Local buses are facing a funding “cliff edge” and cuts to vital routes, say B&NES Lib Dems, who are fighting to save local services.
Government emergency Covid-19 bus funding is due to end in March 2022. However, passenger numbers have not recovered, and First Bus have proposed changes to up to 30 local routes from the end of January. More drastic measures are possible later in the year.
These changes come on the tail of previous service cuts in 2020 and 2019, which reduced the frequency of some rural and community services, and the ‘emergency timetable’ of October 2021, which was linked to driver shortages.
The Lib Dems are working hard to push for better bus services locally, including pressing the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to adopt an ambitious Bus Service Improvement Plan, lobbying government and highlighting the powers and funding needed to improve services.
Councillor Sarah Warren, Cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Transport, said:
“A safe, reliable bus service is absolutely crucial for residents across the area to access shops, services, employment or education. Any further service cuts will be a huge blow.
“It’s frustrating that the Council has no direct control over privatised bus services. Almost all are run by First West of England and overseen by WECA, as regional transport authority.
“We have been working closely with WECA over recent weeks to minimise the impact of the latest service changes. We are pressing the Mayor to intervene and to work with Councils and First Bus to find a solution. I’m pleased we have already been able to secure some mitigations.
“However, with passenger numbers in the region still significantly below pre-pandemic levels, and the funding cliff edge coming in three months, there remains a real risk to the viability of local services.
“Government must continue funding the Bus Recovery Grant beyond March 2022 or else introduce a new funding scheme to support bus operators during the next phase of the pandemic. We are already working hard to lobby government.
“B&NES and WECA are playing their part – and we will work with First Bus and other partners – but the government needs match their words with action this winter, before it’s too late.
“The Lib Dems will continue to fight for our local bus services. Once lost, the risk is they will not be replaced.”
Bath MP, Wera Hobhouse, said:
"I have met with the Managing Director of First Bus, West of England, and heard that First are only at 70% of pre-Covid passenger numbers. The money runs out in March with the expectation that all bus companies will be at 90%.
“I raised this with the Minister who flatly refused to accept the figures from First and refused to listen. This is deeply concerning and shows an unwillingness to deal with this situation.
“We will fight against any reduced services in Bath. Residents across Bath have already suffered from services running late and driver shortages making buses unreliable. It’s important that they have the opportunity to travel more sustainably.
“Bus services are facing a cliff edge and we can’t afford to be forcing people back into cars. My team and I have been working to pressure the Government for more support to maintain services in Bath but so far we haven't had any success.”