FRESH calls for franchising buses which would mean current operators would have to bid to run services have been made this week after passengers handed in a 1,000-strong petition.

The signatures were gathered in just four days before being given to South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard, who has backed campaigners’ efforts.

Government rules require county bosses to undertake a three-step evaluation of the policy which includes a technical assessment, audit, and public consultation before announcing a final decision.

The first step the assessment was initially timetabled to conclude at a meeting of the region’s leaders in October 2023, however despite three further meetings have taken place, it has yet to appear on the agenda.

Campaigners organised a public question to the February meeting to clarify when the results of the assessment would be presented, with the mayor confirming this would take place at this month’s meeting on Tuesday.

Jump-based Fran Postlethwaite, from Better Buses For South Yorkshire, said: “We’re proud to work alongside a mayor who is looking to push the pace on investigating franchising and standing up to the government for the funding our region needs.

“Profits at first quadrupled last year, partly after the mayor stepped in to fund more services and prevent cuts.

“Under public control, we could use those as green shoots to reinvest the profits from public investment back into the service and get a cycle going where better services bring more passengers, more money and yet more improvements.”

Currently, bus companies have power over routes, fares and standards but re-regulation means they operate under contract to the regional mayor, who sets the terms of service.

Cuts to routes which have been recently seen in the Kingstone area where the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority stepped in to provide a replacement service following a public backlash against operator Stagecoach have been brought up as a key issue in Barnsley.

It is estimated to cost at least £23m to replace all the services that bus companies plan to remove, leading to growing calls for public control.

Matthew Topham, also from Better Buses For South Yorkshire, added: “It’s music to passengers’ ears when the mayor calls out bus privatisation and commits to public control.

“But that strength of feeling means our communities are all the hungrier for a clear indication of when we can expect a formal decision on this crucial policy.

“With the impact of private bus company cuts on our local communities hitting the national headlines, we need to focus on delivering this change more than ever.

“Reliability is a top issue across our region if the bus doesn’t turn up on time or at all, passengers are left scrambling to get themselves to work, school, or just to see family and friends.

“We know that areas with greater local control of services, like Blackpool, are some of the most consistently reliable services in the country so we deserve the same here.

“By taking our buses into public control, we’ll unlock new powers to regulate for reliability: fines for bad service, rewards for rapid improvements, and timetables that are set with punctuality, not profits, in mind.”