We want to be listened to and we want real change”- fed-up Sheffield bus passengers insist as transport chiefs hold a crunch meeting today.
This morning Sheffield Bus Partnership is holding a special meeting, the latest twist in the sage over cuts to bus services, which came into force on November 1 and have caused chaos across the city.
The headache has included services being removed and re-routed, mass confusion over timetables, residents left stranded in the cold and buses being so full that people have to stand on the stairs.
The partnership, which comprises bus operators, travel partners and the city council, insists things have improved – saying up to 90 per cent of buses are now running on time, with punctuality improvements of up to 15 per cent.
It claims around 60,000 passengers are benefitting from cheaper tickets, and bigger buses on busy routes have increased capacity.
But many Sheffield residents are still affected - and still angry.
The Star has been inundated with letters, emails and phone calls bemoaning the substandard service.
Labour councillors stress that government cuts to bus service subsidies were a cause – but the opposition insisted the administration should not have agreed the changes as part of its role on the partnership.
Greenhill teacher Joanne Lumley, aged 35, set up a petition to reverse the changes after ‘horrendous’ experiences of trying to get to work due to changes to the 87 and 76 services.
The petition has been signed by more than 12,500 people and triggered a debate.
If it wasn’t for her petition, today’s meeting would not be taking place.
She concedes that completely reversing the cuts will not happen – but urges the operators to go back to the drawing board.
The mum-of-two said: “The bus services have not really improved in my opinion. I feel there are more buses on the road but the real issue is frequency and the operators don’t seem to have properly thought about it.
“The operators seem to be reactive than proactive with their changes. It seems they only act when they get loads of complaints.
“It does seem they are alienating their own customers. It’s in their best interests to really listen this time around at people’s concerns.
“What I want to see is a clear message from them saying, ‘We got it wrong,’ and for them to start again. It needs a proper consultation this time.”
Joanne said previously that bus changes have made her partially ditch public transport and opt for the car.
“I do use the car a lot more now,” she said.
“Me and my husband share the car so I haven’t completely ditched the bus but many will not have the luxury that I do of a car and these buses are people’s lifelines to get out and about.”
Many people across Sheffield have voiced their views on the Sheffield bus saga.
Ian Wordsworth, of Shiregreen said: “Before the changes I could leave Firth Park to go to Hillsborough and return home in just over two hours – but now I take sandwiches and a flask.
“The idiots running our bus services do not care one iota for the welfare of its passengers and it’s time some of them started leaving their flash cars at home and joined us to see for themselves what a shambles of a service we now have.”
Amy May Hulse, of Wincobank said: “The 35 bus needs to be more frequent or we need another bus to go from Meadowhall to Jenkin Road. If the 35 bus is late or can’t turn up, lots of elderly are unable to walk up Jenkin Road. The 35 is not reliable, there should be an alternative bus.”
Chole Payne, of Manor said: “I want the 24 to go through the Peace Gardens again. No bus from the Manor goes into town. It’s hard for my Grandma to get into town as she now has to walk from Arundel Gate.”
Maveed Mil, of Dore said: “I’ve got used to the changes now. It was a bit confusing at first as no one really knew where the new routes went.
“The main thing I’ve noticed is there are loads more single deckers than doubles now. Sometimes in a morning you have to stand up all the way to work, I don’t mind but others do.”
Matthew Lumb said: “Improvements? Well the current ‘service’ is, I suppose, better than those horrendous first few weeks of missing buses, random timings, drivers going the wrong way, buses travelling in convoys, no real-time info, arrogant replies to customer enquiries, and so on..
“But is the service as good as it was in, say, October? No. The City Bus tickets are the only good point I can think of.”
Residents from across S8 and Arbourthorne recently grilled Kevin Belfield, the Managing Director of First Group South Yorkshire, at a meeting called by Sheffield Labour MP Louise Haigh as frustrations over bus timetables continued to be felt across the south of Sheffield.
Passengers spoke of being ‘abandoned’ after the 19 and 20a was taken off, leaving them unable to attend the doctors’ surgery, visit a supermarket or get to work or school on time.
