Bus passengers warned more cuts to services are on the way

July 28 2022
Bus passengers warned more cuts to services are on the way

BUS passengers are being warned that services face a second round of cuts in the autumn, when the withdrawal of government funding pushes them over a "cliff edge".

The boss of bus operator First has apologised for the "unacceptable" level of cancellations across the network this summer, and says it needs a "robust", reliable timetable.

But the region's Metro Mayor says this is likely to involve more services being cut back - and says two routes serving Fishponds, including the 5 through Oldbury Court and Eastville, are under threat.

Dan Norris is launching a consultation running throughout August to ask people to help make "big choices" on the future of services.

Mr Norris issued a statement on July 18 in which he said the 5, which runs from Downend through Oldbury Court, along Channons Hill, Blackberry Hill and through Stapleton to Eastville and St Werburgh's on its way to the city centre, was one of four services First was planning to cut as part of a 'network review' now underway.

Those services also include the Y5, which links Fishponds to Pucklechurch and Yate.

First said talk of cutting the services was "speculation" - but Mr Norris's office said the company had proposed to withdraw both the 5 and Y5 completely, which would leave Fishponds with the 48, 49, 48a and 17 services, having lost the Y2 at the end of April.

Mr Norris, who has regional responsibility for transport as head of the West of England Combined Authority, said severe bus driver shortages and the withdrawal from October of government funding to support services through the pandemic, was a "cliff-edge" which would affect commercial and subsidised services, as passenger numbers have yet to recover from pre-covid levels and costs to run buses are up.
He said: "I am sorry that people will feel these cuts in October, when private bus companies withdraw their services on the less profitable routes.

"My heart goes out to people who will lose buses which I know are so important for getting to work, seeing family and caring for others.
"When it comes to funding, I will always step in to save vital buses where I can, but there isn’t an unlimited pot of cash and even if there was, I can’t magic up drivers."

Mr Norris is holding a month-long consultation with passengers, called Big Choices on Buses, which is taking place in August.

Starting with public meetings, the consultation also includes an online survey asking passengers what they value most in terms of frequency, reliability and cost of services.

People are also being encouraged to organise their own neighbourhood consultation events to ensure as many people as possible have their say – bot those who use buses and those who don't.

Mr Norris said: “There are no right or wrong answers here. That’s why I need to get a sense of how local people feel, and hear their ideas and wisdom.

"I will not shy away from the very real challenges we face on the buses at the moment. Without doubt, there will be more cuts as government Covid-support comes to end in October. I want to be completely up front about that, and this is why I want to have a conversation with local people about the big choices we face now."

Asked about the prospect of the 5 and Y5 being axed, a First West of England spokesperson said: “As a condition of transitional funding arrangements, bus operators must undertake full network reviews to assess the viability of all routes once funding ends in the autumn.  

“This is currently taking place in West of England, but we must stress no decisions have been made and it would be inappropriate to comment on speculation at this stage. 

“Like all other bus operators in the UK, we must adapt our networks to match the post-pandemic demand for services."

In early July both Mr Norris and First West of England spoke about reliability at a South Gloucestershire Council scrutiny commission meeting on bus services.

Mr Claringbold said: "The level of service that First has been delivering has not been acceptable because of the level of cancellations, largely driven by a shortage of trained bus drivers.

"In October we need to have a timetable which is robust, so there will have to be some planned changes to bring us back into line where our resources meet the services we operate.

We are not prepared to run a non-reliable service."

Mr Claringbold said there was a significant gap between the current taxpayer subsidy to run up to 90 per cent of the pre-covid network and the number of customers now using buses, which has only recovered to 75 per cent of levels before the pandemic.

He said: “People’s lives are different now. We need different people to use the bus.

About 95 per cent of our passengers are travelling again but they are not travelling as much.

The serial commuters who were travelling five to six days a week are travelling two or three days.”

The scrutiny commission meeting also heard from Mr Norris and Stagecoach West MD Rachel Geliamassi that while some passengers would suffer in the short term, innovative ways of taking people where they needed to go were in the pipeline.

These include running services on request, like taxis, and using minibuses, which can be driven by people with less training, in rural areas.

£105 million of government money has been awarded for Weca’s Bus Service Improvement Plan to forge an “enhanced partnership” with operators - but this is not allowed to be spent on supporting existing routes.

'Big Choices' public meetings are taking place at 6.30pm-8.30pm on August 1 at Yate Parish Hall, August 2 at Southdown Methodist Church, Bath, August 3 at St Augustine’s Church, Whitchurch, and August 4 at Brook Way Activity Centre, Bradley Stoke.

You can also access the online consultation here.

What do you think of the area's bus services? Write to us at news@fishpondsvoice.co.uk.

Meeting report by Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Tap on, tap off fares launched

ONE aspect of using buses which has become easier is paying the fare.

Operator First West of England and the West of England Combined Authority have teamed up to launch Tap On, Tap Off (TOTO), which allows people to pay for their bus travel using a contactless card or other payment device, such as a smartphone, without having to buy a ticket.

Passengers tap their card or device against the reader when they get on the bus and just before they get off – a system already used in London.

First then works out the correct fare for each journey and ensures customers never pay more than the relevant day ticket each day they travel, no matter how many journeys they make. It also ensures each extra day costs less for people travelling more than once a week.

Customers will not need to know which zone they are in or which ticket to buy and can check what they have been charged online.

First West of England managing director Doug Claringbold (pictured above with Metro Mayor Dan Norris) said: "With Tap On, Tap Off, customers will have the peace of mind of knowing their costs will be capped, and in boarding more quickly through not having to buy a ticket, everyone who uses the new system will be contributing to faster journeys."

Mr Norris said: "If it’s good enough for the capital, then it’s the very least that we should expect here in our region."