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 main 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 is launching a consultation to ask people to help make "big choices" on the future of services.
Dan Norris says services linking the Frome Valley area to Bristol and Yate are among those which First is proposing to cut or change.
Mr Norris said the Y3 service from Yate to Bristol, via Iron Acton, Frampton Cotterell, Winterbourne and Hambrook, and the Y4, from Yate Park & Ride to Bristol via Coalpit Heath, Frampton Cotterell, Winterbourne and Hambrook, faced being cut.
He said that the Y6, from Chipping Sodbury to Southmead Hospital via Frampton and Winterbourne, could see its route changed.
First has said talk of services being withdrawn was "speculation".
The Metro Mayor, who has regional responsibility for transport as head of the West of England Combined Authority, said severe bus driver shortages and the withdrawal of government funding to support services during the pandemic, which is due to come into effect in October, was a "cliff-edge" which would affect both commercial and subsidised services, as passenger numbers have yet to recover from pre-covid levels.
He said: "I am sorry that people in South Gloucestershire 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."
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."
Mr Norris is holding a month-long consultation, called Big Choices on Buses, 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.
In July both Mr Norris and First West of England managing director Doug Claringbold spoke about reliability at a South Gloucestershire Council scrutiny commission meeting.
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."
The Y2 service to Yate, Chipping Sodbury, Downend, Fishponds and the city centre was axed at the end of April, while the Y4 stopped running between the Yate Park & Ride and Yate town centre.
Frampton Cotterell ward councillor and Liberal Democrat group leader Claire Young submitted a petition with over 700 signatures to WECA in July, calling for those cuts to be reversed.
She told the scrutiny meeting: “A bus that goes whizzing past you because it’s full is no better than a bus that does not turn up at all, and this is particularly an issue on the Y1 and T1 routes.”
Winterbourne ward Conservative councillor Nic Labuschagne said: “The bus service is so unreliable, we have a crisis right now.”
A 'Big Choices' public meeting is taking place at 6.30pm-8.30pm on August 1 at Yate Parish Hall.
The consultation can also be found online.
Meeting report by Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service
New way to pay fares
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 launching the scheme 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."