THE plight of the borough’s ailing bus services – which campaigners say are being axed or cancelled with little notice leaving passengers in the lurch – were discussed by county leaders last week.
Users and campaigners came together to rally outside the Enhanced Partnership Board meeting last Monday – which involves politicians and operators – to call for private bus firms including Stagecoach to deliver better services and to highlight how public control could help the issue.
Activists spoke of the impacts of unreliable services have had – from missed hospital appointments and shifts to children forced to wake up hours earlier to guarantee they can get to school on time.
Jump-based Fran Postlethwaite, the convener of Better Buses for South Yorkshire, said: “For decades decisions about pay and conditions have been in the hands of private operators.
“As their shareholders clamour for profits, they’ve slowly eaten away at drivers’ wages and terms to cut business costs.
“The impact on the public is huge – drivers leave the industry as less stressful jobs have come to pay the same or more, and bus companies don’t then have enough drivers to run all their advertised services.
“Buses are late or don’t run – we, the passengers, are left stranded.
“Taking buses into public control will help stabilise and drive up employment standards.”
Public control, the system used in London, is also sometimes called re-regulation or franchising.
Currently, bus companies have powers over routes, fares and standards but re-regulation means they operate under contract to the regional mayor, who sets the terms of service.
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and council leaders have already had to step in with more than £5m from the region’s emergency budget to protect school buses, which could have left scores of youngsters without a way to get into their schools.
But the public budget for South Yorkshire’s buses – paid through council tax – will only stretch to cover half of the remaining services bus companies plan to cut.
Between October 2022 and April 2023, South Yorkshire’s public budget to support bus services is £11.9m.
It is estimated to cost at least £23m to replace all the services that bus companies plan to remove, leading to growing calls for public con tool.
Matthew Topham, a campaigner at Better Buses for South Yorkshire, added: “Reliability is a top issue across our region – if the bus doesn’t turn up on time or at all, passengers are left scrambling to get themselves to work, school, or just to see family and friends.
“We know that areas with greater local control of services, like Blackpool, are some of the most consistently reliable services in the country so we deserve the same here.
“By taking our buses into public control, we’ll unlock new powers to regulate for reliability: fines for bad service, rewards for rapid improvements, and timetables that are set with punctuality, not profits, in mind.”