How last winter’s controversial Sheffield bus changes went wrong

Bus timetable and route changes caused chaos for travellers in Sheffield in November
Picture Dean Atkins
Bus timetable and route changes caused chaos for travellers in Sheffield in November Picture Dean Atkins
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Problems with the introduction of major bus route changes across Sheffield last November were ‘far greater than anticipated’, a new review has found.

A report said the controversial service changes across the city resulted in an increase in buses being cancelled and arriving late, as well as overcrowding on many routes.

Bus timetable and route changes caused chaos for travellers in Sheffield in November
Picture Dean Atkins

Bus timetable and route changes caused chaos for travellers in Sheffield in November Picture Dean Atkins

Chris Roberts, principal public transport manager for South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said operators had failed to anticipate how badly services would be disrupted - resulting in the number of reserve buses and drivers needed being underestimated.

He said: “The cumulative effect of service disruption as outlined above was far greater than anticipated resulting in an underestimate of requirement for reserve buses and drivers to maintain and recover service failure. Additional resource and double decker buses were introduced quickly to alleviate punctuality and capacity issues whilst work was carried out to identify root cause and implement corrective action. The Sheffield Bus Partnership acknowledges the disruption to travel plans and inconvenience caused for its customers during the weeks following implementation of the revised bus network, and accepts the findings of this report.”

The report to the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority’s transport committee said one of the lessons from the problems was not to attempt major network changes in the run-up to Christmas.

It said: “Congestion typically increases during November and December, with traffic speeds reducing by around five per cent in November and up to 10 per cent in December at peak times. This is generally attributed to worsening weather conditions, lower light levels and increased traffic density after the school holidays and leading up to Christmas.

“When planning major network changes the partnership will, wherever possible, avoid implementation at times of known seasonal increase in congestion such as experienced in November and December 2015.”

The report said ‘it quickly became apparent that there were service performance issues which resulted in a spike in customer comments, primarily about service delivery, including buses arriving late, buses being cancelled and people having to stand’.

It said passenger numbers fell by 5.3 per cent during the first eight weeks of operation, with timetable changes made in January and February to improve punctuality.

The report said some drivers were not confident about the new routes they were meant to be taking, resulting in ‘some confusion and delay’. Mr Roberts added: “When scheduling revised timetables, operators underestimated the additional boarding time required for some services which had been consolidated and now carried more passengers. The additional time taken for more passengers to board was exasperated by passengers unfamiliar with new routes or fares seeking clarification whilst boarding.”

He said these issues are now taken into account when drawing up new timetables.