Big Choices on Buses

Local people want local buses that connect to the wider region that are affordable and reliable.

Big choices on Buses” was an event held in Larkhall at the New Oriel Hall (16th August 2022), as part of the WECA Mayor’s appeal for greater community involvement with feedback and innovative ideas for bus services across the West of England.

The WECA Mayor, Dan Norris has been holding public meetings across the region this August, including Bathwick and Whitchurch, to review the bus network.  As the Ward Councillor for Lambridge, Joanna Wright said:

“I thought it vitally important that we invite Dan Norris to Lambridge with his “Big Choices on Buses” event for the residents of the East of Bath, where many are already concerned about the present bus services.”

“Mayor Dan Norris was unable to attend the Transition Larkhall hosted meeting, but he gladly pre-recorded a video for Lambridge residents, explaining some of the issues on buses are for him as WECA Mayor.”

Councillor Wright continued: “In my conversations with Metro Mayor Dan Norris it is clear that he wants to hear innovative ideas from residents about how he can use new money from the Department for Transport (DfT) to support the regions’ bus services. The DfT will not allow the Metro Mayor to use this new money for existing services which is why the “Big Choices on Buses” is so important. Local people have brilliant and innovative ideas, and he wants to know what they could be.”

Lambridge with its hilly streets and high-density living would be an ideal incubator for Demand Responsive Transport (DRT). Councillor Wright gave the example of how DRTs are used widely in Europe and have also been successfully trialled in Wales. A DRT is an app-based service that allows people to book a shuttle minibus from “floating bus stops” near to their homes, taking them directly to either their destination or a connecting service.  In the case of Lambridge this service could connect to the bus services on the London Road or to key areas in the local area that serve the community – the shops, the doctors’, the park.

Another idea from the New Oriel Hall meeting was to create mini-Park and Rides along the A46 and A4. And as Larkhall has, for years, been the unofficial eastern Park and Ride for Bath for large numbers of commuters. Councillor Wright said she knows that many residents would welcome such an initiative, but this must be implemented alongside a Resident Parking Zones and a Liveable Neighbourhood that, so far, the present Council has refused to do even though Lambridge is the only Ward in B&NES to have produced a compelling need and case with a university led transport survey on the number of cars passing through Larkhallhttps://transitionlarkhall.files.wordpress.com/2022/01/pngs.pdf

The Department for Transport Covid grant, which has kept bus services running, will soon end and, with a huge fall in passenger numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, this means there will be even less money for bus services. The region is also facing an acute shortage of drivers and this combination of fewer journeys made by bus and lack of drivers means that how private bus companies run services is likely to change over the short term. And however hard WECA or the local councils work with the private bus companies, the government rules over subsidies means that these services are not able to compete with commercial routes.

Unlike other Combined Authorities, e.g. Greater Manchester, the West of England Mayor does not have “precepting powers” to raise revenue for public transport.  Precepting means that every household pays a contribution in their council tax to the Metro Mayor to pay for public transport. It is “ring fenced” money, protecting its use to bus services only. Precepting would allow the Metro Mayor the option to create either “Enhanced Bus Partnerships’ or “Bus Franchising” with bus providers. This means that the Metro Mayor could run the bus service and state where the bus route network would be and the fares that would be charged. Andy Burnham in Manchester has precepting powers which allowed him to franchise the bus service, providing cheaper tickets and routes set by him. Creating a service that benefits the whole of Manchester, and no longer run to make profits for private bus companies.

Lambridge residents made clear at the meeting that they want and need local buses that serve their local community and connect with the wider region. A reliable service with affordable and easy to buy tickets. Currently many young people in Lambridge are forced to catch several buses just to get to school and back. And they cannot buy and use just one affordable ticket; having to pay multiple fares as each bus company uses different ticket systems. Unsurprisingly, this often results in young people getting parents to drive them to school, so the buses see less use and are at greater risk of being cut.

The existing 6A and 7 service has always been heavily subsidised and residents are genuinely fearful that the loss of these bus services will affect many who use the local shops in Larkhall Square, Morrisons, the Doctors’ Surgery at Fairfield Park, and the easy access to facilities at Alice Park. Many of these residents are elderly and often do not have access to a private vehicle and will be left isolated and unable to get to shops. These critical services have been fought for many times, the last time by Lambridge’s previous Green Councillor Lin Patterson who led over a hundred protestors and raised over 2,400 signatures forcing the council to scrap their plans to cut services.

The network bus review by WECA closes on the 31st of August 2022 so make sure you go online and let the WECA Mayor know your views on buses and the innovations you would most like put in place. https://consultation.westofengland-ca.gov.uk/infrastructure/big-choices-on-buses/ 

You can also join the Bath Bus Customer panel that meets regularly for full details contact Thomas Hughes at First Bus Thomas.Hughes@firstbus.co.uk for details or Lucy Travis at B&NES Lucy_Travis@BATHNES.GOV.UK

Cllr Joanna Wright

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