Residents insisted they were not consulted over the changes, which have left many of them isolated or forced to wait outside in cold temperatures for ‘up to an hour’ to meet connecting buses.
The bus chief accepted frustration over the consultation process and ‘had learnt the lessons,’ identifying a number of failings.
The meeting was informed that the consultation process currently underway in Doncaster had been significantly improved as a consequence of the experience in Sheffield.
Mr Belfield did concede that he was committed to looking again at the routes which have caused most objection – the 19 and 20a which serviced Norton and Greenhill in particular – and completing the circuit on the 51 to properly service the Arbourthorne estate.
Ms Haigh said: “I’ve been well aware, since before the changes even came in in November, how affected people in our area will be by these route changes.
“It is right that residents continue to have the chance to air their views to the boss of First South Yorkshire. The consultation process was inadequate and I’m glad they have accepted their failing in that regard; but the changes are still having a dramatic impact on the lives of people across our part of the city leaving people feeling isolated.”
Coun Rob Murphy, leader of the Green Party on Sheffield Council, has thrown his weight behind The Star’s campaign to stand up for the city’s bus users.
He has called for more regulation on bus routes and a thorough consultation process.
“It’s great that the Star is continuing the campaign to sort out Sheffield’s buses,” he said.
“It’s clear that the changes from last November have caused chaos. People are late for work, kids late for school and older people are being left stranded.
“The actions by operators make clear the need for a regulated service where fares, routes and frequencies are under the control of an accountable public body.
“We need to start with a proper consultation on what services are needed where.”
Graves Park Liberal Democrat Coun Ian Auckland sits on the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee.
He said: “It’s clear that the bus partnership don’t want to listen, but opposition councillors, along with The Star, will keep on campaigning and not let Sheffield bus passengers’ concerns go to the back of the queue.”
Sheffield Hallam Lib Dem MP Nick Clegg said: “The recent cuts to bus services in Sheffield have caused massive disruption and inconvenience for passengers, particularly in rural areas. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have been campaigning against these cuts since they came into force and will keep on doing so.”
Ahead of today’s meeting, a Sheffield Bus Partnership spokesman said: “We have seen big improvements in Sheffield’s buses since the New Year.
“Service issues were experienced due to the scale of bus changes at the network review in November. Over the past months we have listened to passengers and analysed on-board data to make journey adjustments to address this. Through working in Partnership, we have firmly steered Sheffield’s buses back on route and we are pleased with these latest improved results.
“We will continue to monitor customer feedback about services to ensure they are meeting community needs.”
The meeting will be attended by Paul Lynch, managing director of Stagecoach Yorkshire, Kevin Belfield, managing director of First South Yorkshire, Paul Hopkinson or Phil Stockley of TM Travel, Stephen Edwards, executive director of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, and members of the Sheffield City Region Transport Committee.
Ten key bus chaos dates
June 29 - Consultation on proposals to ‘improve’ Sheffield’s bus network begins. The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive says the plans will remove excess services and aid faster bus journey time
July 21 - Anger at the plans began to mount, with hundreds of people objecting at how they will be cut off or otherwise affected
August 22 - Transport chiefs revise the original proposals after the consultation closes. Some services are retained
September 1 - Bus chiefs agreed the changes, in what was described as the ‘biggest ever bus cut’ on one day.
September 2 - The controversial cuts dominated Sheffield Council’s full meeting, with petitions handed in and many questions asked from the public gallery
November 9 - Passengers left with long delays, queues and frustration after the cuts come into force deluge The Star with complaints about the ‘chaos’ the changes have caused
November 10 -Teacher Joanne Lumley starts a petition calling for the bus cuts to be reversed. More than 5,000 sign in less than a week, triggering a debate in the town hall
November 20 - At least 25 double deckers are introduced to tackle the problems and drivers are given extra training on routes - but passengers say these measures are not enough
December 2 - Fed up passengers protested and quizzed council chiefs at the full council meeting debate, while six petitions were handed in. Coun Terry Fox pledged that bus operators would be ‘held to account’
December 14 - Timetable changes to stop ‘buses bunching up’ are revealed - more take place in following weeks
January 14 - Figures obtained by The Star show there were almost four times as many complaints about buses made in the month after changes came in