Lib Dem bus campaigners are urging the Mayor of the West of England to fund regular bus routes, which could reconnect ‘stranded’ residents in North East Somerset, as residents say the WECA Mayor's Westlink demand responsive service is unreliable and difficult to use.
A long-term Tunley resident will share their experience at Thursday’s B&NES Cabinet meeting (13th July) and will explain that villagers feel they cannot trust the Westlink service, with some having been left stranded at the Odd Down Park and Ride.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem bus campaigners are proposing new bus routes to link larger North East Somerset villages and towns with one another, and directly connect to Bristol and Bath.
The proposals have been drawn up in collaboration with local residents, neighbouring Council transport leaders, local North East Somerset Councillors, bus consultants and campaigners who live in and know the area.
Campaigners say that the new routes would help fill in the gaps caused by the recently withdrawn bus routes 82, 179, 768 and the threatened 94 and 672 and would have appropriately timed services to accommodate commuters and school students. Some routes such as the 94 and 414, and a new Bath to Wells Express, could be funded jointly with neighbouring councils to make them more cost effective.
The new proposal comes as pressure increases on the West of England Mayor to stop wasting money on “gimmicks”, including the unreliable Westlink and the free birthday travel offer, and instead fund regular buses for rural communities.
Councillor Fiona Gourley, Lib Dem spokesperson for rural bus services, commented:
“In the past few weeks, residents in rural North East Somerset have lost several key routes – bus 82, 179 and 768, and new routes such as the 522 take far longer than previous buses and travel through areas with good bus services, rather than villages with none. Lib Dems have been campaigning to save bus services, but the Metro Mayor, who has the authority and funding, has so far refused to step in and help.
“The lost routes particularly served communities in the Cam and Somer Valley. Our proposed new bus routes would help re-connect those towns and villages off the A37 and A367, ensuring that residents would have access to work, education, healthcare, and leisure. Other routes under threat include the 672 which is the only bus through the Chew Valley, and the 94 which links Trowbridge to Bath via Freshford.
"We are suggesting that as a short-term solution, the Westlink buses could offer regular services along fixed routes, which would go a long way to building trust, being more reliable than the on-demand service currently is and would make it more profitable. An on-demand service might work in the middle of the day when there is less demand, but it does not replace the capacity of the popular morning and afternoon regular buses that have been lost. We will be putting our proposals directly to the Mayor and urging him to fund them.
“So far, the Mayor has refused to help fund supported services, B&NES Council has already increased its contribution by 30% to over a million pounds this year. Councils don’t have cash to spare, so any further increase would inevitably have an impact on essential public services. By contrast, the Mayor has been granted a £57m government fund to support bus services in the region and the government recently confirmed this can be used for supported services.
“Residents are telling us how difficult life has become with no regular bus services to get to work, education, healthcare appointments, and older people are particularly vulnerable. All residents want is a bus with a timetable that they can plan their lives around.
"We all need the opportunity to travel independently, not to own a car, and to travel by healthier means. Both our bus services and our small, local bus companies play an essential role in our communities. We need a public transport system that we can all rely on.”