EXCLUSIVE: Controversial South Yorkshire bus service changes introduced without public consultation

First buses.
First buses.
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Transport bosses pushed through controversial changes to bus services in Sheffield without a public consultation as the alternations were not deemed significant enough.

Furious commuters have criticised changes implemented by bus operator First, which are affecting more than 50 routes across Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and north Derbyshire, while Stagecoach has also announced changes to 14 routes in Barnsley and the Dearne Valley.

Bus passengers in Sheffield.

Bus passengers in Sheffield.

Some passengers claim they will now struggle to get to work, school, run errands and attend medical appointments.

But The Star can exclusively reveal that the Sheffield Bus Partnership – made up of Sheffield Council, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and private bus companies - decided not to launch a public consultation as the changes were not deemed to be large enough.

The move has today sparked anger with public transport campaigner Liz Weber, who has launched an online petition in a bid to convince transport bosses into a rethink over the changes.

The 52-year-old, of Grimesthorpe, said: "Obviously the people in charge at the Sheffield Bus Partnership do not have the misfortune of having to use public transport.

"If they did they would realise what a shambles it is. Any significant changes should be subject to public consultation.

"I believe that people should get a voice to explain how badly these changes in services have impacted on their movement, commuting, making hospital or doctors' visits, shopping and school and college journeys."

Alan Riggall, head of commercial for First South Yorkshire, said the partnership was first notified about the planned changes in November last year and a consultation with councillors was arranged to take place before the May local elections.

However, with the snap General Election it was decided to postpone the consultation with ward members until June.

After a week of discussions with councillors it was decided there was no need to go ahead with a broader full public consultation before introducing the changes in September.

Mr Riggall said: "A number of councillors raised questions about the changes but ultimately a collective decision was taken by the partnership that due to the minor nature of the changes, and the fact that the positives outweighed the negatives, that a public consultation was not required.

He added that only seven services have been reduced - 70, 71, 85, 38A, 18A, 40 and 41 - because of low usage.

The transport boss said only three official complaints had been filed to First from passengers and added "97 per cent of passengers" will see that the level of service is the same or has improved.

Mr Riggall added: "We fully understand that changes cause debate and we welcome that because it shows that people care about their bus services.

"But we have to look at where the demand for services is."

Responding to claims that too many buses have been diverted from other areas to go down City Road, he told how only one service has been replaced there which will provide better links for towns such as Waverley and Catcliffe into Sheffield.

Amid complains that services have been reduced going through Grimesthorpe, First said the move was taken due to low demand.

In addition, First denied that services had been drained away from other areas to replace routes previously served by the BrightBus school bus which ended in the summer.

The operator said it has 'separately invested in replacing 25 of the BrightBus services.'

Mr Riggall said First would be happy to take part in a public meeting with residents so long as they can see the questions beforehand.

He said: "This would allow us to have a structured, productive meeting.

"We are happy to listen to customers' views and are always looking at ways to improve services."

A spokesperson for Sheffield Bus Partnership said that while a public consultation was not used on this occasion, 'passenger data and customer comments' formed part of the decision process.

They added: "Customer feedback was incorporated into the decision making process for these service changes together with comments received through councillor drop-in sessions ahead of any changes being confirmed."