[Story now contains comment from B&NES]
There was a big crowd gathered at one London Road bus stop this week, but they weren’t waiting to board one. Instead, they were there to highlight what they said was the unfairness of costs to, and profiteering from, children that must get to school.
This, they say, contradicts the West of England Metro Mayor, Dan Norris’s recent claim that “Children will pay a flat £1 rate across the whole of the West of England” and makes a mockery of his everyone should “Get on Board with Cheaper Bus Fares” slogan.
Many parents in Bath, say the protestors, have discovered this not to be the case and are angered by this statement and the cost of bus tickets. The supposed new “cheaper bus fares” do not apply to all bus services and some bus companies have even increased children’s bus ticket prices.
Jo Membery, one of many parents and guardians who demonstrated at the bus stop, explained the unfairness of these changes:
“I refuse to call them school buses as they are not dedicated services for school children only, anyone can purchase a ticket and get on these buses, so why don’t the new cheaper bus fares apply?”
“Faresaver is not adopting the new pricing for buses that go to the local schools. We’ve now discovered First Bus has also just put up its multi-purchase tickets since the announcement. A month’s First Bus child ticket was about £37, this is now £40.50.”
She continued “Why have the multi-trip tickets gone up in price when the one-off singles/returns have gone down in price. It would appear anyone wanting to buy an economic multi-ticket is funding the other reductions. A month’s X86 Faresaver ticket costs £60! It now appears that Faresaver are refusing to reduce that price because the service stops at a school.”
Another resident said the buses are often late, and overcrowded, and there is no guarantee that your child will even get on the bus to get to school. It is very stressful for young people who are then penalised for being late at school. Every morning we wake up worried and stressed.
Another unhappy parent, Anna Grebby said:
“We want a bus service that is reliable and affordable. We know that in other parts of the UK children travel for free. Our children pay a premium for a service that is poorly provided.”
“It is no wonder so many parents choose to drive their kids to school, which in itself causes air pollution and stops young people from having autonomy in their own lives.”
Cecilia Luttrell a parent and resident on the east of Bath attended WECA’s Big Choices on Buses event at the New Oriel Hall in the summer, and wants politicians to act boldly and take charge of the bus network and calls for everyone to sign and comment on the Open Letter calling on Dan Norris and the Leaders in the West of England to franchise the bus service.
Saskia Heijltjes, a campaigner for safe cycling routes for children and families and Bicycle Mayor of Bath, reminded us that there was a government-funded active travel scheme ready for these children to get to and from school safely along North Road but the current Liberal Democrat council leaders stopped it.
Cllr Joanna Wright, Ward Member for Lambridge at B&NES Council joined the parents at the demonstration and called for both the WECA Mayor, Dan Norris, and the Leader of B&NES Council, Cllr Kevin Guy to use the powers they already have in the WECA constitution to franchise the bus services across the West of England saying:
“Parents and residents on the east of Bath regularly complain to me about the poor bus service and cost of tickets.
“For years I have been calling for better bus services, particularly for young people who are not able to drive and who rely on public transport to get around.”
“The bus system is broken and however well-intentioned the “Get on Board” scheme, that Dan Norris has put in place, is, the reality on the ground is that it is not working and children are having to pay more to get to school on buses. I have been calling for Fair Fares on trains and bus services for young people. I am asking that the Metro Mayor meets me and parents on this issue.”
In response to the demonstration Cllr Sarah Warre, B&NES cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, told me: “It’s a shame such an important bus route for so many families from the east of the city is excluded from the Mayor’s scheme. If the Mayor had chosen to work with local authorities in designing his scheme, we would have foreseen these problems and pre-empted them.
Making this route from the east of Bath to Ralph Allen School more affordable is crucial in reducing the pressures on those parents who feel obliged to drive their children to school, is vital in giving our young people more options to travel around the city independently, and will contribute to reduced congestion and improved air quality for everyone. I hope the Mayor will now rethink the scheme and provide support to Faresaver to include the X86.”