It was an uncomfortable meeting, but then so it should have been.
Finally, the bus operators of Sheffield met the travelling public to explain themselves after the controversial changes to services across the city.
The city council insisted on the public meeting to hold to account the bus partnership for their “improvement” decisions that had caused such fury when they were implemented last November.
Plenty of noise is made about holding authorities or service providers who receive public funding to account, but seldom does it actually happen and, generally, the public have even fewer opportunities to question those who make decisions that impact massively on their daily lives.
But, the representatives of First, Stagecoach and TM Travel were certainly put on the spot at the Town Hall.
And here’s another thing you rarely hear; they admitted they’d got things wrong, that they’d made mistakes.
Paul Lynch of Stagecoach admitted that a lot of things didn’t work as planned, that the situation was worse than they expected and wasn’t what they wanted. Quite. It wasn’t what thousands of passengers wanted either. Another transport planner admitted that it had perhaps not been a good idea to bring in such massive change in the run up to Christmas, traditionally one of the busiest times of year in any town or city centre.
Passengers’ fury erupted the day the changes came in and they continued to vent it for many weeks afterwards. Good for them. Not simply accepting the changes and then stoically trying to go about their daily business by a circuitous route involving three different buses with a one hour wait between them paid off. As did the decision to make their feelings very public; criticism in The Star is much more difficult to brush under the carpet than a series of angry emails after all. A 5,000 name petition triggered a council debate too. It made a change from trees dominating the end of year agenda.
The protesters efforts led to pretty swift action by the bus companies in bringing in more buses and tweaked timetables. It led to angry debates in the council chamber and tough action in requiring the operators to answer to their public.
All in all, a result for people power.
You can’t help but think that some of this furore could have been avoided if the changess had not been presented as “improvements” during “consultation” in the summer.
Clearly to many travellers they were not going to make their commute better, or easier.
Hopefully, to use another stock phrase often trotted out by those in power when thigns have gone wrong, lessons will have been learnt.