Yorkshire bus drivers getting 30-page booklets about different fares on offer, says Sheffield MP Clive Betts

An over-complicated fares system is putting many passengers off taking the bus, says a Yorkshire MP, with one operator giving drivers a 30-page booklet about the different fares on offer.

Clive Betts, who led a review into South Yorkshire's buses this summer, says insufficient funding, lack of leadership and a lack of accountability are the three root causes in the decline in bus passenger numbers.

The Sheffield MP's review, published this summer but carried out before the start of the pandemic, said bus operators were not being properly held to account and the result was "poor frequency, poor reliability and poor quality and accessibility of services across South Yorkshire".

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Poor connectivity between bus services and other modes of transport was also a problem. The Independent Bus Commission saw one example of a four-mile journey which required three changes, with the hourly bus service arriving after the hourly train service had departed.

The review recommended that a simpler ticketing system and the exploration of innovative fare structures were investigated.

And Mr Betts told The Yorkshire Post that the complicated nature of the fares system rather than the cost of the fares was a big issue for passengers.

He said: "The fares system is so complicated that one of the bus companies gave us a booklet they give to their drivers about fare advice, it's 30-pages long. It is just very complicated.

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts led a review into South Yorkshire's buses. Pic: Chris Etchells

"Some of that is the companies' own fault but you can't have a comprehensive policy for fares because it goes against competition law.

"So people didn't get a TravelMaster ticket ]offering services with different operators] which is generally supposed to be a good idea. But if you get that you will almost certainly pay more than someone who is able just to use a multi-journey ticket across one bus company."

Labour MP Mr Betts also said that one of the biggest gripes of passengers was services and routes changing and not being consulted.

He said: "If you're arriving on your bus to get from your home to work, or your home to school, or even your home to a regular social event, and then the routes change, you can be left stranded or left without a job or having to buy a small car to do it.

"The number of people who say we used to travel by bus but now we travel by car because it is so much quicker and so much more convenient."

Among the recommendations in the report was that a ring-fenced portion of South Yorkshire's £30m-a-year devolution deal funding is used for improvements to the bus system, prioritising interventions to tackle congestion.

And in the longer term it said the prospect of a municipal ownership of a bus company, potentially as an arm’s length organisation from Dan Jarvis's Mayoral Combined Authority, should be explored.

Sheffield South East MP Mr Betts said the pandemic and the fall in passenger numbers allowed his team to "observe and understand the initial social and economic impact this has had on bus services, especially since lockdown and social distancing measures have been put in place".

He said: “This is an opportunity to make necessary improvement to the bus system in South Yorkshire, so that when life does return to the ‘new normal’ our bus system is better, stronger and more financially resilient. If we don’t make fundamental changes now, then we may not have a bus service in the future.”