink is required. Arms-length arrangements have also cemented a gap between funding and accountability, and we have lost sight of where this accountability sits.
While I await the arrival of the Bus Commission’s review findings, I continue to press the operators with the aim of fending off further commercial cuts to services. This is complicated by First’s decision to sell its business.
Additionally, I take every opportunity to make representations to Government and to highlight the financial issues nationally, and locally, and to make the case for a significant increase in funding so that we can build the best possible network. But the bottom line is this: if we genuinely want to transform our local bus services (and I do), we must have sustained investment.
But we also need a fresh, imaginative approach to how we run local services, including exploring the creation of not-for-profit and co-operative bus companies and expanding public ownership and local, democratic accountability throughout our public transport system. The public want a bus service that is affordable and reliable. It’s the job of politicians – myself included – to make that happen. Thank you for taking the time to write to me about this important matter.
With my very best wishes,
Mayor Dan Jarvis MBE MP
Sheffield City Region