Monday, August 9, 2010

The 3, a sorry tale

I've received replies from South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), First (the bus operator) and Ian Auckland, the Cabinet Member with responsibility for transport in Sheffield City Council. The answer is, 'sorry, nothing we can do'. It's a commercial decision. I guess that since the Arts College on Psalter Lane has closed the income from the route has fallen. I'm not sure why we continue to think of it as public transport.

When you get a group of older people together in Sheffield they often hark back to the golden age, an age where buses were cheap and deregultion (curse that buggering woman*) had not yet happened. A time when cars were few, congestion was low and herds of ham sandwich coloured buses trundled, belching clouds of particulates, through the narrow canyons of Sheffield's streets. A time when buses were so cheap that only posh and/or stupid people drove their cars into the town centre. A time when it was feasible for the ticket machine to be a mini photocopier. These days, with £1.30 fares to go less than a mile, the ticket could easily be 6 foot long (130 x penny width and a bit for spacing). Oh those happy days!

In these deregulated days there is a fight to run the lucrative routes nut no-one wants to run the necessary but sparsely populated routes. You would think that on the popular routes, with two companies competing, the service would be excellent. There are two reasons why this does not work. One is that the two operators seem to run at the same time, leapfrogging each other through the too narrow roads, causing traffic safety problems and leaving passengers waiting twice as long as necessary. The other reason, of course, is that the popularity of bus services has fallen due to high costs and lack of reliability, which means more cars on the road increasing congestion and reducing reliability still further; a positive feedback loop.

The problem with our current 'public transport' is that some routes pay well and others pay poorly but are necessary to the people living along those routes. In the days of regulated public transport the 'profits' from the lucrative routes subsidised the rest. These days the bus companies   can make their money on one route and let another languish on the grounds that running more regular buses would not be commercially viable.

From an environmental point of view, attracting people onto public transport would both reduce carbon emissions and congestion, resulting in improved journey times for everyone and better local air quality. This is not something that will happen due to market forces. For this to work public transport needs to be provided that is truly public. I'd vote to re-regulate our bus service.
And don't get me started about trains...     

*to quote my Grandad

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