Sheffield turns one year until it puts its trams back under public control

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard marked the one-year countdown until Sheffield’s Supertram network comes under public control for the first time since 1997.

The move will mean schedules, routes and fares will be set by the mayor’s office, rather than private for-profit companies like the current operator, Stagecoach.

It could also open the door for future expansions of the network, with some requiring new lines to areas north of Sheffield, as well as along Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall Road.

“Returning the tram to public control is the first big step towards creating a fully integrated, affordable and reliable transport network in South Yorkshire, which works in the interest of our communities.” tweeted Coppard.

“This is a preview of our ambitions for the world-class public transportation we want in our region; it’s how we connect our communities, achieve our net-zero goals and build a bigger and better economy.”

Most of the network was opened in phases between 1994 and 1995, costing £240 million to build. The infrastructure itself, including the track and trams, has always been publicly owned.

Operations were also initially overseen by a public body, but were privatized in 1997 after problems including a confusing ticketing system and disappointing passenger numbers. Bus operator Stagecoach was awarded the contract through March 2024.

Since then, the system has returned to profitability, but has not seen the rapid expansion of the publicly owned and controlled Manchester Metrolink or London Underground network.

A photo of Matthew Topham from Better Buses for South Yorkshire, speaking into a megaphone in the street

Matthew Topham of Better Buses for South Yorkshire said the mayor’s decision would “focus public transport on the public good”.

Public transport activists say Coppard’s decision sets a precedent for bringing the region’s failing bus network back under public control as well.

“We know that public ownership of tram operators is the norm in much of Europe, and it’s fantastic to see the mayor taking positive steps to end the zombie experiment of privatization in the region,” said Matthew Topham, campaigner for Better Buses for South Yorkshire. Now then.

“As well as bringing our bus network under public control, this move could see South Yorkshire get the integrated transport network we deserve.”

The mayor’s office is currently exploring the feasibility of using the legislation to re-regulate South Yorkshire buses under a system known as franchising, a move that would follow in the footsteps of Manchester and Leeds.

Any such attempt is likely to be fiercely contested by the big bus companies, as happened in Manchester, who see deregulated and privatized networks as a valuable source of profit.

Topham said taking the Supertram internally would “focus public transport on the public good, ensuring local businesses and communities prosper rather than focusing Stagecoach’s profit-seeking on satisfying its overseas shareholders.”


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