PASSENGER transport bosses have slammed bus firm First for "unjustified" fare hikes of up to 14 per cent - but passengers were warned that cheap fares by rival firm Stagecoach will not last.
Mick Jameson, chairman of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, which co-ordinates public transport across the county, called on First to maintain a balance between making a profit and the needs of its customers.
He spoke after price increases by the firm, which operates in Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster, came into force.
Passengers are paying 10p more for single fares and 50p extra for all day tickets.
Mr Jameson said: "We cannot see any justification for the increase. Oil prices have gone down since last year and the pound has strengthened on the dollar, so their buying power has gone up.
"Bus operators need to be more open to the needs of the customers. We are aware that they need to run a business, but it needs to be a fair balance."
He added: "Although they have introduced return tickets in Sheffield and brought down the price of weekly and monthly tickets in Rotherham and Doncaster, people making journeys using two or three buses or who don't use the bus every day are still going to be paying more.
"This is hurting people on low incomes. It is becoming expensive to travel on public transport, in some cases it's cheaper to hire a minicab if there's several people making a trip."
Mr Jameson warned that although Stagecoach, which took over Yorkshire Traction and Yorkshire Terrier, has been offering single tickets for as little as 50 pence on routes in Sheffield, its cheap fares will not last long.
"Brian Souter, who runs the company, is using promotions to build up customers on routes where it is competing with First, but it is not sustainable in the long term, and we are not seeing cheap tickets outside Sheffield."
First's price rise equates to 6.5 per cent, although the increase in the price of day tickets is 14pc.
The changes are continuing to prove controversial with hundreds attending a protest rally in Sheffield last weekend.
First's commercial director Brandon Jones said costs within the industry have risen by 7pc during the last year.
He said the company had to take into account wages, insurance and maintenance costs as well as fuel.
Mr Jones said: "The fare change has been justified and is necessary. Costs have increased across the bus industry and, while fuel costs have fallen recently, they have been fluctuating over the last year, at one stage reaching 1 a litre.
"I believe our pricing reflects the needs of customers, with the reintroduction of return tickets and local weekly and monthly passes which are proving really popular."
Mike Power, commercial manager of Stagecoach in Barnsley, said although prices have not been increased for almost a year, there are no immediate plans to put bus fares up.
Mr Power said: "We will keep them under review.''
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