Filton area bus passengers to lose three services among 42 to be axed in April

Three bus services servicing Filton and nearby areas are to be axed in April.

Bus passengers across the West of England face further cuts to the region’s struggling public transport network as a total of 42 bus services face the axe. Due to a funding row, from April these publicly subsidised services will no longer be funded and most likely withdrawn.

The services affecting the Filton area include:

506 Bristol city centre to Southmead Hospital

17 Southmead Hospital to Kingswood

680 North Yate to Chipping Sodbury and SGS College Filton

Also from April, passengers in many parts of the region will be able to catch new ‘demand responsive transport’ minibus services. The new dial-a-ride West Link minibus services will act almost like a shared Uber, running in Windmill Hill, Knowle, Brislington and St Annes, as well as large parts of North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

The service cuts were signed off by the West of England combined authority on Wednesday, January 18, after the region’s political leaders heard how many of the services were crucial in connecting isolated communities and persuading drivers to use public transport instead.

The axed bus routes form a huge 60% chunk of the region’s total 69 subsidised services. However it’s unclear exactly which bus routes are facing the axe in April, and a full and accurate list was not provided in reports to the combined authority meeting.

During the meeting, West of England metro mayor Dan Norris blamed the three council leaders — in Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset — for paying the combined authority too small a transport levy. Mr Norris said this year’s increase to the transport levy was less than inflation, so service cuts had to be made.

Mr Norris said: “It’s their [the three councils’] money effectively and they’re saying how it should be spent. That’s not satisfactory from my perspective. We have a real term cut in supported bus services because the levy has not increased. The levy is much lower than in other parts of the country.

“In future I would like to have precepting powers. I’ve basically been given lists by the unitary authorities of what bus services they’re going to support. With inflation and the same budget being frozen, that inevitably leads to cuts. That’s not acceptable to me but that’s where we are.

“At the moment we have about £20 a head per year for our transport levy, and that compares to the ones at the top of the combined authorities in other parts of the country, that are £60 a head. There are huge reserves in some of our council areas that could perhaps be used in a way that deals with exactly these concerns, and that’s a political choice.”

The metro mayor also repeatedly denied that the new West Link minibus services were replacing the subsidised services — despite West Link kicking in at the same time the 27 existing routes are withdrawn. A quirk in government funding rules means that the West of England has tens of millions to spend on buses, but only in “new and innovative” ways.

Mr Norris added: “This is not a substitute for proper bus services, it’s a way of linking up people in more remote areas. I’ve asked the government if it’s possible to use the money I’ve received to maybe support bus services that are under threat, and it was very clear that the answer from them was ‘no, it has to be spent on ideas that are new and innovative’.”

Responding to claims that the councils could spend more on the transport levy, South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage criticised the West of England’s spending on new offices and temporary staff. He added many of the council’s reserves are for specific areas and can’t be spent on saving subsidised bus routes, and the council has contributed as much as it can.

Cllr Savage said: “There are resource decisions that are being made, which are perhaps not in the best interest of public transport users. I’ve raised concerns in the past about the West of England’s new offices, and over-reliance on interim staff that are often much more costly. We could demonstrate better value for money.

“Other combined authorities around the country are different, some have trams or tubes, which therefore does inflate their levy. So you’re comparing apples and pears and I don’t think it’s a fair comparison and ultimately not particularly helpful to the public.

“South Gloucestershire Council holds many different reserves, one of our largest reserves underpins our waste contract. The idea that that is a reserve that can be released to support bus services, that’s just simply not possible. But we have demonstrated as councils our willingness to put additional resources in.”

The combined authority faced warnings that the new demand responsive transport West Link minibus service would not be a solution in large urban areas like Brislington, and introducing it on such a large scale so quickly could be “reckless”.

Labour Councillor Tim Rippington, representing Brislington East, said: “Brislington has a population of over 22,000 people, a huge catchment area for public transport. However, the services simply are not there for people to use. The idea to introduce demand responsive transport to our area is not a solution.

“This may help a few people to get to places which are otherwise inaccessible to them, but it will do nothing to bring about the modal shift we need. Only the frequency of reliable bus services will do this. Demand responsive transport is mainly designed for cut off and rural areas. An area of over 22,000 people deserves much, much more.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Winston Duguid, chair of the West of England scrutiny committee, warned against taking a “big bang approach” on April 2 with the new West Link minibus services. He added that the West of England should lobby the government for extra powers and funding, to be able to sort out the region’s struggling bus network in the long term.

He said: “There’s a huge education campaign to be done if this is going to be successful in very limited time. We’re playing with people’s lives here, how they get to work, how they get to school, how they get to hospital appointments. To introduce this without a sufficient transition period is getting near to reckless.”

It’s currently unclear exactly which services are being cut in April, or even how many. Papers to the combined authority meeting gave a long list of services which could potentially be subsidised, and a shorter list of routes which will continue to receive subsidies. However, the long list also included services which already don’t exist at the moment, let alone after April.

The West of England initially sent out a press release after the meeting saying 27 cuts would be axed — before later clarifying that 27 would be saved, and 42 would be axed. A list was then sent out of potential services facing withdrawal, which was “not double-checked for accuracy” and only included 36 services.

According to this list, which may not be entirely accurate, subsidised services facing withdrawal from April include:

506 Bristol city centre to Southmead Hospital

179 Bath to Midsomer Norton

672 Bristol to Blagdon

185 Paulton to Trowbridge

636 Whitchurch to Keynsham

640 Bishop Sutton to Keynsham

668 Peasedown St John to Bristol city centre

683 Keynsham to Wells

757 Combe Hay to Midsomer Norton

172 Bath to Paulton

178 Midsomer Norton to Brislington Park and Ride

752 Hinton Blewett to Bath city centre

754 Hinton Blewett to Radstock

768 Bath bus station to Radstock and Midsomer Norton

52 Hengrove Park to Bristol city centre

516 Knowle to Hengrove Park

622 Chipping Sodbury to Cribbs Causeway

626 Wotton-under-Edge to Bristol city centre

511 Bedminster to Hengrove

512 Totterdown to Bristol city centre

513/514 Knowle to Brislington

17 Southmead Hospital to Kingswood

82 Radstock to Paulton

84/85 Yate to Wotton-under-Edge

623 Hollywood Lane to Cribbs Causeway

634 Tomarton to Kingswood

663 Somerdale to Chandag Road

664 Keynsham to Saltford

665 Somerdale to Longmeadow Road

684 Wick to Keynsham

22 Twerton to Bath Uni

202 Chipping Sodbury to Winterbourne

963 Patchway to Bradley Stoke and Winterbourne

948 Pucklechurch to Mangotsfield and Sir Bernard Lovell School

967 Westerleigh to Chipping Sodbury School and Brimsham Green School

680 North Yate to Chipping Sodbury and SGS College Filton