Chesterfield buses: Bus services 'the worst in 54 years' say residents as Stagecoach and Hulleys of Baslow attend public meeting
The meeting, hosted at Chesterfield Community Centre at Tontine Road on Wednesday, November 15, saw almost 40 residents, National Pensioners Convention members and representatives for Stagecoach and Hulleys of Baslow come together to discuss issues with the buses in Derbyshire.
Derbyshire Times attended as residents shared their stories of delays and cancellations – and bus companies provided their side of the story.
As the meeting started, Adrian Rimington, who launched a campaign to improve buses across Chesterfield and called the meeting, handed a pile of complaints from those who could not attend to Stagecoach Yorkshire’s Commercial Director John Young.
Issues mentioned included delays and cancellations, as well as problems caused by timetable and service changes introduced at the end of October.
Susan Hunt, who was the first residents to speak, talked in length about issues in Chesterfield. She asked everyone who attended to raise their hand if they were happy with the bus services. Only one man out of the attendees raised his hand and said services are ‘reasonable’.
Mrs Hunt said: “I have lived at the top of Ashgate Road for 54 years and the bus services are the worst they have ever been. After timetable changes in October they have taken away two buses and left us only with one - number 5 - which has a new route and does not even stop on Beetwell Street.
“When they changed the timetable I didn’t even know that bus number 2 is no longer in service, because they didn’t change it at the bus stop. I was waiting for a bus home near the library, I was cold and wet because of the rain and the bus did not come. I asked a driver of a different bus about it and he explained to me they got rid of the bus number 2. He gave me a lift up the street and he was really nice but if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t even know that it is no longer in service.
“We have Marks and Spencer and the library, which is a warm, safe space with loads of activities and books – and we need a bus to stop there. I moved into my estate as a newlywed 54 years ago and many other people are similar age as me. They rely on buses and now they can’t even get to Marks and Spencer to do shopping or go to the library.
“It is our 4th meeting over the last few months and there have been no improvements. In fact, the bus services have been getting worse and worse. We don’t want excuses, we are tired of hearing about breaking down buses and driver shortages.”
Helen Howard, another resident who was at the meeting also had issues with the new number 5 service.
Mrs Howard said: “After changes at the end of October number 5 is no longer going to the precinct and it is an issue for many people. You have to walk to the town or catch 39 to Cavendish street. And if it’s raining you will get soaked.
“I take buses regularly and I have been for the last 22 years. I have never seen them this bad. They suddenly disappear and just don’t turn up. I work with vulnerable people and I know bus services are causing social isolation for the most vulnerable who do not have the stamina to walk or the means to pay for a taxi. It is ridiculous that elderly and young children have to wait for an hour for a bus.”
Debbie Rose, a mum-of-two said: “My daughter Isabella, 11, has to leave home at 7.30am and walk 1.7 mile to school because there is no bus that would take her to Outwood Academy Newbold. It’s dark and it’s cold and it’s simply just not safe. A few weeks ago a pupil from Isabella’s year got knocked over by a car. He didn’t have serious injuries but it shook him up and now I worry if she got to school safely.
"I don’t drive and I have to take my disabled son to college and I can’t take her to school. I emailed Stagecoach about this several times over the last four years. I talked to other parents who would be happy to pay £1 or £2 every morning for their children to get safely to school. But Stagecoach just ignores us.”
Peter Stancill said: “I am not happy with the 39 service. I was waiting for a bus for 55 minutes last Friday. I was at the bus stop about 3.05pm. The 39 did not show up until 4.10 pm - which means two scheduled 39 buses did not show up in a row. I have the app and I can have a look at where the buses are. And I must say the routes are way too long. It is not realistic to plan such long routes and expect the buses to be on time. The routes should be divided into shorter fragments.”
Neville Whitmoore said: “55 by Hulleys is quite reliable but 54 by Stagecoach is not. It used to be good and they invested in it heavily with brand new vehicles in 2001, 2008 and 2016. But now it got much worse. The buses are less frequent and they are single-deckers. People don’t fit on them. Stagecoach promised they would be changed for double-deckers but they have not. I saw school children left behind on a bus stop in Hasland so many times because there were not enough spaces on Stagecoach’s 54.”
Representatives of the bus companies spoke up in length at the meeting.
Stagecoach Yorkshire’s Commercial Director John Young, said: “Thank you for the invitation. It is good to be here. We need to listen to our customers and this is a good way to find out how people in Chesterfield feel about the services we are providing. Since Covid, we have had an industry wide crisis when it comes to public transport, which is also affecting Derbsyhire.
“We have been working hard to improve our services. We expanded our driving school like never before. We have implemented a pay increase in all our depots across South Yorkshire, Chesterfield and Derbyshire. Chesterfield has one of the most attractive pay in the area.
“We have also had problems caused by staff quitting. Drivers have a week-long notice period. But it takes us three months to train a new replacement driver. You can imagine this causes issues. At the moment in Chesterfield, we have one more driver than we need. We are training 13 more who will be working in Chesterfield.
“We have also had much more staff phoning in sick for the last three weeks than expected. But with more drivers being trained there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Young said since Covid more people work from home and demand for the service is much lower.
He added: “I would like to address people complaining about the bus services being better in the past. We have a lot of challenges at the moment that we did not have in the past. People are living longer, healthier lives - it means they drive longer and demand on buses is lower.
"It is more challenging to plan a timetable - there is more traffic than ever, impacting our buses and you have delivery vans stopping on every corner with parcels.
"We have a local centre at Stone Gravels in Chesterfield and regularly meet with our drivers and managers to understand what is needed locally. We are trying to predict patterns as well as possible and make a table around this. We analyse traffic data regularly and try to improve punctuality. We have to recognise we can’t always do what we did in the past but we are doing our best and want to improve.
“In regards to changes with service number 2 and number 5. The sad reality is that there is not enough demand for it to be viable.
"In terms of school buses, they are all managed and subsidised by Derbyshire County Council. When it comes to service 54, we are planning to introduce double-deckers as promised.
“I would like to say some changes we have done recently have been positive. For example we have more coverage on 90 service to Markham Vale where many people go to work. We have introduced an evening x17 service from Sheffield to Chesterfield at 11.30pm for people to be able to go out in Sheffield and go back home. It is doing very well at the moment.”
Alfred Crofts, Managing Director at Hulleys of Baslow also spoke at the meeting.
He said: “After Brexit we have suffered from driver shortages.
"For example, on the previous Wednesday two of my drivers quit within 11 minutes as they got offered better jobs as lorry drivers. They both had a week’s notice period. We are a small company and we have 27 shifts we offer each day. If two people quit and another three phone in sick it gets tough very quickly.
“Attracting drivers is tough as well. Bus drivers don’t want to be shouted at because the previous bus did not show up. It’s not their fault. If they go and drive a lorry this type of situation won’t happen. So they quit and they say it’s because of the complaints – and we can’t afford to give them an extra £4 or £5 per hour.
“Things happen and can go wrong. I had a brand new bus that went through all the inspections, and it broke down. It’s bonkers, but it happens. It is not helpful or fair but this is what we have to go through. We don’t wake up with an intention to do badly. We get up and we try to do our best.”