Appalling delays are ruining bus services, says boss
THE boss of the area's biggest bus operator has made a scathing attack on traffic problems which are causing services to run up to an hour late.
First West of England managing director James Freeman says "appalling" delays on the Avon Ring Road have left services using the road "utterly gummed up" since the start of the year.
And he admits passengers can be forgiven "for thinking we're useless" as heavily delayed buses become overcrowded, leaving them unable to pick up passengers at many stops.
Mr Freeman said travel times for services using the A4174, which is subject to changes at the Hambrook junction to and from Winterbourne as well as delays from major new roadworks at Stoke Gifford, had been up to an hour longer at rush hour since the turn of the year.
Among the services affected are the Yate to Bristol Y1, Y2, Y3 and Y4 services, which between them serve Coalpit Heath, Winterbourne and Iron Acton.
Buses taking pupils to Winterbourne Academy have also been affected by the delays.
Mr Freeman expressed particular frustration that the company had just introduced a brand new £2.4 million fleet of biomethane gas-powered buses on the m3 metrobus route, starting on the first Monday of January.
He said: "By Tuesday, these splendid new vehicles were utterly gummed up in appalling delays on the A4174 Ring Road. A journey that normally takes about 35 minutes was taking an hour and 35 minutes!
"Not only is that frustrating for those on board, arriving at work late, in all probability, but it also means that the buses weren’t getting back to Emersons Green to operate their next trips.
"Then the buses were actually proceeding so slowly that they were picking up more passengers at each stop, so that there was no space left for people wanting to board at places like Hambrook – those people finding themselves left behind," said Mr Freeman.
Mr Freeman said more than £10 million had been spent on new buses, on top of the £230 million cost of metrobus routes.
But he warned: "It’s largely wasted if we can’t run the service properly or at all. Not only that, if our much-vaunted metrobus system, by which so much store has been set, is not to be entirely discredited as an alternative to driving cars, then somehow the way has to be found to make these metrobuses able to run through these areas of increasingly chronic congestion.
"This approach has started to be recognised in Bristol but metrobus can’t work if we don’t realise that we must take urgent action.
"In the meantime, we must offer our riders, not just on metrobus but on the many other routes that are affected, especially from Thornbury and Bradley Stoke, Yate and Emersons Green, a most sincere and heartfelt apology if you have been affected this week. My fear is that, despite our attempts at mitigation, these problems will repeat next week and the week after and on until half term!"
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “With major new housing and business development planned in the area we are investing £160 million over four years on a number of highway improvement schemes to reduce congestion and emissions, improve cycling and pedestrian routes and make sustainable transport a more attractive option. We are working to minimise any disruption by keeping traffic moving where possible and carrying out work by narrowing lanes and only closing lanes at off-peak times. We are continuing to monitor and evaluate the impact of this work and have postponed, combined or brought forward some schemes, but unfortunately some disruption will be caused and we sincerely apologise to anyone affected.”