Bus passengers warned more cuts to services are on the way
BUS services are facing a second round of cuts in the autumn, the region's Metro Mayor has warned.
Dan Norris, who has regional responsibility for transport as head of the West of England Combined Authority, said severe driver shortages, and the withdrawal from October of government funding to support services through the pandemic, was a "cliff-edge" which would affect commercial and subsidised services, as passenger numbers have yet to recover from pre-covid levels and costs to run buses are up.
He said: "I am sorry that people 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."
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.
Mr Norris said: “There are no right or wrong answers here. That’s why I need to get a sense of how local people feel, and hear their ideas and wisdom."
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."
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."
Thornbury lost the T2 service to Bristol via Cribbs Causeway at the end of April.
Ward councillor Jayne Stansfield said residents now used penultimate evening buses because they could not depend on the last one turning up, which meant usage figures incorrectly suggested they were not needed.
Lib Dem group leader Claire Young said: “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
Thornbury communter's nightmare daily journey
An NHS mental health worker from Thornbury has told the Voice recent timetable changes mean he sometimes has to take four or even five buses to get home from work each day.
Father of two Malcolm Baldwin’s commute home from work in Southmead, Bristol,
used to be a 40 minute journey on the T2 bus. But that service was axed by First Bus at the end of April.
Now he has to track which buses are running on the First Bus App, and hop between services – taking anything from one hour and 50 minutes, to three hours and 20 minutes.
“I now have a ridiculous system of buses to catch in order to get home,” said Malcolm, a Recovery Navigator for the NHS.
This is Malcolm’s typical journey home:
BUS ONE: Malcolm catches the number 76 from Doncaster Road to the Gloucester Road.
BUS TWO: He walks to the stop for the number 75 which runs up the A38 to Patchway.
BUS THREE: He walks 400 yards to Patchway fire station to catch the M1 to Aztec West.
BUS FOUR: He walks another 200 yards to finally board the T1 to Thornbury.
“There are so many buses that are unreliable I have found the best way is to keep moving, because if a bus doesn’t turn up it’s quicker to walk half an hour to the next stop rather than wait for an hour for the next one.”
Malcolm doesn’t drive, and has always used public transport to get to work.
“The amount of times buses are not working or turn up late is ridiculous.
“On my way home after a hard day’s work with clients, that journey just frazzles you more. I’m too exhausted when I get home to do anything.”
Heading into Bristol in the mornings, Malcolm says his journey is less complicated, but he has to take early buses in case cancellations makes him late for appointments.
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."