Publicly owned Supertram could drive South Yorkshire economy

A RELIABLE Supertram service could boost the area’s economy, according to the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber.
South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard's combined authority has big ambitions for Supertram including extending the network.South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard's combined authority has big ambitions for Supertram including extending the network.
South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard's combined authority has big ambitions for Supertram including extending the network.

South Yorkshire's Supertram has come back under public control after 27 years of being run privately, with the network operating on four routes and a tram-train extension connecting to Rotherham.

Supertram had been run by Stagecoach since 1997, but South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard announced that it was back in public hands as the contract came to an end.

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President of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber Matthew Stephens said the change could prove positive and added: "Effective and reliable public transport networks are vital for everyone living, working or visiting South Yorkshire. SYMCA’s own research has consistently shown that reliable public transport networks don’t just bring about new employment opportunities but can also help to unlock business productivity and drive regional economic growth. I welcome the move to return Supertram to public ownership, especially if this means that investment can be secured to unlock new areas of South Yorkshire’s economy.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge Mayor Coppard now faces is being able to secure the funds required to bring Supertram to all areas of South Yorkshire. At present, just one line operates outside of the boundaries of Sheffield and if Supertram is to fulfil its potential when it comes to driving economic growth then clearly greater, faster connections are required between our town and city centres. For example, at present it takes over an hour to travel between Barnsley and Rotherham via bus and 45 minutes to make the journey by train. This clearly needs to change.

“When the Supertram project was first mooted in the early 1990s the network was expected to reach all areas of South Yorkshire within a few years of its launch. It’s clear through the delivery of projects such as the new planned Tram-train stop at Magna that there are plans to extend the reach of the existing network and if Mayor Coppard can follow the example set in Manchester by using the tram network to improve connectivity across the whole of the region then this will help to unlock new jobs as well as acting as a catalyst towards building a stronger regional economy.”

Since opening in 1994, the network has slowly grown though initially the £240m scheme was seen as a failure with commuters opting to use cheaper and more regular buses instead.

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But 30 years on, Mr Coppard said this was “the first step in our journey back to a public transport system that puts people first, connecting our communities”.

"Today is a historic day for South Yorkshire," Oliver Coppard said.

There are plans to create a “bigger and better” tram network, with a new stop at Magna in Rotherham, as well as talks about expanding to Stocksbridge, Barrow Hill and Chesterfield in Derbyshire, and possibly connecting with hospitals.

Commuters have been told not to expect big changes straight away as the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) officially takes over.

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However, there are plans in the short-term to deep clean all trams and stops in the next 100 days, with refurbishment of trams by 2027 and a new fleet by 2032, subject to government funding.

The service had been running at a loss, leading to lack of investment and a poor experience for passengers, SYMCA said.

“South Yorkshire Supertram is ours again. But we’re inheriting a South Yorkshire Supertram that simply hasn’t had the investment it has needed for far too long.

"So today we start to turn that around. It won't be quick or easy, but my commitment is to create a South Yorkshire Supertram network that gets the support and care it needs to deliver for South Yorkshire,” Mr Coppard added