Memorandum by The Yorkshire Traction Group
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
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