First and Stagecoach back plans to transform Sheffield buses - including free fares for children
Free children’s fares, capped tickets for adults, and friendlier drivers are all part of plans to transform Sheffield’s buses.
But motorists may have to give way to buses more often, and cheap parking costs are raised as an issue in the plans which both local politicians and transport companies hope will transform the way we get around the city, if funding is agreed.
Describing buses as a critical element of South Yorkshire’s transport network, the plan warns the bus network is in decline, with fewer passengers and less funding.
It stated: “At the moment, for many people, the bus does not present a viable choice, either because of where the network runs, or its times of operation, or its affordability, or even because of issues of security and accessibility. This cannot continue.”
Chesterfield Road targeted for priority scheme
Officials want to extend operating times of bus lanes and do work including giving buses greater priority over cars in the most congested areas, to improve travel times. Chesterfield Road is already being targeted.
The report states: “There is a need for a systematic network of significant bus priority interventions across the region to drive improvements in reliability and journey times and make buses more attractive.”
It looks at parking prices, stating South Yorkshire parking charges are often priced ‘very competitively’ compared to average bus fares.
It also proposes more training for drivers – after a survey reported the biggest factor affecting passengers’ happiness was the driver. It stated South Yorkshire performs badly compared to other authorities for ‘driver style’, adding there was a real need to ensure consistent high quality customer service training in addition to driver training, including specific disability awareness.
Officials also want to put audio visual information on buses, stating what the next stop is, like on trams.
There is a proposal for a 'last bus promise', stating: “We will re-inforce and promote a last bus promise which means passengers will not be stranded or forced to take expensive taxi journeys if the last bus is late or does not turn up.
The plan addresses value for money.
It says at present there are many tickets available which do not always provide best value for money.
It states: “Ticket technology in South Yorkshire lags behind comparable metropolitan areas and therefore does not offer the flexibility needed to adapt to passengers’ changing travel patterns. Customers’ views on value for money are, in part, a reflection of the complexity of the ticket offer, which can lead to purchasing the wrong product and having to pay more later, or to concern that they have selected the wrong option, thereby undermining confidence.
‘Fares have risen substantially above inflation’
"Whilst benchmarking suggests that in general South Yorkshire fares are lower than other metropolitan areas, fares have risen substantially above inflation in the past decade and there remains a significant difference in absolute and capped fares between London and other metropolitan areas. For too many people, bus travel is prohibitively expensive both in comparison to other modes like cars and, for lower income groups, in absolute terms as well.”
It suggests limiting price rises to once a year and aligning them to regulated rail fares, to provide clarity and certainty.
It also calls for tickets to be usable across different bus firms. Bus operators will review their single operator products and consider withdrawing them to simplify ticketing. It proposes special deals for young people, apprentices and people looking for jobs, plus an offer of free travel to under 18s – subject to funding being made available.
Capped payments using contactless technology
The plan proposes contactless card payments on buses, with a ‘tap and cap’ system, where customers ‘tap’ in and out of the bus, paying a capped fare at the end of the day or week.
It says ‘tap and cap’ technology is gradually being introduced across the UK. It is not yet available across South Yorkshire, but was trialled by First South Yorkshire in Doncaster.
Officials believe ‘tap and cap’ will guarantee passengers best value for money, as well as simplifying ticketing, while speeding up passenger boarding and reducing delays.
Both Sheffield’s main bus companies are backing the plan.
Nigel Eggleton managing director, of First South Yorkshire and Midlands, said: “This plan is vital to the region in which we operate, if we are to succeed in building a stronger, greener and fairer South Yorkshire. Without a safe, reliable and accessible bus network, this just won’t be possible.
“We have worked closely with South Yorkshire Authority to develop this plan participating in workshops, reviewing content and endorsing proposals. The Bus Service Improvement Plan is therefore a product of close collaboration with South Yorkshire Authority.”
Matt Cranwell, managing director of Stagecoach East Midlands, added: “We recognise that investment in the bus network paves the way to job creation, new investment and economic growth. The proposed plan will help fulfill these criteria.”
Passengers were supportive of the plans for free bus travel for under 18s and fare caps.
Anne Jeandin, from Lodge Moor, supported a fare cap and free bus travel for under 18s, and thought it would encourage people to use the buses.
Ray Croydon, from Crosspool, added: “I think it would be a good idea, because most under 18s are still at school – they’re not earning so I think it would help them out, and their families as well.”
Lisa Walker, from Doncaster, was travelling to Sheffield Children’s hospital. She said of the proposed free travel for under 18s: “I think it would be a good idea because there are a lot of kids who go to college and they struggle to get to college. And it being free, you’ll see more in college.”
Of the fare cap, she said: “It would be (a good move) for a lot of people as there are people who can’t afford the bus fare.”