Policy priority 1: A quick win
Tackle dangerous air quality to improve the health of residents
- Introduce a clean air charge to tackle poor quality in parts of the city region where it is most acute.
- Use new franchising powers to take control of city-region bus services to better serve the population and reduce car journeys, congestion and emissions.
Introduce a Clean Air Charge to reduce pollution and fund greater active travel alternatives
Poor air quality kills, and it is a particular issue in parts of Sheffield City Region. Sheffield and Rotherham have been identified by the government as two of 28 local authorities in breach of the EU limits for NO2, and must come forward with a final Clean Air Plan by December 2018. The risk is that these plans won’t be far reaching enough, as they shy away from addressing the major source of transport NO2 emissions, private vehicles.1
Sheffield City Region LEP has a higher share of commuting by car than other northern LEPs. In contrast to a decline nationally, this share grew from 2001 and 2011 to reach 71 per cent.2 As the draft Transport Strategy states, ‘this reliance on car travel could have adverse implications on the economy and quality of life, through congestion costs, worsening air quality, increasing carbon emissions and rising obesity levels (due to lack of walking and cycling).’
Whereas some of the city region’s other challenges, such as low wages and low skills, will require a longer term response, tackling air quality represents a quick win and progress can be made in the first term.
The metro mayor should use their direct mandate to enact the most effective, long-term sustainable and economically and socially beneficial policy — a Clean Air Charge (similar to London’s Toxicity Charge) on more polluting vehicles entering the most congested and polluted parts of the city region. The high levels of commuting across local authority boundaries within the city region mean that many residents of Doncaster and Barnsley will directly benefit from cleaner air at work and quicker commutes. To ensure this is a quick win, this policy should be part of the winning candidate’s manifesto.
The charge would reduce congestion and address NO2 emissions from day one. Added to this, higher levels of active travel that the charge will incentivise — walking, cycling and public transport usage — will support greater personal fitness across the city region, and add to the public health benefits of lower NO2.
Use new powers to franchise city-region bus services to improve public transport alternative
While trams and trains get the headlines and attention, buses remain the most used mode of public transport in every single UK city. They connect people to work, businesses to customers, and pupils to school. In South Yorkshire the number of bus trips per head has fallen from 87.4 per year in 2009/10 to 72.6 in 2016/17, in line with falls across the country. This drop translates into nearly 15 million fewer journeys by bus — more than the total ridership of the Sheffield Supertram, which carried 12.6m passengers last year and has also seen declining ridership over the last decade.
The metro mayor will be starting in a better position with bus services than the other mayors who were elected in May 2017. TravelMaster allows smart tickets to be used across operators and modes within one or all authorities in South Yorkshire. And for under-18s using bus and/or trams, the GetAbout ticket is less than half price.3
But more can be done. In particular, the mayor should take advantage of the powers in the Bus Services Act 2017 to introduce franchising of routes, and invest revenues from the Clean Air Charge into supporting and improving this network.
Franchising will allow greater coordination of routes and services to suit communities. With full understanding of ridership and revenues4 on different routes (through better data collection) the metro mayor should seek to offer services to connect people more quickly and affordably to job and training opportunities across the city region, as well boosting health, environmental and social outcomes.