Reprieve for threatened bus services

June 22 2022

A DEAL to keep the region's subsidised bus services running for the next seven months has been hammered out by political leaders.

Behind-closed-doors negotiations lasting more than four hours between Metro Mayor Dan Norris and the leaders of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils succeeded in breaking a deadlock over who pays how much.

The rescue package means an initial seven-month extension to current contracts for 80 supported bus services, including the number 17, which links Staple Hill with Southmead Hospital and Kingswood, which are seen as important routes but are not commercially viable so are subsidised with public money.

It will allow time for an urgent review of where buses should run across the region ahead of new four-year contracts for services to be introduced from next April.

The political leaders agreed that supported services would be funded through a combination of contributions from the West of England Combined Authority and the three local councils.

They also agreed that any subsidised routes in future would be subject to a “value for money mechanism” - a suggestion which had previously seen talks being adjourned without agreement in May.

Mr Norris had made this a "red line" in negotiations after saying he was shocked to discover the 948 school bus from Pucklechurch via Mangotsfield to Sir Bernard Lovell Academy in Oldland Common was costing taxpayers £426 return, per pupil, per day.

When the talks resumed at a reconvened extraordinary meeting of the Weca committee in Bath Guildhall on June 14, public sessions were delayed for Mr Norris, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage and B&NES leader Kevin Guy to thrash out a deal in private.

Four hours later the public session started and finished in just over two minutes, as Cllr Guy formally withdrew a proposal backed by the unitary authorities at the May meeting and a new resolution tabled by Mr Norris was unanimously accepted.

Had agreement not been reached, a total of 26 services could have been axed. As well as the 17 and 948, the threatened services included the 967 Westerleigh to Chipping Sodbury and Brimsham Green schools.

Afterwards Mr Norris, who had previously criticised behind-the-scenes deals, said: "This is a victory for common sense. We now have a long-term plan, over a four-year period, that will offer stability for passengers and bus companies who want to invest.

"Leaders agreed with me to end the bonkers situation where bus routes are funded to extraordinary levels through an historic accident – and to instead plough that cash straight back into more bus services."

Mr Savage said: "Securing this agreement to protect our bus services while we conduct an urgent wider review is a really positive step forward, providing reassurance to our communities who would otherwise face sudden cuts – on top of cuts that have already occurred – at a time when we really need to be rebuilding confidence in public transport.

"We need more people on buses, not fewer, and for that we need a resilient network. I look forward to the understanding this review will bring and working together across the region to deliver the services we all need."

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service