POLITICAL leaders are set to formally begin exploring the process for franchising South Yorkshire’s bus services.
The move — set to cost about £5 million, according to a council report — would give greater public control over the region’s services.
Campaigners have called for buses to be franchised so decisions about routes, timetables and prices are “made in the interests of the public, not shareholders”.
South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority is set to approve exploring the formal investigation process for pressing on with the move.
RMBC leader Cllr Chris Read said: “Our buses have been beset by the twin problems of Mrs Thatcher’s deregulation 40 years ago, compounded by funding cuts and a lack of long term investment which is now bringing the bus network towards breaking point.
“For too long when people have complained about bus services, there has been almost nothing councils could do. That has to change.
“So I’m glad that we’ve now got to a position where we can formally begin the legal exploration of franchising, and taking on some of the new legal powers open to councils to regulate bus services.
“But this is only the beginning of the process. Nowhere in the country yet operates a franchising model, and the estimated costs of running services in the way we’d like — cheaper, greener, more regularly — potentially brings us to an eyewatering total cost.”
A report to the authority stated that if the board agrees to begin a formal assessment, the £5 million cost will need to be “underwritten from reserves”, adding that this would “reduce the MCA’s financial resilience in the context of known risks and pressures that are likely to crystallise in the new financial year”.
South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis warned that franchising was not a “silver bullet” — but added that greater public control had the potential to build a system that better needed passengers’ needs.
He added: “We should be under no illusion about the challenges we face, irrespective of which bus model we choose.”
Meanwhile, Mr Jarvis and other political leaders accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “asleep at the wheel” as the Covid-19 emergency funding nears an end.
It was warned that 50 per cent of South Yorkshire’s buses could be scaled back or cut as services “face disaster” as the “cliff edge” date of March 31 drew closer.
On Tuesday the government announced a £150 million subsidy for bus and light rail across England. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “This funding will help authorities and operators work together to provide even better services for people right across the country.”
Mr Jarvis said welcomed the “belated” announcement — adding: “Local leaders and I have invested millions while exploring every option to improve our network.
“Now it is time for government match our ambition by providing the transformative investment their National Bus Strategy promised, to help us to deliver the bus network passengers in South Yorkshire need and deserve.”