Driver shortage affecting bus passengers and ‘damaging region’s economy’

A driver shortage means passengers on some local routes are being stranded.

Stagecoach West has been forced to cancel and reduce services on many bus services recently because of the national driver shortage and COVID-19.

Routes affected include the 462 (Emersons Green – Bristol City Centre), the 86 (Kingswood -Yate), 12 (Bristol Parkway – Severn Beach) and 3X (Bristol – Aztec West).

Bus company First West of England has also had to cancel some services, blaming “operational issues”.

Today West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris said:  “A lack of strategic planning over the last decade means we are now in crisis. The transport industry has been issuing dire warnings about the driver shortage for many a year. But we are where we are and it is clear that there is a shortage of drivers across the economy.

“The latest issue we are seeing is bus drivers being ‘poached’ to become HGV drivers, and the ongoing pandemic and Brexit issues continue to impact many businesses. The positive here is there is a strong demand for jobs. But it is clear we need urgent action from government, not sticking plasters.”

The Metro Mayor continued: “I am working hard to secure additional funding for bus services but until the driver shortage is addressed adequately, no amount of funding can guarantee local bus service will continue running.”

David Redgewell, public transport campaigner and the equalities representative on Bristol One City’s transport board, said: “Passengers need buses to turn up as an essential part of our public transport network for journeys to school, college and universities, for work, hospitals, shopping, journeys and of course leisure travel in tourist areas of the West of England.

“This shortage of bus drivers is now affecting the economy of the West of England in the cities of Bristol and Bath and our rural communities.”

Petition to save the 18 bus

Meanwhile 160 Week In readers have added their names to a petition to save the 18 Kingswood to Bath bus service which was axed at very short notice at the end of August.

Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore and councillors Erica Williams and Paul Hughes, who represent the Oldland Common & Bitton ward, set up an online petition to save the well-used route which was operated by First partly on a commercial basis with a subsidy from the West of England Combined Authority. However, that support was withdrawn without public consultation.

With not everyone having online access, Cllr Williams asked us to run a petition in The Week In and this week editor Becky Feather met the councillors to hand over the forms.

The majority of responses were from readers in Keynsham, Kingswood, North Common and Oldland Common. Others in Soundwell, Staple Hill, Hanham, Warmley, Cadbury Heath, Willsbridge, Bitton, Longwell Green, Bridgeyate, Saltford, St George, Fishponds, Mangotsfield, Downend and Brislington also signed the petition.

The petition calls on the West of England Combined Authority and Metro Mayor Dan Norris to renew funding provided to the 18 and allow it to continue to operate: “The Number 18 bus is a vital lifeline to many people travelling to work, school and to visit friends and family. The decision by the West of England Combined Authority to withdraw its subsidy from the end of August without any public consultation must be reversed.”

Mr Skidmore has thanked everyone who has taken part in the petition. The online version – www.chrisskidmore.com/campaigns/save18bus – has more than 850 signatures so far and the closing date is tomorrow (Thursday). Any more paper petition forms we receive this week will be passed on.