The first thing that faces many of us each New Year is the annual increase in rail fares, effective from January 1. This year has seen a 2.7% increase in fares, hitting hard-pressed commuters in the pocket whilst services are deteriorating. Northern Rail are a prime example of rising fares and worsening services. Commuters across the North of England, myself included, know only too well the parlous state Northern are in: botched changes to timetables; unacceptable delays; and the continued use of 1980s pacer trains despite repeated promises that they would be phased out.
Northern Rail’s litany of failure cannot go on unchallenged. That’s why – after extensive lobbying from Northern leaders and Mayors – I am pleased that the Government are finally reviewing the franchise. We urgently need a new provider who can deliver a reliable service that is value for money – retaining the option, as with East Coat Mainline, to take the service into public ownership. I’ll keep on fighting, in Parliament and as the Mayor, to make sure that South Yorkshire passengers are put first and we get the decent rail service we need and deserve.
Stripping Northern Rail of the franchise also gives us a golden opportunity to look at how we improve public transport in our part of the world. I’m leading the way on building a public transport system that’s fit for the 21st Century. The massive public engagement with my bus review reinforces what I already knew – there is huge concern about the quality of local bus networks and services, and we need concerted action to address declining levels of bus patronage. I’ve also appointed our first Active Travel Commissioner to enable more people to swap the car for walking, cycling and running wherever they are able to do so. And I’ve submitted a quarter of a billion pound ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ bid that will be spent on upgrading our local transport infrastructure. But that needs to be backed up by real action from central government. The simple truth is that London and the South East get three-and-a-half times the amount of investment in transport infrastructure that goes to Yorkshire and the Humber. If the Prime Minister is serious about tackling the North/South divide, then that’s where he needs to start. I’ll be holding the Government to account to make sure our Region gets what it deserves.
It’s a big priority for me to make it easier and cheaper for residents to get around South Yorkshire on public transport. But improving our public transport system is also about taking practical steps to tackle climate change, reduce congestion and air pollution and protect our vital green spaces. By encouraging people to ditch the car, expanding the use of electric and hybrid vehicles across our public transport networks and making it easier to walk and cycle we can rise to the biggest challenge currently facing our world: climate change. Just this week we have seen the devastation caused by the failure to take decisive action to reduce global temperatures. Whether it is the bush fires engulfing rural Australia or the flooding that devastated parts of Barnsley last November, we must acknowledge the consequences of not rising to this challenge. Failure is not an option.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17 January 2020