If you get the train between Barnsley and Sheffield you will have faced the pain of increased ticket prices, with the average cost of a rail season ticket going up by an average of 3.1%.
If you were left waiting on a platform – or crammed into an overcrowded train – throughout the Northern Rail fiasco last year, you will know that rail passengers are not getting a fair deal.
Since 2010, rail prices have increased by 46.8% whilst the quality of services has deteriorated. Today we have the most expensive rail fares in Europe, whilst services routinely lag behind their continental counterparts in terms of quality and efficiency.
Rail privatisation has failed: we need a railway system that is publicly-owned, properly funded and that puts passengers before profit, which clearly commands wide support. Recent polling shows that 58% of people in the North support more public ownership, whilst only 13% are opposed.
Whilst I have no confidence in the current Government’s ability to build a public transport system that is fit for the 21st century; I am taking practical measures to ensure that South Yorkshire’s transport can face the future.
The launch of the South Yorkshire Tram-Train was an important development – the first of its kind in the country – and I will also upgrade Great Yorkshire Way to improve access to Doncaster Sheffield Airport. Furthermore, if successful, the £120 million ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ bid that I have submitted can partly be used to improve local transport infrastructure.
I have also been promoting active travel alongside improving public transport. By making it easier for people to walk or cycle for all or part of their journey, we can improve people’s health, cut carbon emissions and reduce congestion.
Just this week, the Sheffield City Region submitted bids worth £10 million to be spent on promoting active travel schemes and making it easier for people to walk or get on their bikes. In Barnsley, there are plans to build an off-road direct cycle route alongside the A635 to link local communities to employment opportunities.
I am committed to making it easier for Barnsley people to travel around South Yorkshire for work, study and leisure, and we are starting to see real progress towards that goal. However, there is still work to do as we look to the future.
In the longer-term, I have published my Transport Vision, a long-term strategy for developing public transport for decades to come.
At the heart of this Vision is the belief that public transport should serve the interests of passengers. It is about ensuring that people can get to where they need and want to go; and uniting communities across our Region.
To do this, we have identified 11 Regional Hubs – one of which is Barnsley Town Centre – with the long-term goal of every community being able to reach their nearest regional hub in 15 minutes; to get between regional hubs in 30 minutes; and to get from a regional hub to the major centres of the North and Midlands in 75 minutes.
Alongside integrating communities, it is important that we also integrate different types of transport. There is no point in pouring money into trains for them to run in isolation. We also need to upgrade our bus network so that buses and trains are seamlessly integrated.
This is why I am also looking at what can be done to improve our bus services and encourage more people to take the bus wherever possible. To do this, we need to make our buses cleaner and greener by introducing emission reduction systems across bus fleets in South Yorkshire.
My Transport Vision is bold and ambitious. But that ambition is vital to ensuring that we can build a public transport system that works for the people of South Yorkshire.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 January 2019.