SHEFFIELD is on course for a bus revolution as South Yorkshire’s biggest operator invests millions of pounds in a new generation of cleaner, smarter vehicles.
First has committed to replacing half its 200-strong Sheffield fleet by 2017.
The new buses feature wi-fi access for passengers to surf the internet on their mobile phones, smart leather seats, and large, eye-catching windscreens.
The buses are also lighter-weight, featuring the latest engines which are 50 per cent more fuel-efficient than many vehicles currently in operation.
Forty of the buses will be on the road in Sheffield by this summer.
The news comes as fares rose this week - by 10p for single tickets - blamed on ‘inflationary pressures’ on wages, fuel and parts.
But Ben Gilligan, First’s regional performance director, said the company is beginning to increase passenger numbers again after a 40 per cent drop in the last decade, and is receiving fewer complaints.
The firm is now carrying 700,000 passengers a week across South Yorkshire, up from 670,000 a year ago.
Mr Gilligan said: “We are making the biggest investment in a long time. The first 40 new buses, worth £5 million, are due to be launched in South Yorkshire in June or July.
“The buses will replace 20 per cent of the whole Sheffield fleet and it is likely they will be phased in on our 51, 52 and 76 routes.”
The new ‘Streetlite’ buses are made by Northern Irish company Wright, fitted with Euro 5 standard diesel engines which are the most fuel-efficient, Mr Gilligan said.
He added: “With lighter bodies and the latest engines, they will be 50 per cent more fuel efficient than current buses.
“We have test-driven one on a trial run in Sheffield and it could carry a full load of passengers up East Bank Road in Arbourthorne - one of our steepest routes - just as well as a conventional bus.”
Mr Gilligan said First has made a commitment under the Sheffield Bus Partnership to ensure half its buses have Euro 5 engines by October 2017.
The pledge means another 60 vehicles will also be replaced with new ones during the next four years.
The only buses currently in service with Euro 5 engines are four on the Sheffield ‘Freebie’ free city centre service.
Mr Gilligan added: “We are trying to show passengers we are listening to them by making improvements.
“But we are facing increasing cost pressures. Fuel now represents 17 per cent of our costs, whereas it was only 11 per cent a decade ago.
“Fares are still cheaper than they were last year despite this week’s increase, so we hope it won’t have too much of an impact - and some prices have been frozen.”