Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Yorkshire Traction Group (RT 09)

  1.  The Yorkshire Traction Group of bus companies has operations in South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and neighbouring counties of England, and in the Tayside region of Scotland.

  2.  Through our subsidiary Andrews (Sheffield) Ltd and other bus companies we have acquired in the Sheffield area, namely Yorkshire Terrier, Sheffield Omnibus and Tanport, we have considerable experience of the effects of the development, construction and operation of the South Yorkshire Supertram system.

  3.  It is a commonly held belief in Sheffield, which we share, that there was inadequate public consultation on the route of the Supertram system, which resulted in it being built where the planners wanted it to go and not where it might have been most effective.

  4.  The construction phase in the mid-1990s lasted some four years and brought traffic chaos to large sections of the city. Part of the problem was that most of the tramway followed existing highways and only the line between Meadowhall and the City Centre was on completely segregated track.

  5.  The adverse effect on Sheffield City Centre, already suffering economically as a result of the success of the Meadowhall shopping development, was marked. Large sections of the city centre, particularly in the High Street and West Street areas, were closed off to public transport and other traffic for long periods and businesses saw disruption and in some cases closed down as a result.

  6.  Further out into the suburbs, areas such as Hillsborough which had been a thriving suburban shopping centre of great diversity became isolated by tramway construction and local businesses simply could not stand the loss of trade. This area has still not recovered.

  7.  Existing transport providers, principally the bus operators, experienced upheaval in their services with frequent diversions from longstanding routes to accommodate the tramway works. These diversions were often not well planned and changes at short notice suggested that construction was not as efficiently pursued as it might have been.

  8.  The most disturbing effect of this was the worsening reliability of bus services on which many people in Sheffield depend. This jeopardised passengers' confidence in their bus service with consequences for levels of use and viability.

  9.  Once the system became operational, the weaknesses in its planning became all too apparent. Because of the convoluted nature of the route, journey times over longer distances were uncompetitive. The ticketing system, using vending machines at every stop, placed too much confidence in the honesty of users and underestimated the effects of vandalism. Heavy operational losses were sustained.

  10.  The effects of the debt burden incurred by construction of the Supertram network in South Yorkshire have caused considerable ill-feeling. Although the tramway is located entirely within the city of Sheffield, the metropolitan boroughs of Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster are all required to share the debt burden, for benefits which residents see as concentrated in Sheffield.

  11.  We understand that the original intention had been to sell on the Supertram system after a period of operation and recoup the original construction costs. However, there was no interest in the commercial sector in taking on the huge burden of debt which would result.

  12.  In the event, Stagecoach Holdings have undertaken the operation on a franchise basis for a relatively modest amount over a lengthy franchise period. This has brought benefits to the system with the business approach of an experienced transport operator. As an example, the vending machines at stops have disappeared and revenue is much more secure with on-tram conductors issuing tickets.

  13.  The burden of debt is being alleviated by Government as a consequence of the bus industry's participation in the Centre of Excellence project in South Yorkshire where operators, local authorities and the Passenger Transport Executive will work in partnership to improve the quality of public transport generally and secure much closer integration between different modes.

  14.  As an example, only since Stagecoach undertook operation of the Supertram has through ticketing between tram and bus services been introduced.

  15.  We feel that the main impact of the introduction of Supertram has been on levels of bus use in Sheffield rather than on car traffic. Car ownership has continued to rise sharply in South Yorkshire from a low base, although this was perhaps an artificial situation in view of the low bus fare policies pursued by the Passenger Transport Executive in the years before bus deregulation in 1986.

  16.  Park and Ride opportunities have been introduced in conjunction with Supertram although their location appears either to be too close to the city centre (Nunnery Square) or too remote (Halfway and Middlewood) to be very effective.

  17.  In our experience, the effect of Supertram on existing bus services has been mixed. Because of the tortuous route followed by the tram, the journey time of 45 minutes from Halfway to the City Centre compares with 35 minutes by our direct bus and passengers clearly appreciate the quicker journey time we offer. However, it is clear elsewhere that much of the patronage of Supertram has been at the expense of bus services, and we have had to modify some of our services as a result.

  18.  A source of continuing frustration is that trams are automatically given priority at intersections with other traffic, which often results in buses being held up with consequences for our reliability.

  19.  Based on experience in Sheffield, we firmly believe that light rapid transit is only appropriate to heavily congested corridors in major cities. The infrastructure is costly and inflexible and any modification is hugely expensive. In any event, any light rail system needs proper planning, marketing and integration with other modes of public transport.

  20.  In most instances, much greater benefits can be achieved for much lower expenditure by enhancing conventional bus services with bus priorities, better waiting, information and interchange provision, and investment in accessiblity of vehicles and associated streetside facilities.

  21.  The history of the South Yorkshire Supertram system should serve as a warning of the serious consequences of inadequate planning.

October 1999

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