The decision to re-route the 42 service, meaning 82 buses a day are now going past Cherry Garden Primary School and over a narrow, weak bridge, has been labelled “absolute madness”.
The risk to pedestrians is top of the concern list for local residents and Phil Winterburn, the headteacher, where 70% of his pupils walk to school.
The change came into force on 29th March during the school holidays and is part of First’s shake-up of the timetable in and around Bristol. The problem has been highlighted this week now the schools have gone back after the Easter break.
The amended route of the Keynsham-Kingswood-Bristol service now takes in Oakleigh Gardens, Cherry Garden Lane and Kenilworth Drive, passing the school and the bridge that crosses the Bristol & Bath Railway Path.
There is a narrow pavement on one side while the other side is no more than a kerb. First has re-routed the service because double-decker buses are no longer allowed to go under the railway bridge on the A431 at Willsbridge after Network Rail imposed a height restriction change.
Even though a 14ft 4in double-decker fits under the bridge by Bitton Station, where there was previously a triangular advice sign stating that it was not suitable for vehicles over 14ft 3in, the sign has been changed to a warning one, which the bus company has to comply with.
The new route also covers part of the old 533 service which was withdrawn by Wessex earlier this year. People living along the new section of the 42, which sees buses from 6am to midnight, say there was never a problem with the 533, of which there were 152 buses a week, but now they have 82 buses on weekdays (mostly double-deckers), 74 on Saturdays and 30 on Sundays.
The 42 is busy between Bristol city centre and Kingswood but on this section there are reportedly no more than 10 people on board any one bus.
Locals say the re-routing has seen a greatly increased risk to pedestrians, particularly schoolchildren during drop-off and pick-up times. Parents with young children and buggies use the railway bridge where the pavement is less than a metre wide.
The bridge is also used by youngsters walking to and from St Anne’s Primary School and pupils going to and from Sir Bernard Lovell School.
Vehicles have been seen mounting the pavement when passing a bus and sometimes the buses coming in opposite directions actually pass on the bridge or on the nearby bend where there is an adverse camber, raising concerns about double-deckers tilting.
There are also worries about the extra vibrations on what is already a weak bridge and resident Ken Ballard is monitoring cracks where the parapets are. Problems of noise and pollution have also been raised and there are fears that the new bus route will set a precedent and that other large vehicles that cannot fit under the bridge on the A431 will be diverted through the estate which is in fact an ‘Access Only’ road.
A large group of residents attended last night’s meeting of Bitton Parish Council to voice their concerns. In fact at a bus forum last month, parish council chairman Cllr Grace Boddy had told James Freeman, First’s managing director, of her concerns about re-routing the 42 near the school, where she is a governor.
Residents’ spokesman Rob Worlock told councillors the situation was “absolute madness”, with the buses causing “mayhem”. He said the dangers had been highlighted now the new term had started and that the headteacher was very concerned.
Cllr Erica Williams told the meeting she had met that afternoon with Mr Freeman, taking along residents’ emails of complaint as well as photographs highlighting the problems.
She said Mr Freeman was “not happy with the situation” and he would be drafting a new proposal which he would put to residents at a public meeting in May. In the meantime she said he would be happy to receive views from local people.
However, any change could not be introduced immediately as a minimum of as 56 days’ notice is required.
Bitton parish councillors said they backed the residents and the clerk would pass on a possible solution put forward by Cllr Terry Backwell that some buses follow the old route while a ‘42a’ service could divert through the estate.