One of our readers took to our letters column this week to assess Metro Mayor Dan Norris' Birthday Bus scheme.
Such large projected underspend shows the Birthday Buses scheme not to have been a value for money project or capable of effecting significant improvement to the West Country’s bus services.
Redistributing this underspend to restore cut bus services is welcome, but whether franchising can work in the West of England offers more potential for addressing bus service failures. Clearly, First Bus has failed, especially in many rural areas. The task now is whether WECA and its Metro Mayor can bring in new bus operators better geared to deliver for rural (and neglected urban) routes acting on contracts drafted to set standards of delivery which reflect local transport need.
This will be a big ask for First Bus’s monopoly. Over 95 per cent of West of England’s bus services will need to be broken and competitive tendering between bus operators introduced. New operators will need to get their bus fleets in place for service delivery when contracts are signed - another challenge for the region.
Metro-Mayor Dan Norris has tasked his officials to produce a report on franchising in the next twelve months. It is not clear why it should take this long to carry out a preliminary feasibility report or why WECA officials, who have no experience in the field of franchising should do it. We need to know in a timely way whether franchising is compatible with the current private monopoly bus service in this region and the scale of change necessary to put it into effect.
The WECA meeting in Keynsham your report refers to also failed to make a positive decision about a mass transit system - either underground or overground - for the region. The committee’s vote stymied any further investigative work, on either option. This is a severe disappointment for the region.
Chris Lamb, Bristol