Hundreds of millions still needed for South Yorks bus plans

In a sign of the drastic financial situation the bus sector faces, plans to improve services in South Yorkshire alone depend on hundreds of millions of pounds of government funding that the region is unlikely to secure, it has emerged.

As Transport Network has reported, the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) is pursuing a franchising model but in the meantime it is implementing an Enhanced Partnership (EP) with bus operators, which is required to secure cash under the National Bus Strategy.

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Metro mayor Dan Jarvis and local council leaders have now agreed on the EP, which the SYMCA said would transform public transport in the region, including capping fares and bringing in free travel for young people.

Mr Jarvis said the agreement ‘puts in motion real, practical changes that passengers will benefit from’ but warned that key elements such as free travel for under 18s and capped fares need funding under the strategy.

In fact the money needed to implement the full plan could be up to a quarter of the total available from a reduced national pot, suggesting SYMCA will be one of many authorities across the country without the funding to fully realise their bus ambitions.

Mr Jarvis said: ‘To progress our plans, to deliver a bus system people can be proud of, we need government to provide the investment they promised - to level up bus services and build the future that South Yorkshire deserves.’

The SYMCA said the agreement ‘puts the region in contention for a share of £3bn of national funding pledged by government to encourage local bus use’.

However, the Government has already said that only £1.2bn will be available to improve local services, in addition to cash under the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS) and funding for zero emission buses.

The SYMCA told Transport Network that it has secured £176m under the CRSTS to deliver its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) but the October 2021 ‘Initial Version’ of its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), referred to ‘a requirement of some £430 – £474 million for this Initial BSIP for South Yorkshire, beyond existing commitments and anticipated contributions’.

The authority said that not all of the CRSTS cash will go toward the BSIP proposals, meaning that the region could require in excess of a further £300m from central government. It is unlikely to secure this level of funding, particularly as it will be competing for the cash with authorities that have not received CRSTS settlements.

The SYMCA said it will also introduce 27 zero emission buses if its bid under the Government’s ZEBRA scheme is successful and is also ‘developing options for other potential funding’.

It said the legally binding EP agreement between itself and local operators will remain in place for between three and five years, allowing progress to be made on bus improvements at the same time as the formal assessment of bus franchising is undertaken.

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