A BUS operator which axed evening services following a ‘prolonged campaign’ of antisocial behaviour against its drivers has hit back at local leaders’ claims that its decision to do so has failed the community.

Stagecoach suspended all services running into the Thurnscoe area after 5pm last October after missiles were launched at passing buses.

They were reinstated - albeit on a trial period - in April but then indefinitely pulled in August due to repeated incidents involving the 219, 219a and 226.

Last week Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton, South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey all blasted Stagecoach and called for them to bring back the ‘lifeline’ evening services.

However Matt Kitchin, managing director of Stagecoach Yorkshire, told the Chronicle that bosses were left with no choice but to take action due to long-running safety concerns.

“For several years we have been working in partnership with the police, the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and Barnsley Council to try to resolve the challenge of repeated antisocial behaviour and vandalism in Thurnscoe.

“Buses have been targeted over a sustained period of time and the safety of our customers and colleagues has been unacceptably compromised.

“Services were reinstated following assurances from partners that antisocial behaviour in the area had reduced but unfortunately further attacks then followed.

“The sustained targeting of drivers and customers on buses in Thurnscoe for several years has left us with no option but to withdraw services until antisocial behaviour is not a regular occurrence in this community.”

Despite growing calls for Stagecoach to reinstate the services - which the council say is safe to do so following a reduction in antisocial behaviour - Mr Kitchin ruled out an immediate U-turn until the operator is confident that further instances will not occur.

Police-led patrols, which also involve council officers, will continue in Thurnscoe.

“The impact of antisocial behaviour extends well beyond the community it occurs in, a targeted bus leads to journey cancellations for customers along the whole route, trauma for the driver and customers caught up in it and the bus not being available to serve the wider community as damage is repaired,” he added.

“We have never faced such a prolonged campaign of antisocial behaviour against our drivers and customers as we have experienced in Thurnscoe.

“We have invited partners to spend time with drivers at our depots to hear first-hand the impact on drivers and customers and to share their plans to reduce antisocial behaviour to a point where we are all confident that we will no longer experience a sustained campaign against buses.

“Withdrawing bus services from communities is only ever done as a very last resort when the safety of our customers and colleagues is continually compromised and we will no longer put our drivers or customers at risk.

“We must now take this action to put the safety of our drivers and customers first.”