A third of journeys currently requested through the WESTlink app are not being fulfilled, Metro Mayor Dan Norris has said.
The on-demand minibus service, which does not follow set routes but takes people on requested personalised journeys, was launched in April as a joint venture by the West of England Combined Authority and neighbouring North Somerset Council.
Travel can be booked through an app, online, or on the phone — but the service is unable to deliver many of the requested journeys due to a shortage of drivers.
Mr Norris told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The demands that people are making through the app, it can only fulfil about two thirds of those demands.”
He said that the service was currently short 24 drivers, with seven new drivers set to receive training.
Asked when the service would be fully running, Mr Norris said:” That’s really hard to say because I have been amazed at how long it’s taken to recruit on main bus routes.
“We have now done that. We are now on a trajectory that’s positive on the main bus services.”
He said that, for the first time, more drivers were being recruited than were leaving but added: “It’s too early to say when we’ll be out of the woods.”
But Mr Norris, who was himself unable to book travel on WESTlink on a “difficult day” for the service earlier this month, insisted that the service was still in its early stages.
He said: “We are looking at what’s working well, what needs improvement.”
He added: “We are trying to discover what it is people like; what is it people want more of?”
WESTlink automatically tries to find the best route, as it picks up multiple people from different locations and takes them to different destinations. It works best when a group of people all want to go to another location, the Local Democracy Reporting Service was told.
In line with this, the combined authority has signed up some companies to promote the service among their staff, but it has not yet granted Bath and North East Somerset Council’s request to advertise WESTlink in areas of North East Somerset where local buses have been cut.
Writing to the Metro Mayor on June 7th to ask him to publicise WESTlink, the Council’s deputy leader Sarah Warren said: “Your failure to deliver an effective marketing and communications campaign means that our residents and communities remain largely unaware of this service.
“You are putting at risk their ability to reach vital health, employment, education and leisure facilities, and the success of the pilot, which you have only committed to fund for two years, throwing into doubt the future of public transport in our more rural areas.”
But Mr Norris said: “We can’t promote them until we know they are running reasonably effectively and well.”
He has insisted that WESTlink, which only runs 7am–7pm six days a week, is not intended to replace recently-axed bus services.
Publicly-supported buses in North East Somerset were slashed after a funding row between Bath and North East Somerset Council and the Metro Mayor over whose responsibility it is to pay for them.
Bath and North East Somerset Council insists that, as transport authority, the Metro Mayor should fund the routes.
But Mr Norris, who relies on a transport levy paid by local councils to pay for the supported buses, says that Bath and North East Somerset Council need to increase their contribution to keep all the routes going.
He said: “At the moment the bus services that have been subsidised or supported have been chosen by [Bath and North East Somerset Council], and consequently North East Somerset has been the big loser.”
The council, who are funding Bath’s supported buses for another year, have insisted that they had to use their money to keep buses running in the city as it is not served by WESTlink.