Residents are being asked which services are most important to them as the region braces for further bus cuts in October.
Passengers face the loss of a third of the bus network this autumn when government funding - provided to operators to help them weather the storm of the pandemic - ends.
South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and council leaders have already had to step in with more than £5m from the region’s emergency budget to protect school buses, which could have left scores of youngsters without a way to get into their schools from next month.
But the public budget for South Yorkshire’s buses - paid through council tax - will only stretch to cover half of the remaining services bus companies plan to cut, the mayor said.
Between October 2022 and April 2023, South Yorkshire’s public budget to support bus services is £11.9m.
It is estimated to cost at least £23m to replace all the services that bus companies plan to remove.
Mr Coppard said: “We are facing the biggest and most devastating bus cuts for a generation because of a broken system which is failing passengers.
“A reliable, affordable, clean bus service is vital, not just so everyone can get to where they need to go, but so they can get there without using a car, cutting the toxic traffic choking our region.
“As the private sector bus companies look to cut services, I’ve said I’ll do everything I can to keep our buses going until I get the powers and money I need to transform the network.
“I’m moving as fast as the law currently allows to assess bringing in more public control through franchising, and I’ve called on the government for emergency funding to keep services going.
“But the budget we have to support buses is limited and will not stretch to fill all the gaps - public money can only buy back around half the services bus companies plan to cut.”
Bus companies are free to decide where and when they will run services but the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority - made up of the county’s four councils - can opt to pay other companies to run the route.
However, many routes in line for service cuts did not even receive a bid from private firms to run the routes when a tender process went out earlier this year.
Fran Postlethwaite, who represents Better Buses South Yorkshire, said: “One bus company spokesperson openly declared last year that they are not about providing the service that communities need but instead are interested in making profits for shareholders.
“At the start of October we face the slashing of many more services as the government will stop subsidising the bus companies.
“This would be a disaster for passengers finding their journeys torn away and evening services slashed.
“It would also be a disaster for our climate - more people will be forced to use cars rather than buses, with more pollution and greenhouse gases being put into the air.
“But this appalling situation gives us an opportunity to create a solution that would benefit us all.
“The Better Buses South Yorkshire campaign is calling on Mr Coppard to take services into public ownership.
“If bus companies cannot provide the bus network that we need then it’s time that they were pushed to one side and a publicly-controlled bus service created.”