Government funding cuts blamed for bus network crisis

Residents are being urged to lobby their MPs and local councillors to press for more government funding for local bus services.

The call comes as next week will see further cuts which will have a devastating effect on communities in this area.

The latest services to fall victim to funding cuts are the 18 from Cribbs Causeway to Bath via Kingswood and Keynsham, and the No 5 from Downend to Bristol City Centre via Fishponds.

This follows the withdrawal over the summer of the already limited 37 Bath-Bristol service via Bitton and Hanham, which operated with resources connected with Oldfield School, and the threatened 17 Keynsham to Southmead Hospital service which was reprieved following public protest.

The common problem for these services and many others is that they are unsustainable by fares alone and require support funding to cover parts or all of the route. This traditionally comes from local councils or the local transport authority, which since 2017 in this region is the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

Local transport campaigner David Redgewell, of Bus Users UK, says many of the problems facing our local bus routes is due to the dramatic funding cut the government has just announced.

The amount given to the West of England Combined Authority to support local bus services over the next six months has fallen from £273m to £226m.

David Redgewell

Mr Redgewell said: “Grant Shapps (Secretary of State for Transport) has said levelling up is about running bus services. First cannot run our bus network on fares alone. If we don’t get more money, I don’t see how we can maintain the network. I urge residents to lobby their MPs, local councillors and the West of England Combined Authority.”

The cuts to services and timetables which come into effect this Sunday risk breaking links between local communities and making some vital journeys impossible to achieve. What should be fairly straightforward undertakings such as travelling from Bitton to Bath by public transport, now require precise timetable planning and take multiples of the time needed to drive by car. When schools and colleges return next month, students will no longer be able to travel by bus from places like Oldland Common to St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Brislington by changing bus at Keynsham Church.

The University of the West of England extension to the 18 bus route, which ran in term time only, will no longer exist and people with disabilities who use the Vassall Centre in Fishponds will be unable to reach it by bus.

There has been criticism of the West of England Combined Authority for the lack of consultation with local councils and stakeholders over the service cuts, with many only finding out last week. Mr Redgewell also sits on the Bristol Transport Board which in a recent submission to WECA stressed the importance of maintaining orbital bus services, the likes of which we are losing or seeing broken up next week.

He said: “WECA and local council leaders need to sit down and look where they can find emergency money to fill the gap. One fairly quick fix might be to extend the 42 bus from Bitton to Keynsham on certain departures.”

As for a source of short-term government funding to make up the shortfall until next year’s Build Back Better strategy kicks in, he has another suggestion: “Despite the climate emergency, the government has committed £27bn to road-building.

“Now is the time to divert some of that money towards buses.”

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