South Yorkshire passengers outraged as First Bus profits quadruple amid cuts to services

A petition to bring South Yorkshire buses under public control has received almost 4,000 signatures.
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Campaigners’ anger has been aimed at a South Yorkshire bus firm after company accounts released earlier this week show that operating profits quadrupled in just one year.

First South Yorkshire Ltd has released its full accounts made up to March 25, 2023, showing the firm had made a profit of £2.31m in 2023, compared to a loss of £505,000 in 2022.

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The firm has said they need to make profits to continue to "invest in our people, facilities, and assets".

The profits come at the same time as new data from Friends of the Earth, an environmental campaigning community, shows South Yorkshire has lost an average of 49.6 per cent of its bus services since 2010, with Sheffield and Rotherham the worst affected at 59.2 per cent and 58.4 per cent.

The start of November saw prices increase for child and young person bus fares, and a cut in services mostly affecting weekend and evening services in South Yorkshire.

Better Buses for South Yorkshire campaigners want the county's bus services under public control.Better Buses for South Yorkshire campaigners want the county's bus services under public control.
Better Buses for South Yorkshire campaigners want the county's bus services under public control.

In November this year, children and young people saw their bus fares increase in order to "save as many routes as possible", South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) said. It comes after the authority missed out on the government's Bus Service Improvement Plan funding.

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Campaigners at Better Buses for South Yorkshire claim that First’s profits provide a strong case for bringing local buses under public control to end 'profit seeking' from local communities.

Matthew Topham, a campaigner at Better Buses for South Yorkshire, said: "This latest profit hike adds insult to injury. People in our region face agony every day: buses that don’t turn up on time, fares that feel like a rip-off, and the constant threat of route cuts.

"No other European nation gives private bus companies the freedom to take advantage of the travelling public like we do.

"The mayor and local councillors have the power to end this. They can’t afford to let anything stall their plans."

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Campaigners have set up a petition calling for public control which has already received nearly 4000 signatures:

Public control, also known as bus franchising or re-regulation, would see the mayor of South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Oliver Coppard, commission all bus services in the region, meaning decisions about fares, routes, and standards are made by him, not private companies.

Previously, mayor Coppard said he was "determined to fight for a fair funding deal that gives us a public transport network that is reliable, efficient and affordable, and that actually serves the needs of our communities".

He added: "The government promised us that levelling-up would mean a London style transport system here in South Yorkshire, but that vision is further away than ever. That’s because we simply haven’t had the investment we need to make that promise a reality."

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He is urging the Secretary of State for Transport to meet him.

'Passengers put before profit'

In West Yorkshire, the mayor is currently consulting the public on her plans to introduce bus franchising, highlighting that one of the benefits is that private profits could be reinvested to provide additional services.

Fran Postlethwaite, Better Buses for South Yorkshire coordinator, said: "We urgently need to end the privatisation of our buses and make sure the passengers are put before profit.

"First shareholders will now make money out of the misery caused by our failing bus services. Bus companies like First aren’t interested in meeting the needs of our communities."

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Zoe Hands, managing director for First South Yorkshire said the firm has "big aspirations" to improve their services in South Yorkshire.

She said: "We have recently invested and introduced Tap on Tap off ticketing technology making is easier for people to pay for their bus travel, and we are trialling various EV [electric vehicle] buses to evaluate which model can perform the best taking into consideration the topography of the area.

"EV buses cost in the region of £500k each and to replace our fleet will be a huge financial commitment, but looking ahead this is what is needed to improve bus provision in the area.  

“As a business, we need to make a profit to continue to invest in our people, facilities, and assets to achieve our goals, invest in new technology to continually improve our products and customer offering. This will ensure we can always put our customers and colleagues at the forefront of everything we do."