On 16th March 2012, myself and Jonathan Bray, Director of the pteg Support Unit hopped on the Supertram to visit the purpose built HQ of Sheffield Community Transport (SCT), South Yorkshire’s biggest community transport (CT) operator.
Our host for the afternoon was Ian Jenkinson, General Manager, who has been involved since the very earliest days of SCT some 25 years ago. Ian was kind enough to talk us through SCT’s work as well as take us on a tour encompassing the bright and airy office, the (surprisingly clean!) garage and one of the fleet of fully accessible buses.
SCT officially opened for business back in 1988, with a focus on providing group travel to people wanting to get to lunch clubs and other social activities. Over 20 years on, and group travel remains the bedrock of SCT, but the range of services has expanded significantly, encompassing door-to-door buses, shopper services, a community car scheme, tendered bus services and a wheels to work programme. This mixed portfolio, together with a team of loyal volunteers, helps them to provide an affordable and flexible service to the local community.
In addition, SCT are the lead body for CT across the county, meaning that the four main CT operators in South Yorkshire now have a common offer and identity as well as shared scheduling software, helping to make better use of vehicles.
SCT’s provision seems to start with the question ‘what can we do to make life better for people in our community?’ It was great to witness transport services centred around people first and foremost. Being embedded in the community, CT providers are well placed to understand what type of services residents want and what gaps need to be filled.
Take, for example less mobile shoppers in Hillsborough who could walk down the hill to local shops but struggled to manage the steep climb back to their homes, laden with heavy bags. SCT stepped in to provide a bus service that took people to the top of the hill and dropped them off around the residential areas to be found there. The service has been so successful, it is now commercially viable in its own right.
Supporting people into work
Another example is the Wheels 2 Work scheme which offers scooter loans to enable people to access offers of work or training that cannot be reached by public transport. Currently supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), the scheme has been running countywide for 7 years and now has a bank of 150 scooters. Whilst schemes like this have obvious benefits for people in rural areas, Ian was keen to stress the value of Wheels 2 Work for urban commuters too. The scooters have helped city residents to access early or late shifts at factories, warehouses and at Meadowhall (a shopping centre outside of Sheffield city centre). Scooters are also suitable for workers on call out as this quote from a happy customer illustrates:
‘I get called out at work at a time when public transport is not available. Without having the scooter I wouldn’t have the job I have got now’.
Having helped hundreds of people access work or training opportunities that they would otherwise have struggled to get to, SCT are seeking to expand their services in this area via an LSTF bid. If successful, the project would see them make use of vehicle downtime (outside the core hours of 9 and 4.30pm) to help people access work.
In addition, SCT itself helps people into employment, providing valuable work experience as well as training accreditation for its volunteer drivers, many of whom go on to jobs in the bus industry or driving ambulance services.
Opportunities and challenges
So, what does the future hold? SCT have a good working relationship with South Yorkshire PTE and are keen to work with them to develop and test the market for innovative new bus services. They are certainly not short of ideas.
As well as continuing work filling in bits of the network that would otherwise fall away and identifying and meeting the needs of people most at risk of isolation, SCT are looking with interest at models such as buurtbussen (neighbourhood buses) which cover hundreds of routes in the Netherlands and are staffed entirely by volunteers.
SCT is also having to adapt to growing demand for its services, fuelled by the personalisation agenda in social care. People now have their own personal budgets to spend on their care and, when it comes to transport, they are looking for more flexible, personalised options – just the sort of service that SCT offers. As traditional social service fleets disappear due to falling demand, the costs of providing transport for a client base with complex needs will increasingly fall to community transport providers, posing a real challenge to the sector. In response, SCT are developing a new ‘City Ride Plus’ service, an enhanced version of their ‘City Ride’ door to door service which will be tailored to the needs of this growing passenger group.
I left Sheffield Community Transport feeling totally inspired by their can-do attitude and desire to improve the lives of local communities. It was great to visit an organisation so open to ideas and innovation and so plugged in to what people want from transport services. Many thanks to Ian for hosting us.