Imminent changes to bus services in South Gloucestershire have been branded an “absolute disgrace”.
The timetable changes come as bus companies struggle to maintain services after passenger numbers were decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.
First Bus, which has been running emergency timetables, says on its website that its services “will increase” from July 5.
But the new timetables show around a dozen routes across Bristol and the surrounding area marked “no service” and another 11 marked “no weekend services”.
Among those marked “no service” are routes 35 and 37.
Transport campaigner David Redgewell drew the new timetables to the attention of councillors at a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s scrutiny commission on June 24.
He said: “It’s very disappointing to see that, again, a large part of South Gloucestershire will have no bus services that are not the main line services,” he said.
“The main line services to Staple Hill and to Yate, to Thornbury and to East Bristol are running.
“But if you want to cross the district or go to Bath on the 37, through Hanham and Longwell Green, no bus services at all, all day, any day of the week.
“If you want to go through Cadbury Heath through North Common on the number 18 which runs to Keynsham and then takes people to shop and into Bath, [there’s] no service at all, any day of the week.
“The 35 to Marshfield: Marshfield has no bus service from Kingswood or to Bristol any day of the week.
“And there are no obviously no evening services on the 19 through Staple Hill and up to Bath and down to Cribbs Causeway.”
“Obviously Thornbury has no late evening services to Cribbs Causeway either.
“So I still don’t see if we’re opening up the economy to restaurants and public houses and some [of the evening economy], how anybody going to work or going out with public transport limited to 20 on a double-decker and 10 on a single-decker can possibly get around for work purposes or health appointments or appointments into key services.”
Mr Redgewell called on the scrutiny councillors to challenge the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) to consult with the community over bus services via Zoom and set up a helpline for bus users.
Councillor for Bitton and Oldham Common, Paul Hughes, said the 37 service “always seems to be getting hit” and the loss of the Kingswood to Cribbs Causeway leg of service 18 was an “absolute disaster”.
“This seems to happen almost every time there’s a bus review,” Cllr Hughes said.
“I know that Covid is a nightmare at the moment, but really to cut services completely off is an absolute disgrace.”
Councillor for Yate central, Ruth Davis, said the bus services were “absolutely essential” because more than 80 per cent of South Gloucestershire was rural or semi-rural.
“If they’re not going to fund the bus services then we need some alternative otherwise people are going to be really, really in a mess,” she said.
‘We have been gradually bringing our services back’ – First boss
James Freeman, managing director at First West of England, said: “During the coronavirus lockdown, we had to rapidly respond to a significant drop in passenger numbers by reducing our services to a minimum level.
“As lockdown has started to ease, we have been gradually bringing our services back, following changes in customer demand.
“After listening to specific requests from our customers, we are pleased to be partly reinstating the Service 18 to run hourly between Kingswood and Bath during the day, Monday to Friday. Customers travelling between Kingswood and Cribbs Causeway can then use the Service 19.
“This combination of services allows us to continue to provide bus travel for customers along the whole route, whilst passenger demand across the region remains low at around 20 per cent of normal pre-Covid-19 levels.
“Service 37 remains suspended at this time and customers can use the alternative Service 19 between Bath and Bitton, as well as Service 42 between Bitton and Bristol City Centre, which will now run every 30 minutes to increase bus capacity along this route.
“As we have done throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, we are continuing to monitor all our routes to ensure there is capacity for social distancing. In order to follow the Government advice, we have to make sure our buses are being used to the best effect. This means that some buses have to be redeployed to the busiest routes to create enough capacity for social distancing, as the normal 75 seat capacity is reduced to a maximum of 20 seats with the current measures in place.
“These plans are established in consultation with the West of England Combined Authority and we are working closely with them to ensure there are sufficient levels of bus services across the region for those who need it.
“We will continue to review all our services as customer demand changes.
“We want to thank all our customers for their ongoing patience and cooperation as we start to emerge from the coronavirus crisis and work to return our bus services to some level of normality, in line with Government guidelines.”
The Government is currently paying operators directly under an emergency Covid-19 fund.
West of England mayor Tim Bowles told MPs earlier this month that bus companies were expected to restore about 80 per cent of their pre-Covid routes by July 5.
But he warned members of the House of Commons transport select committee that without continued government support bus services faced the axe because social distancing was stopping them from filling with passengers.
First’s latest bus timetables for Bristol and the surrounding area can be found here: https://www.firstgroup.com/bristol-bath-and-west/news-and-service-updates/coronavirus-covid19-service-information
By Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service