11 June 2008

Supertram success

South Yorkshire Supertram, a subsidiary of Stagecoach Group plc has recorded increased profits up to the year ending 30 April 2007. Much of this is down to passenger growth with patronage increasing by 7%. Turnover was £12.6 million as a result of an increase of 13.4%; with operating profit up by £250,000 to £1.74 million. Spending on employee wages was up by 5.8% although the workforce grew from 223 to 231, a 3.6% increase. Maintenance costs rose by 7.2% to £5.2 million.

It's not very often that a transport company's accounts are released and fuel pays no part in any of the figures. At Supertram the operating margins for the period released is as follows:

40.6% - leasing of trams
24.3% - maintenance
22.5% - labour
7.0% - licence fees
4.3% - other costs
1.2% - Interest

The DfT published its own figures which suggests significant shifts in journey patterns by Sheffield residents, with the largest alteration being shorter journeys now seem to be taken than in the previous year (ending April 2006). Comparing the same two years, however, the most recent figures show a 6.5% increase in journeys made - totalling 14 million; but this was at the same time as the number of passenger kilometers fell by 4.5% to 42 million. This shows a 10% drop in overall passenger journey length, now to 3.0km per trip.

Since 1997 when Stagecoach took-over the loss-making PTE-owned light rail system patronage has rocketed and has been the zenith figure in the overall success of the last decade. Then (1996/7) 8 million people used the tram annually; the very latest results (year ending 30 April 2007) show 14.0 million trips p/a - 75% growth during the last 10 years.

The last year, however, has seen Supertram form part of the core network of Stagecoach's operations in Sheffield after its purchase of the Yorkshire Traction Group in December 2005. Almost immediately the Yorkshire Terrier name was removed and vehicles painted into Stagecoach corporate livery before the OFT report into the takeover was made known. Giving the Terrier business the "Stagecoach Sheffield" name (curiously omitting the 'in') head-to-head competition took place with Stagecoach immediately lowering single fares and offering special-price Megarider weekly tickets. Importantly these weekly tickets were also valid on Supertram.

This has clearly contributed to the recent financial success of Supertram and the 24% increase in passenger revenue the DfT recorded for the business in 2006/7. The figures seem to show that despite Stagecoach being the second largest operator in Sheffield, they have achieved bus-tram integration despite the dominant presence of the UK's largest transport operator, First.

The only criticism of Stagecoach's operation in Sheffield is that is hasn't been very quick to alter the daytime operational periods of Yorkshire Terrier - who operated virtually no Sunday or evening services. Commencing operations at these unpopular times is likely to face strong opposition from Unions. Only services 29, 57/58, 61, 123 & 265 operate Sundays and weekday evenings - none of which are the firm's high-frequency, high earning routes; Service 265 is predominately operated by Barnsley depot, too.

Click here to see the integrated Sheffield bus and tram map and guide Stagecoach produce.