First Bus boss Nigel Eggleton 'welcomes' emergency meeting called by Sheffield City Council leader to discuss cuts
The boss of First Bus in South Yorkshire has welcomed an emergency meeting called by the leader of Sheffield City Council.
But Nigel Eggleton warned service reductions would get worse and last until next year.
He said he understood Councillor Terry Fox was responding to concerns from passengers and he looked forward to having an open and honest discussion about how to ‘get ourselves out of this predicament’.
But he said reduced services due to driver shortages were likely to last until March - and set to include a further reduction in January of the frequency of ‘eight or nine’ evening services.
Mr Eggleton refuted claims it was about maximising profits.
He said: “We are not hiding behind driver shortages. We have been very open and honest about our position.”
HOW BAD IS THE DRIVER SHORTAGE?
The firm is 55 drivers short of a 670 full complement, he added. But recruitment was now higher than leavers.
He spoke out ahead of an emergency meeting called after a torrid few months for bus companies.
South Yorkshire leaders also put out a joint statement saying planned cuts were ‘deeply disappointing’.
They said: “The planned changes are deeply disappointing, and the threat of further reductions by bus operators remains very real. The move comes as passengers already face disruption in the run-up to Christmas from industrial disputes between Stagecoach and its drivers.
“It is deeply frustrating to be in this position after 18 months when unprecedented public money has gone to operators, including over £20m to First alone. The MCA has also pumped major resources into reviving passenger numbers, including committing millions for fare concessions, and agreed an ambitious roadmap for the transformation of our network, including many measures bus companies have been clamouring for.
“At a moment when we have shown our commitment to build a better bus service for South Yorkshire, cuts would directly undermine that ambition, and risk fuelling a vicious cycle of decline. Whatever the challenges facing operators, a rush to reduce services seriously calls into question their willingness to be credible partners in building the transformation they claim to support.
“It is, however, clear that the Government has also contributed greatly to this situation – with ongoing uncertainty over continued recovery funding from April and growing doubts over long term investment adding to the pressure on operators. We submitted an ambitious Bus Service ‘Improvement Plan and began the process of negotiating an Enhanced Partnership in good faith – and yet much of the promised financing by the government appears to be evaporating.
“Our immediate focus now will be on minimising disruption for passengers. But we remain absolutely committed to creating a fundamentally better service. That includes, as we have always intended, bringing forward proposals for the January MCA meeting to consider starting the formal process of investigating bus franchising as a way to deliver the service South Yorkshire needs.
“Meanwhile, we will continue to work closely with operators and government, and to make the case for them to back the transformative vision for buses they say they support. But with or without them, we will keep fighting to better connect our region, support our businesses, and stave off pollution, congestion and a growing climate crisis. This agenda is too important to do otherwise.”