Impact of re-routing 27 buses in Sheffield city centre 'keeps me awake at night' transport boss admits
A transport boss has admitted bus passengers have struggled since a major city centre road was closed - as The Star today reveals the true scale of the disruption.
At least 27 services were diverted after Pinstone Street was closed to traffic in summer, with bus stops moved further out to Arundel Gate and Calver Street.
Introduced in June under social distancing measures, the traffic ban could become permanent under the £10m Connecting Sheffield project.
The move sparked hundreds of protests from inconvenienced users and city centre businesses but it has been welcomed by many - and sparked a heated debate about the future of the city centre.
The re-routed buses include numbers 1, 6, 11, 11a, 30, 30a, 51, 52, 52a, 75, 76, 76a, 81, 82, 83, 83a, 88, 86, 95, 95a, 97, 98, 120, 273, 274, 275 and X5.
Now, Sheffield Council has acknowledged the impact.
Matthew Reynolds, transport planning and infrastructure manager, said accessibility of the new bus stops 'kept him awake at night’.
He told a scrutiny meeting: "The bus stop accessibility is the part which is a concern and keeps me awake at night as it's bus passengers who feel it the most.
"We try to put bus stops in the places where people want to get to the most but the city centre has changed. There's a shift, the retail core is moving and is in a tricky transition phase from Fargate to the Moor."
Mr Reynolds said there had been positive comments about the closure but he didn't know if any were from bus passengers.
More than 460 people have commented on the project’s website
One states: ‘At the moment standing at a bus stop at the eastern end of Arundel Gate is not a nice experience because of the environment - it does not feel safe at night’.
Another says: ‘There were good facilities on Pinstone Street taking people to the heart of the city and this seems to be lost with second-rate, cramped waiting facilities on a narrow Rockingham Street, dumping and hiding bus passengers on a back street.
‘Access to the Fargate area for older or less mobile people is effectively lost. It's fine having planters everywhere, but with no shops or access for people, the old core of the city will be killed’.
‘Connecting Sheffield’ proposals include a network of new cycle routes, the closure of Surrey Street at one end, the partial closure of Arundel Gate, bus gates on Furnival Gate, extensive planting and landscaping, a pocket park on Furnival Square and a bus hub on Rockingham Street.
They have been met with enthusiasm by a host of organisations including bus companies, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, Cycle Sheffield, the Greens, the Lib Dems, Sheffield City Region, Sheffield Property Association and scores of people.
The council says the plan creates more space for walking and cycling and more direct bus routes to cut congestion, improve air quality and ‘improve travel choices’.
A spokeswoman said: “New bus corridors will simplify routes, allowing buses to cross the city centre more quickly and avoid congestion hot spots, helping to improve bus service reliability.”
But some fear the changes go too far.
David Smith, a former principal research officer at Sheffield Council, said: ‘I find it hard to believe the council has made a proper economic assessment of the consequences of closure: how many bus passengers will be disadvantaged by the changes and the extent of the disadvantage, the likelihood that this will result in lower bus usage, lower bus profitability, declining bus services, lower footfall in the city centre, shop closures and job losses? And what are the supposed advantages? I can't see any that will materially help the city centre economy’.
But Sheffield Greens leader, Douglas Johnson, said Pinstone Street was set to become a ‘welcoming public space, much better than continuous lines of traffic and storage space for private cars’.
He added: “If you can’t drive or get the bus to the exact spot you used to, you will feel a disadvantage. And you won’t yet be familiar with the new locations served by buses where access was limited before.
“What we Greens would really like to see, however, is the return of the FreeBee bus circulating around the city centre every ten minutes. A clean electric vehicle could easily run a service past the taxi rank on Barker’s Pool and provide ready access to Pinstone Street.”
The call was echoed by Lid Dem transport spokesman Ian Auckland.
He added: “Pedestrianisation is probably good for business although you have to convince retailers of that. Once it’s done people don’t want to go back.”
Pat Beijer, director of transport operations at South Yorkshire Passenger Travel Executive, said she welcomed the council’s proposals which ‘seek to improve bus service reliability, walking and cycling routes, and encourage everyone to have their say in the Connecting Sheffield consultation’
She added: “Public transport has been critical during the Covid-19 pandemic - keeping our region’s essential workers moving in the initial emergency response period, and supporting our economy by safely getting people to the places they needed to be.
“While the pandemic has forced unprecedented changes to our commuting networks, sustainable transport will play a vital role in re-building a safe, green and connected city in our recovery in 2021 and beyond."
A Stagecoach spokeswoman said they were disappointed at the loss of the bus stops on Pinstone Street and Leopold Street.
But she added: “Many things are changing during this year and Sheffield city centre is changing and moving forwards with some exciting developments to make it a more attractive and place to visit and spend time.”