The on-demand WESTlink bus service is set to be extended to run until 2026 — but people may only be able to use it for shorter journeys.
The West of England’s on-demand minibus service, which does not follow set routes but takes people on requested personalised journeys anywhere within one of two zones, which roughly correspond to the Somerset and Gloucestershire parts of the region, with some shared areas. Travel can be booked through an app, online, or on the phone.
The “bus service improvement plan” funding for the scheme was originally set to run until March 2025, but has now been extended to March 2026. After this point, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and North Somerset Council, who together run the scheme, will need to ensure it is cost effective for them to run.
But although the duration of the scheme is set to get longer, the length of journey you can take could get shorter, with proposals to divide the zones into smaller areas. Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting on October 2nd, WECA officers said that an announcement from the traffic commissioner limited how far the minibuses could be driven without switching the drivers over to EU regulation hours.
Officers warned that this would mean spending more on extra drivers and vehicles unless the zones were changed so that journeys did not last for more than 20 minutes. One officer said: “That will result in smaller zones and shorter journeys.”
Committee chair Ed Plowden called the news “a bombshell.” He said: “Is that a showstopper? Is this still going to work?”
Officers insisted it was what they had already been planning to propose. One officer said: “There’s an awful lot of unproductive running time between journeys, and that’s because people can travel for very long distances and that ties the vehicle up for a long amount of time.”
He added: “At the moment, someone can actually literally travel 32 miles.”
WESTlink launched in April and — despite facing issues with fulfilling journeys and some people being unable to catch them — a report stated that more drivers had been recruited and the number of people using the service has increased “significantly.”
In addition to making the zones smaller, WECA is also looking at improving how the service links in with the wider bus network and carrying out a wider promotional campaign. An update to the app was also released on October 2nd, making booking a ride more “quick and seamless” and allowing people to share their ride details so friends and family can track their trip.
The report setting out the proposed changes to WESTlink and the spending of the bus service improvement plan funding will go before WECA’s full committee on October 6th.
LDRS, John Wimperis