The clock’s ticking on bus funding says B&NES leader

We need to know it’s really going to be happening – says Bath & North East Somerset Council Leader, Councillor Kevin Guy in a message to West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris – asking him to urgently provide more details about his planned ‘demand-responsive transport’ (DRT) minibus scheme.

The Metro Mayor announced his ‘Westlink’ DRT plans in January and a report to the West of England Combined Authority Committee says that DRT will be deployed across the region from April 2023. The Mayor’s scheme would see people in the DRT zones booking minibuses in advance through telephone, website, or app.

Councillor Guy said: “This is a key piece of the Mayor’s transport jigsaw, and given the timescales we are asking for urgent reassurance about how it will be delivered, when exactly it will be introduced, how the app will work, and other key information. We would like to be in a position to reassure our communities about the details of his plans and respond to queries we have received. I am concerned that the clock is ticking, especially given the need to secure vehicles, recruit drivers and make people aware of the scheme- all in a matter of weeks”. 

Bath & North East Somerset Council is planning to increase its funding for supported bus services budget by 36% and will extend five bus services for two months in areas where DRT will operate from April. This will help with the transition to the Mayor’s proposed Westlink services. The extra funding would also be used to continue existing supported bus services in Bath, where demand-responsive services will not operate.

Councillor Guy is also calling on the Mayor to urgently confirm that he will use some of the £50m he has to spend on buses on five ‘lifeline’ bus services that the Westlink demand-responsive minibuses would act as ‘feeders’ for.

Four ‘spine’ bus links – serving Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Paulton and the Chew Valley –  would, combined with the DRT services, help people access jobs, leisure and services. A fifth ‘circular service is proposed for Keynsham.  

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA), the area’s transport authority, received (alongside North Somerset Council) the highest amount of Bus Services Improvement Plan funding in the country.

The services being requested by the council for funding confirmation by the Metro Mayor are:

Chew Magna – Wells (517)

Midsomer Norton – Radstock (518)

Odd Down – Brislington via Paulton (522)

Chew Valley Link (526)

Chew Magna – Anchor Road, Bristol (527)

Keynsham Circular (519)

I took this up with the WECA Mayor’s office and received the following statement from Dan Norris:

“WESTlink is a fleet of green minibuses forming a new ‘on-demand’ service within the West of England. I’m proud of the £3 million-plus investment in this scheme, and my West of England Mayoral Authority is working flat out to ensure we can roll these out at pace.

The WECA Mayor, Dan Norris

“The minibuses will be unrestricted by a timetable and clever technology will use algorithms to best join up several people’s needs, combining them into one trip to get passengers to where they need to be speedily and easily. I’m sure it won’t be plain sailing as change is disruptive, takes time, and we will have to learn lessons as we work hard to get things right. But we must, must try!

“WESTlink is not, however, and will never be a replacement for local authority-funded buses that have have been cut by Bath and NE Somerset council.

Despite my approaches to ministers, their rules around the record levels of national funding I’ve won for transport for our region don’t allow me to do this. I can only fund new services like WESTlink designed to get people to main transport corridors to pick up more frequent buses and trains”.