Around a quarter of services will be affected, with 15 being rerouted or replaced by alternatives and two being withdrawn, as transport chiefs respond to a perfect storm of falling passenger numbers, higher running costs, growing congestion and reduced public funding.
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), which coordinates public transport in the region, said the network is ‘under pressure’ and it ‘simply can't afford to retain the same level of service’.
It said it had worked with operators to minimise the impact on passengers, and the majority of services would be unaffected while changes to others would be minor and some routes would even benefit from greater frequency and timetable changes to improve reliability.
Sheffield and Doncaster are worst hit and while many of the changes are commercially driven some of the biggest are to local routes which are publicly subsidised to ensure communities are still served where it would not be profitable for operators to do so otherwise.
SYPTE has seen its funding for these tendered services – which include school routes, rural, evening and Sunday services, plus those providing access to work where no other public transport links exist – slashed by more than a third over the last decade to £6.6 million a year.
It said it had sought to prioritise school buses when making the revisions but had been forced to cut two little-used school routes in Doncaster.
SYPTE’s executive director, Stephen Edwards, said: “Buses are a vital part of our public transport network - more than 80 per cent of all passenger journeys in South Yorkshire are made by bus. However, like the rest of the country, we are seeing passenger numbers fall.
“We’ve worked hard with local bus companies to protect the network and minimise the impact on passengers, as far as is possible with the resources available. This means a large proportion of services will not change, but the network is under pressure. Running costs for bus operators have risen and public transport funding is stretched. We simply can’t afford to retain the same level of services.”
“We’ve faced difficult decisions about how we spend our budget, to make sure essential economic and social connections across the region are maintained. Reducing services isn’t something we want to do, and we have made sure, wherever possible, alternative transport links are available to passengers. School buses have been prioritised, to maintain important services that help young people get to education and training.”
The services which will be affected include:
1a from High Green to Herdings, via Chapeltown and Sheffield – will be partially replaced by new services 11, running between Chapeltown and Herdings, and 11a, between Northern General Hospital and Herdings
10 and 10a from Manor Top to Hallamshire Hospital, via Gleadless Valley – route changed in Manor to serve the new housing development, and minor alterations to timetable
19 from Sheffield to Chancet Wood, via Norton Lees – will no longer run but will be partially replaced by new service 76a
31 and 31b from Sheffield to Loxley, via Lower Walkley – will no longer run but will be partially replaced by services 52, 135 and 135a
32 from Sheffield to Firth Park, via Foxhill and Northern General Hospital – change of operator to First, with alterations to the route and timetable
35 from Sheffield to Meadowhall, via Foxhill and Grenoside – will no longer run, with services 32, 135 and 135a providing other options
38 and 38a from Hillsborough to Meadowhall, via Shirecliffe and Firth Park – will no longer run and will be partially replaced by service 18, which will be extend to run beyond Meadowhall to Hillsborough
75 and 76 from Shiregreen to Batemooor/Low Edges, via Sheffield – frequency increased from every 12 to every 10 minutes
97 and 98 from Hillsborough to Totley/Totley Brook, via Southey Green and Sheffield – frequency reduced from every 20 to every 30 minutes during daytime on Mondays to Saturdays
The changes are due to come into effect between Saturday, August 31 and Monday, September 2, and bus companies plan to provide detailing the revised timetables on board affected services three weeks beforehand.
In the vast majority of cases, ticket prices will not be affected, though First is cutting the fare from Nether Edge to Sheffield city centre by a third to £2, in response to demand from customers, with the frequency on that route to be reduced.
First South Yorkshire's managing director, Garry Birmingham, said: “The majority of the bus network will be unchanged. Where changes have been necessary these are mainly route or timetable adjustments to ensure we’re providing an efficient, modern network.
“Parts of our bus network have become inefficient and unreliable and it is only right that services adapt to increasing congestion and changes in customer demand.
“In some cases we have worked with transport partners to support wider changes and maintain access to communities where possible.
“We keep services under review and will continue to monitor customer feedback with our partners to introduce improvements as necessary.”
Mr Edwards added: “With fewer customers, services become costlier to run and unsustainable for commercial operators. Our buses need greater support from passengers and policy makers alike if we are to reverse this continued decline.”
A bus review launched by Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis is underway, with one option being to franchise services, giving local authorities more control over routes, fares and standards.
He recently said he doesn’t think the region’s bus services are ‘anywhere near where they need to be’, and he claimed the review, chaired by MP Clive Betts, would try to find ‘innovative’ solutions.
The South Yorkshire Freedom Riders recently called for free bus travel to be introduced across the region, as has been done in some parts of Europe, with one expert suggesting the public health benefits meant such a move could pay for itself.
Bus usage in South Yorkshire has fallen consistently in recent years, as is the case in much of the country.
In Sheffield, the number of bus journeys fell from 56.9 million in 2013/14 to 51 million in 2017/18, while punctuality dropped from 91.1 per cent to 85.2 per cent over the same period.
Full details of the changes to bus services will be available at travelsouthyorkshire.com/servicechanges, from public transport interchanges and by calling Traveline on 01709 51 51 51.