FreeBee buses to be withdrawn as transport councillors implement budget cuts


FreeBee bus services to be ended
• Concessionary travel cut back
• Community transport fares to rise
• Peak time express park and ride services cut
• But the good news is child fares are frozen

COUNCILLORS have agreed to discontinue free bus services in Sheffield and Rotherham and to scale back the concessionary fare scheme for older people as they look to make big budget savings from April.

The cutbacks, which have been approved by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority (SYITA), come as councillors are forced to make savings of almost 10% to transport budgets.

At its meeting on Thursday 6 February SYITA agreed to discontinue the two FreeBee bus services in Sheffield and Rotherham centres, which are funded by public subsidy, from the end of April. And the express 638 bus service in Doncaster, which runs weekday peak times between Doncaster North and South Park and Ride sites via the town centre.

The route of the FreeBee bus services is largely shared by other frequent commercial bus services, which concessionary pass holders will still be able to access free of charge.

The OAP and disabled persons concessionary travel scheme is to be scaled back so that weekday free travel is available from 9.30am to 11pm, bringing South Yorkshire in line with the rest of the country outside of London. For elderly people it currently operates from 9am. Councillors also voted to withdraw rail travel from the concessionary scheme, meaning for certain categories of rail users the concession will only be available on bus or tram. However customers will still be able to take advantage of discounted Railcard deals offered by rail operators.

Grants to community transport services will also be cut, although operators will be able to offset this by raising fares by 50p.

But travel chiefs say that the good news is that child concessionary fares won’t go up this April and that evening, weekend and rural bus services funded by SYPTE have been protected from cuts too. Talks are taking place with operators with a view to introducing new young persons’ daily and weekly tickets, which will help to make public transport even more affordable.

Today’s decision comes as central government imposed cuts have hit the South Yorkshire district councils meaning that the funding they have previously made available to SYITA is no longer affordable. Over the past three years SYPTE has had its budget slashed by more than £17 million and has made deep cuts in its workforce. The budget cuts which SYITA has agreed means that the budget for 2014/15 is cut by a further £8.3 million, and SYPTE's workforce is cut by a further 16%.

SYPTE oversees and delivers public transport and is specifically responsible for maintaining the county’s public transport infrastructure, including its interchanges and bus stops.

It also subsidises bus services which operators say don’t make enough money to be commercially viable. These services, which make up a sixth of all bus miles in the county, are mainly evening, weekend and rural services.

Cllr Mick Jameson, Chairman of South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority (SYITA), which oversees the work of SYPTE, said: “We don’t like having to raise fares and cut back on services but when your budgets are being slashed by Government then there simply isn’t a great deal of choice. The savings have to come from somewhere.

“The good news is that we have largely been able to protect the bus network and that child fares aren’t being touched this year.”

Over the past two years SYPTE pulled in around £150 million worth of funding from Government and European sources for transport projects such as Tram-Train, Bus Rapid Transit, as well as new cycle facilities and schemes to boost access to jobs and training.

It was named as Integrated Transport Authority of the Year in the 2013 National Transport Awards.