A report was submitted which provided an overview of the key opportunities and challenges facing public transport in South Yorkshire, together with the Government’s public transport policies and funding streams to deliver improvements.
M Swales referred to the three broad policy issues and the context for public transport changes. There had been a number of public transport challenges in South Yorkshire pre-pandemic in relation to the commercial operation for the bus network, the tram system and awaiting the major announcements for trains with the Improving the Rail System (IRP). COVID-19 recovery was now a key policy context, which had impacted on the local patronage around bus and tram use and the funding received by the Government to provide support, together with the uncertainty for future funding. Members were referred to the levelling up growth agenda which had produced a number of funding opportunities, but was a politically challenging agenda regionally to ensure that the region was well represented in making its case for levelling up and to receive its funding and support.
Members noted the following key points:-
· The Government had announced the National Bus Strategy, with a requirement for a Bus Service Improvement Plan to be developed by autumn 2021. The Bus Review had highlighted the major financial infrastructure challenges faced around bus and tram.
· In relation to rail, the IRP was still awaited from the Government. There were a number of large impacts for South Yorkshire which included the Manchester Rail Recovery task force, which had been established post the 2018 challenges, with the system coming to a halt through the Manchester Interchange and its effect on South Yorkshire using the direct link to Manchester Airport.
· The details of the HS2 eastern leg were still awaited and would be included within the IRP, together with the significant potential leverage of growth opportunities for South Yorkshire and other parts of Yorkshire and the whole eastern leg.
· The tram concession would conclude in 2024, and a forward look was required to determine what the response would be together with the commercial considerations. Consideration was also required to the tram which was now reaching the end of its rolling stock.
· The Government Gear Change Strategy that had been announced in 2020 now faced a large emphasis on active travel. South Yorkshire had made a very strong commitment to active travel.
· The Levelling Up Fund had been quickly announced, and the MCA had submitted a bid for £50m in June 2021, which focused on improving the public transport passenger experience.
· Work was underway with the local authority partners to develop the South Yorkshire proposal for the Intra-City Transport Settlement (ICTS), to make a submission by the end of July 2021. However, the terms of reference guidance was awaited from the Government.
Professor Petley referred to the commitment for all vehicles to have zero emission by 2035. He queried the position in relation to the development of the charging infrastructure.
M Swales commented that the charging infrastructure was broken down into various areas i.e. how this could be undertaken for public transport and the limitations for technology, public charging and home charging. Consideration had been given for public transport and charging, which had formed part of the LUF bid and ICTS. M Swales’ colleagues at the PTE were currently reviewing the Government’s Zebra Fund. There were limitations to the bus capability in terms of electric vehicles; the layout of Sheffield still presented a number of challenges. Work was underway between the local authorities to ascertain what could be undertaken to provide support for the roll out and to make funding applications. A report had been presented to the last MCA meeting in relation to public charging infrastructure, where there would be a significant investment. It was hoped that this would be rolled out to each of the localised authorities as a standardised approach. Home charging was in its early stages of consideration and further work was required.
Councillor Fox referred to the pressures faced by SCC in relation to the tram, and he queried the opportunities through the ICTS funding. He referred to active travel, some of which had been implemented within Sheffield, and he suggested that consideration should be given to all of the options for opening this up and to consider the policy of the COVID-19 recovery.
D Fell referred to the long term catalogue of aspirations that were trying to be delivered. There was a need to make a case for public transport again within the communities of South Yorkshire. He queried whether there was a risk in trying to achieve this, and whether there were any emerging thoughts as to how this could be tackled to ensure that the demand was there.
M Swales commented that attempts would be made to exploit every opportunity in terms of the ICTS to support the public transport agenda. Discussions were underway between the local authorities regarding the future of tram investment, whilst giving consideration to the future of the tram and to sustain the current infrastructure. There was a need to push the active travel agenda whilst having the correct balance in terms of the economic recovery. It was anticipated that the Government would shortly publish the carbonisation agenda. A united position was being taken by P Kennan, the LEP Board, Leaders and Mayor Jarvis MBE to push and make the case for public transport investment, and to seek out and respond to every funding opportunity that was available. The PTE was undertaking a high volume of work in an attempt to gain the public’s support to the public transport agenda.
P Kennan expressed his thanks to M Swales for presenting the report, and to the whole transport team for their diligence and commitment during this challenging time. He requested an update in relation to the Bus Review and the integrated planning housing policy, which related to ensuring that the bus service was thought about during the decisions on future development, in particular when new employment sites were situated near high volume/frequency bus routes. In relation to the messages regarding the safety of public transport, he queried whether there was anything that could be undertaken more closely with the Directors of Public and Health and through the PTE to convey the message to all possible channels. He suggested that focus should be made to integrated smart ticketing, as a key area to increase the patronage of buses.
In terms of the integrated planning housing policy, M Swales referred to the work undertaken with colleagues across the MCA. He suggested that careful consideration should be given to contacting the Directors of Public Health, with a view to them supporting the messages regarding the safety of public transport. He added that Mayor Jarvis MBE and the Leaders had all requested consideration be given to the different ways in which the public within South Yorkshire could be encouraged to return back onto public transport.
B Adams appreciated the work being undertaken. He considered the need to be slightly more ambitious in what was envisaged to be achieved in Sheffield, whilst keeping a radical approach for public transport.
J Muir commented that the challenge for transportation in South Yorkshire was the level of car usage. He appreciated and observed the huge amounts of effort undertaken to optimise the different elements of the public transport system. However, he queried how this linked up to tackle the problem of car usage, the contributing factors and initiatives to achieve a reduction. He hoped that consideration would be given to hydrogen buses. He did not observe an overall umbrella to tackle the fundamental issue of reducing car usage.
M Swales referred to the need for short, medium and long term approaches to be applied. Some of the short term approaches had recently been flagged up by the local communities. Members were referred to the very planned and logical approach that would be considered politically, to determine what was the best option for South Yorkshire.
Mayor Jones CBE commented that this related to reliability and coverage of the public transport network. Doncaster had the largest hectare coverage in South Yorkshire, and therefore many people were unable to use public transport for the whole of their journey. She considered that the solutions addressed all of the points raised.
J Muir added that the level of investment that was requested was reliant upon Government funding. He expressed his thanks to M Swales, his team and P Kennan for all of their efforts. He hoped that public transport issues would be discussed at a future LEP Board meeting.
RESOLVED – That the Board discussed the current context for public transport planning and how public transport investment could contribute to the delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan.