People living in parts of Somerset can now sign up online for a month of free bus travel.

A new scheme lets people get free bus travel in their birthday month, if they live in the West of England combined authority — which includes Bath and North East Somerset — or neighbouring North Somerset.

The scheme covers most buses across the area which also includes Bristol and South Gloucestershire, but not buses outside the area or some put on by separate providers.

People with birthdays in August will be the first to benefit from the scheme, which will run for a year. You can sign up here.

The scheme is a joint venture by the West of England and North Somerset Council, who were together granted £105m in Bus Service Improvement Plan funding by the government to try innovative ways to improve buses in the area.

The birthday bus offer is expected to cost £8m but the full cost will depend on the take up.

West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “I hope birthday buses encourage new people to hop on the bus and try it out – perhaps for a regular commute, to go to the shops, a restaurant, or to spend their weekends enjoying the amazing attractions and great beauty of our region. If you try it, I think you might like it. Maybe even grow to love it!

“We really need more people using buses to cut congestion, pollution and noise – and meet our important and very ambitious 2030 net-zero targets. I hope this will also be a help to residents during this unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. So please sign up today for your free Birthday Bus pass.”

North Somerset Council leader Mike Bell said: “We’re pleased to be a part of this innovative scheme to encourage travel by bus. Alongside improvements to our bus network and the new WESTlink service, this will be another reason for North Somerset residents to celebrate. If your birthday is coming up, please sign up today and enjoy free travel.”

The scheme has been controversial, having been announced amid a period of bus cuts across the area. Bath and North East Somerset Council leader Kevin Guy has called it a “childish gimmick.”

But North Somerset Council have said they are “very supportive” of the scheme, after Mr Norris met Mr Bell on a pier in Weston-super-Mare in June to discuss the plan.

Mr Norris said: “We can’t keep trying the same things on buses and hoping for different outcomes by magic. What’s great about birthday buses is it’s innovative and new. It’s about growing passenger numbers so that we can have a sustainable bus network.”

John Wimperis