Thursday, 31 May 2018


One morning in December 1824, the Duke of Wellington received an unpleasant letter.
'My Lord Duke,' it began, 'in Harriette Wilson's Memoirs ...
... which I am about to publish, are various anecdotes of Your Grace which it would be most desirable to withhold, at least such is my opinion. I have stopped the Press for the moment, but as the publication will take place next week, little delay can necessarily take place.'

The letter, signed by one Joseph Stockdale ...
... a pornographer and scandal-monger, was a naked attempt at blackmail. The Duke was a field marshal, cabinet minister, national hero, husband and father, while Harriette Wilson was a famous London courtesan past her prime, then living in exile in Paris. Wellington was being asked to pay money to be left out of her memoirs.

His response is famous: 'Publish and be damned' And they did. 

Whilst Stockdale and Ms Wilson earned a bob or to at first, Stockdale was destroyed by Libel suits and Ms Wilson died in poverty and obscurity.

fbb's question is this:-

Why does ...

Sheffield Bus Partnership
Buses for Sheffield
First Bus
South Yorkshire PTE

... reduce bus services in the summer?

In the past this reduction applied "during school summer holidays" usually a little over six weeks. Does this make sense? Surely with all the little kiddie winkies with nothing to do for six weeks, they should be whizzing across Sheffield to enjoy all the excellent leisure facilities that the city has to offer.

Maybe numbers might not increase but extra sprogs on the loose should more than compensate for those jetting off to the Algarve/Blackpool/Skeggy for their hols.
With a bit of marketing, there ought to be the potential to GROW the business during those six weeks.

Listen to the chorus from the bodies listed above, "Marketing, what is that?"

Last year services 52/52A and 120 were reduced from the end of May because they are the main routes that serve Sheffield University and "most of the students go home then." Under the "Partnership" there are probably too many buses on these service even when the students are there; an awful lot of them now travel by car and the rest walk from their Halls of Residence.

Do the departing dons-to-be drastically deplete the drivers' dosh-box?

Roll on to 2018 and all main services get the chop for, not six weeks, but THREE MONTHS. Some of these routes go nowhere near any University hot spots; they serve residential areas inhabited by real life Sheffield folk who will still shop, go to the pub, visit friends and possibly - with a little bit of marketing, take trips out for cinema/footy/parks etc etc.

Listen to the chorus from the bodies listed above, "Marketing, what is that?"

So fbb was excited to receive this communication from a "usually reliable source" - not a "bus nut" or a bus spotter but a retired "bus man" with a lifetime of experience in the industry.

Yesterday I learned the real reason for the frequency reductions.

The Supertram track replacement programme started last weekend with Hillsborough - Middlewood as you know and Stagecoach Yorkshire are providing the replacement bus services as they did for the 2016 rail replacement works. However in 2016 buses were borrowed (hired?) from other Stagecoach companies such as Manchester and Dundee. The difference this year is that Stagecoach Yorkshire are providing the services from their own fleet thus saving the cost of bringing in buses and drivers.

In order to release buses and drivers for the tram replacement services, frequency reductions are imposed on various Stagecoach bus services across the Sheffield network. It is nothing to do with reduced loadings in summer or lower student numbers travelling.

Stagecoach Yorkshire, through the Partnership, persuaded First to bring in their summer service reductions early so that there was uniformity of timetables.

Bet First obviously didn't take much persuading - an easy way to make more £££MONEY£££ by short changing the good folk of Sheffield?

Now that makes more sense (but unpalatable sense) than hiding behind dubious student numbers.

The real reason has been kept from passengers and I think this is deceitful, never mind the so-called Partnership promising improved services.
This programme of rail replacement works continues until 14 September. Does this mean that the "summer holiday" reductions will not be reinstated on 3 September when schools return But continue until 14 September, or not be reinstated at all?

But is it true? fbb's correspondent did not reveal HIS source, but it will be a reliable one - he would not write such a letter based on shallow rumour mongering. 

Undaunted by the gargantuan task ahead, fbb's source contacted officials at the PTE and the participating bus companies.

In simple terms they hotly deny the thesis. 
But as Mandy Rice Davis didn't quite opine, "They would say that, wouldn't they?"

This from a PTE official:-

You are correct that some of the core services in Sheffield have changed this weekend with reduced frequencies. This is as a consequence of lower volumes of people travelling from late May based on previous years’ experience and is designed to match supply with demand in a more intelligent way. As you rightly observe, this is no different from the steps we take every summer however we have pulled them forwards in order to improve the efficiency of the network.

Efficiency - does that mean "profitability"?

The rail replacement work is unconnected to these changes. All arrangements in respect of the provision of bus replacements are dealt with by Stagecoach Yorkshire and Supertram and the planned locations for the work that is taking place this year and in future years was agreed last Autumn. The timing is purely coincidental and has been dictated by the availability of steel for the rail.

No mention of students!

And this from Stagecoach:-

The decision to revise the phasing of the summer frequency reductions in Sheffield was based on experience from last year and reflects the reduction in demand we see when the student activity winds down. The decision was made through the Sheffield Bus Partnership.

i.e. via legalised "collusion"?

