Monday, September 8, 2014

News: Transport staff under threat in latest round of budget cuts

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Funded bus services are not expected to be cut and no changes are planned to the concessionary fares scheme as South Yorkshire begins the difficult task of setting its reduced transport budget for next year. However, staffing levels at interchanges are under review.

The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) works in partnership with the local councils and transport service operators to manage public transport infrastructure, run the local bus, train and tram services and provide walking and cycling routes. Funding comes from the government and levies from South Yorkshire's four local authorities.

Over the past four years SYPTE has had its budget cut by more than £25m and has made deep cuts to its workforce. That has meant that some changes have been made to save money.

This year saw cutbacks made to the OAP concessionary travel scheme, community transport fares went up by 50p and funding was withdrawn from the FreeBee bus services in Sheffield and Rotherham. The popular free bus service between Rotherham town centre and Parkgate was saved thanks to investment by the owners of Parkgate Shopping.

David Young, deputy interim director general at the SYPTE updated a recent meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee on the challenge in setting next year's budget. He said: "We have had to make some difficult choices over the past few years, and the financial environment remains challenging, but we are not currently working on plans to change the current concessionary travel offer or to cut the bus services funded by SYPTE."

A members group of transport leaders in South Yorkshire is going through the proposals and a public consultation has begun on prospective budget cuts.

David Young added: "SYPTE needs to look at further ways of saving money, which is why we are asking the public about how we provide public transport information and about our interchanges. The feedback we get will help us to plan how we deliver these services in the future.

"Prospective cuts that may be made as part of the budget setting include things like information provision, how we retail information ticketing, and the level of staffing and service provided in interchanges."

As part of the five week consultation, an information roadshow is planned for Rotherham Interchange on September 18. Consultation questions cover a range of issues from cleanliness to paper timetables and also asks for thoughts on what the impact of fewer staff at interchanges would be.

One transport cut starting today is Northern Rail's introduction of restrictions on the use of off-peak travel. Previously off-peak day singles and returns were only restricted in the morning peak period but from today, passengers will have to pay more for singles and returns to travel in the afternoon peak period between 4pm and 6:30pm.

The RMT union described the move as "a kick in the teeth for the travelling public and a taste of what's around the corner."

Transport leaders in the Sheffield city region made representations to the Minister for Transport and Northern Rail about the restrictions to no avail. Introducing minimum fares and car parking charges were also considered by the franchise operator.

SYPTE website

Images: SYPTE

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