Why I value the Supertram System in Sheffield….

A personal blog on Stagecoach Supertram, and why I’m encouraging people to fill in the consultation on it….

One of the many attributes that Sheffield is known for is the hills. I live on Walkley Bank, nestled in a house sitting on a hill that descends towards Loxley and Hillsborough. If I want to get around by public transport, I have quite a few choices; I can take the 95, 31 or even the 52 bus as needed to get to the city centre. However, the real ‘ace’ to living here is being able to walk 12 minutes (or even jog in about 7 minutes) to the tram line and catch the tram to Hillsborough stop. I should interject here; I am a typical resident of the city in the fact that I am a parent whom for the last year has been trying to juggle two jobs (separate from actual Parenting) and having both the Blue and Yellow lines run through Hillsborough just makes my life infinitely easier.

After all, what isn’t there to like about the ‘Supertram’? A timetable that is pretty regular; granted the frequency of the trams are now every 12 minutes instead of every 10 that they were set at some years ago, but at Hillsborough stop you can almost time them to the second for accuracy. A clean, familiar layout that tries to benefit everyone; people who can sit together, people who may need to sit near to the doors for limited mobility and dedicated space for ‘wheels’ (wheelchairs, walkers, prams and pushchairs). I have honestly and rarely met a tram conductor who was impatient or grumpy even on a packed tram; most of them are very courteous and chatty. The top of the carriage above the doors show the routes to assist if passengers need to check where they are and the regular announcements try to ensure no-one is in the dark about where to alight. There are a range of tickets available and some of the regional ones available can be used unlimited on both bus and trams around Sheffield for the day, week or even month. This has helped me travel from the north-west of Sheffield to the south-east for one of my jobs.

And it’s not just me who is a bit batty for Supertram; my family are too. My husband, who is prolific car user, told me a while ago that the tram is his favourite mode of transport. On the rare days he has to travel to London for work, he gets on at the crack of dawn and rides through to the train station. My mum lives outside the city and drives into the city to help me out with childcare on average of twice a week (judge me all you want, but this is quite a necessity in my life). But recently my mum has been thinking of driving from the edge of Derbyshire to Halfway and then getting the tram the rest of the way, giving her more time to relax and be a little more environmentally friendly. Even my two year old prefers the tram; it makes her think of a certain children’s programme and the way the characters travel about. Also, should my planning for our ‘days out’ go wrong and we do get stuck in rush hour, I put us on the tram because I feel confident we don’t have to jostle with other passengers and feel awkward about the task of getting home.

There have been two recent events that have really given me pause for thought. One is the good news that the ‘Tram Train’ has been launched. Sure, it hasn’t been a project without difficulties including original reports of it going over-budget and also the first day when there was a crash on the launch day. Yet all the organisations responsible for the scheme pulled together and put things literally back on track to run the next day. Now passengers can ride through from the heart of Sheffield to the heart of Rotherham in one simple journey totalling no more than 30 minutes and not have to sit in traffic or contribute to the ever increasing levels of air pollution coming from motor vehicles.

So what could possibly be the bad news? South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive are currently asking the public for consultation on the tram system. The reason for this being that more monies is needed to ensure the long-term renewal of this system and it is to support the business plan that is being submitted to the Department of Transport for funding. The viewpoint of whether Supertram will eventually be scrapped altogether is very mixed among people. One of my colleagues feels it is very unlikely that, due to environmental legal targets, the whole mode will collapse. Then there is the argument of being a great ‘social and economic tool’, connecting people to workplaces, leisure and retail sources as needed. Add in the general feeling of convenience and reliability and it seems crazy to think that we would actually see the whole tram network come tumbling down.

BUT then I get ‘twitchy’. The ‘worrying’ persona in me thinks about how much scorn has been poured over the terms ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and ‘Better Infrastructure in the North’ and some economists have still argued that investment in the northern half of the country just isn’t being matched compared to the south. What if the money from the Department of Transport doesn’t come through? The council are barely getting by on the funds they have and we have seen people have to step in to help with running of libraries, maintaining of community spaces, festivals and the like.

When the roads literally around my house were being resurfaced, the bus routes frankly went into a bit of chaos. I didn’t need to think twice; I put on my running shoes and sloped off down to the hill to the tram stop. I do it now when I’m running late (yes, this is more than I’d care to admit). I’m not perfect and to my discredit, I am four weeks away from attempting to pass my driving test. I’ve been learning to drive for a very long time and my reasons are several -fold (one of them is truthfully being able to pack in a load of activists to go somewhere remote for an event). Yet I secretly smile when my driving instructor thinks I will drive with my daughter into town on a regular basis, no matter how smooth and pot-hole free the local roads may be. I’m seriously thinking of issuing the ‘no-one drives to the city centre unless all three of us are in the family car’ rule during 2019. With good public transport, car usage isn’t necessary and the Supertram is a brilliant option, one that benefits so many people as well as the city infamously battling high levels of air pollution. It is almost seen as iconic, being used in many pamphlets and brochures about the city and has featured in at least one documentary in Sheffield. To see it fail would be a dark day indeed. In a year which has been a bit of a roller-coaster for me personally, I’ve very much learnt not to take anything for granted. Which is why I’ve filled out the Supertram consultation and am encouraging everyone I can to do so too. If the worst does happen, I’ll have a long, long cry. Then seek out an effective lawyer.

If like me, you value the Supertram system highly, please fill in the consultation document here. The deadline is 5th November. If you’d like to read more on the Tram Train scheme, find the SYPTE page on it here