The additional bus requirement for Supertram replacement works is being funded in house and the dates are coincidental. 

Neither fbb nor his correspondent is convinced by these replies. IF the numbers make such a poor piece of customer service essential, then let's have some figures. By how much did passenger numbers at Hemsworth, Greystones, Batemoor etc decline from the end of May last year?

And is there a similar decline at Easter, Christmas, half terms or mid-semester "reading weeks"?

One final point of interest. The above replies are from responsible and experienced senior officials within the Sheffield bus management. fbb's correspondent's source is also a senior official within the Sheffield bus management.

Official truth?

Or real truth?

One final point. We are assured that services will return to normal from the start of the school autumn term. But the hordes of absent students will not return for another month. If they were the real reason for the cutbacks, why not maintain the chop until October 1st?

Bur PLEASE don't!!!

And An Apology - Sort Of?
With reference to the tram rail replacement programme in Sheffield, currently between Hillsborough and Middlewood, fbb has written (at least twice!) about the lack of any timetables for the revised Supertram Link bus services SL1 and SL1a between Middlewood and Stocksbridge.
These are extended through to Hillsborough and, over the bank holiday weekend, were the ONLY means of getting near to the unserved tram stops.

The map on the leaflet shows how inconvenient this arrangement was.
The dotted orange lines show where you had to walk!

But yesterday, whilst mining the depths of the Supertram web site, fbb found timetables! Those for the Bank Holiday weekend were unbelievable - literally! Unless fbb was being more incompetent than usual, he did not notice these tables BEFORE the weekend???

For Saturday 26th ...
... no buses between 0804 and 1918!

For Sunday 27th and Monday 28th ...
... nothing between 0902 and 1802 and nothing other than a couple of short workings to Oughtibridge (pronounced Ooty-bridge) with no way back.

Perhaps it is a good thing that folk were not trying to understand these tables - and what, pray, is an SL1b when it's at home. No explanation was given.

A more understandable timetable now applies.

Pedestrian Parcel Progress
Having been "expected" at 1805 on Sunday, fbb's exciting package from Hattons at Widnes ...
... had made it all the way to Warrington by 1030 yesterday morning.

 Next P.S.  blog : Friday 1st June 


  1. Andrew Kleissner31 May 2018 at 07:24

    Lisbon buses and trams have long since run less frequent services during July and August as so many residents leave the city. Southampton Unilink U1 and U", and Cardiffbus 52, reduce their services during University vacations.

  2. The distribution of where Uni students live has changed over recent years, both due to the proliferation of new universities but also new private accomodations & those renting elsewhere away from traditional locations and the increasing proportion of students living at home. Also this coincides with the end of the exam period which sees the halving of Sixth Form Students travelling and a reduction in secondary school student volumes as well. In regards to September we often find unusually higher volumes during September as the kids go back to school which slowly settle as circumstances are adjusted. Whether this justifies the level/timing of drop they have done we can't know but there is at least a basis for the logic they are following.

  3. I use one of the affected services which has been reduced from 20 to 30 mins frequency- in an area, re dwarfer above, which is a student-free zone. The bus I usually catch was at 0851- on the edge of the peak. Any traveller unaware of the changes, which from the evidence of casual chats means most people, will have found the alternatives from Tuesday of this week as running at 0837 (missed it!) or 0909 (late for work!). The only publicity has been cryptic references to altered timetables on Stagecoach's on-bus list of changes, or ditto on the PTE's website.
    This comes a week after a printed leaflet (hooray!) appreared on buses - 'Pick'n' mix with buses for Sheffield'. It starts 'Sheffield's bus service providers have joined together to improve bus travel across the city....' (Aargh!!) Since then, as well as the cuts, First have put up their fares. You couldn't make it up.

  4. However, to pour cold water on fbb's theories, the bulk of frequncy cuts are by First, who aren't involved in tram replacement - and to pour cold water on TSY's statements, probably the singlr services most used by students are the 52/52a (Sheffield Uni) and 82 (Hallam) which are both untouched.

  5. I'm also a little intrigued by the conclusions drawn, and especially as the unnamed source doesn't name his sources either. Whether the letter-writer is reliable or otherwise, it is nothing more than theory.

    I notice no suggestion has been made that the frequency cuts came first, and the tramlink works were planned for that time to use the vehicles? Or that First may have made the decision earlier, but Stagecoach were quicker to announce it?

    Whether you like it or not, summer timetables are nothing new, although I grant they are often thinning out of peak hour journeys. A large number of services in Manchester have summer timetables, and they were trialled here a few years ago.

    It remains a fact that due to exams and the end of university term, morning peak flows especially, and some routes in general, are substantially lower in June and July than the rest of the school year. The 16 and 18 year olds are gone for the summer, the 17 year olds are on study leave, universities have usually gone completely by mid-June... why not save some money (vehicles, drivers, air pollution, etc.) in lightly-loaded hours to enable the service to continue to run at a higher frequency the rest of the year?

    Perhaps in the name of fairness FBB could look at Manchester or Bristol, which also have long-standing summer reductions, and see how they work out there?