Bus cuts opposition

There’s plenty of local opposition to bus service cuts across the West of England, due to be confirmed by First Bus tomorrow (Friday 26 August).

The cuts will affect regular commercial routes as well as subsidised ‘supported’ services and will come into effect from 8 October, despite additional government funding announced last week.

Services expected to be affected in B&NES include bus numbers 11, 12, 20, 22, 42, 82, 171, 172, and 178, although some cuts will be mitigated by rerouted services and a proposed new service connecting Midsomer Norton, Paulton and Bristol. 

B&NES Council has no direct control over privatised bus services. Almost all local buses are run by First West of England and overseen by WECA, as regional transport authority. Only supported services are delivered to a contract.

Councillor Sarah Warren, B&NES Cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, commented:

“We very much oppose these appalling cuts, which will fall most heavily on disadvantaged and isolated communities, including villages in the Somer Valley and South Bath, as well as on people trying to reach key workplaces such as the RUH. 

“This is unacceptable for our residents, many of whom absolutely rely on local bus services to access shops, services, employment or education. It’s shameful that WECA and First have failed to mitigate these cuts. The WECA Mayor has blamed lack of drivers and passengers, but says he hopes things may improve in April next year.

“We have consistently said that a gap in service will drive people away from public transport permanently. No one can wait six months for a bus. Some will be forced to buy cars; others will be forced to make significant life changes, or simply give up and stay home. There’s no guarantee these passengers will return in April.

“The Lib Dems have been campaigning to save our local services and brokered a deal to fund subsidised services. However, it’s clear the bus sector is at the point where additional money won’t help. 

“I fear we are on the brink of a vicious cycle of declining public transport, rising congestion and worsening air pollution – not what we need as we face a cost-of-living crisis and the Climate Emergency. 

“Ultimately, we believe that the bus service system, as currently organised, is fundamentally broken. Transport authorities need the powers and ambition to directly intervene in the public transport market, either through their own wholly owned bus companies or through franchising.”

Councillor Matt McCabe, who represents Bathavon South ward (between Bath and the Somer Valley), said:

“Cllr Wills and I have been fighting to ensure our communities of High Littleton, Hallatrow and Marksbury remain connected to Bath and Bristol. This is a terrible decision. I can’t see how axing these vital services can be justified against the Equalities Act. We have young people accessing education and elderly people accessing the NHS using services such as the 178, these are ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act, and we will be raising this with First and urging them to reverse their decision. WECA Mayor Dan Norris cannot just sit back and allow this to happen.”

Wera Hobhouse MP added:

“Our residents must have reliable, comprehensive and affordable bus services. But instead of viable long-term solutions, residents have faced months of service cuts and ongoing uncertainty as the West of England Combined Authority and First Bus lurch from one unacceptable ‘quick fix’ to another.

“It’s clear that the basic model of bus funding needs a complete overhaul. This is one of numerous ongoing crises being overseen and ignored by the Conservative Government, from the Climate Emergency to the escalating cost of living crisis. People are increasingly being left behind. I will take the matter up with the Secretary for Transport.”