‘Expect massive cuts to bus routes’
BUS passengers are being warned that services face a second round of cuts in the autumn, when the withdrawal of government funding pushes them over a "cliff edge".
And the region's Metro Mayor says that the service linking Pucklechurch to Bristol, the Y5, is among those which operator First is proposing to cut.
Dan Norris issued a statement on July 18 in which he said the Y5, which also links Pucklechurch to Yate, faced being cut along with three other services.
First has said the withdrawal was "speculation" - but Mr Norris's office said the company had proposed to withdraw the Y5 service completely.
Mr Norris said severe bus driver shortages and the withdrawal of government funding to support services during the pandemic, which is due to come into effect in October, was a "cliff-edge" that would affect commercial and subsidised services as passenger numbers have yet to recover from pre-Covid levels and costs to run buses are up.
He said: "I am sorry that people in South Gloucestershire will feel these cuts in October, when private bus companies withdraw their services on the less profitable routes.
"My heart goes out to people who will lose buses which I know are so important for getting to work, seeing family and caring for others.
"When it comes to funding, I will always step in to save vital buses where I can, but there isn’t an unlimited pot of cash and even if there was, I can’t magic up drivers."
A First West of England spokesperson said: “As a condition of transitional funding arrangements, bus operators must undertake full network reviews to assess the viability of all routes once funding ends in the autumn.
“This is currently taking place in West of England but we must stress no decisions have been made and it would be inappropriate to comment on speculation at this stage.
“Like all other bus operators in the UK, we must adapt our networks to match the post-pandemic demand for services."
On July 6 First managing director Doug Claringbold told a South Gloucestershire Council scrutiny commission meeting: "The level of service that First has been delivering has not been acceptable because of the level of cancellations, largely driven by a shortage of trained bus drivers.
"In October we need to have a timetable which is robust, so there will have to be some planned changes to bring us back into line where our resources meet the services we operate.
“We are not prepared to run a non-reliable service."
There has also been a row over provision of school buses in the area, after Stagecoach told South Gloucestershire Council it would be withdrawing the 427, 458, 459 and 460 commercial services for pupils from areas including Lyde Green and Emersons Green to Winterbourne Academy.
Announcing a deal for the council to fund them from September, Conservative cabinet member Steve Reade said he was "extremely concerned that the Weca Mayor felt ensuring local children have a sustainable method of getting to school was not worth support and was happy to shirk his responsibilities once again, leaving the council to pick up the pieces".
In reply, Mr Norris said the council had a "statutory duty" to provide transport for some of the children using the services, adding that the council "don’t put their money where their mouth is when it comes to transport funding" and spent less per head than many other areas.
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