More bus services axed as subsidies cut

BUS passengers face further cuts after a vote on subsidised services left 42 of them facing the axe from April.

They include the 17 service, which links Keynsham, Kingswood and east Bristol to Cossham and Southmead Hospitals.

The cuts were signed off by the West of England combined authority on January 18, as the region’s political leaders blamed each other and the government.

Writing on Facebook, Kingswood Labour Cllr Andrea Reid said  the removal of the 17 would deny access to Southmead Hospital, which she described as “reckless and reprehensible”. 

“Just because it is not profitable … does not mean it is not a vital service,” she said.

Councillor Reid urged residents to fight for retention of the route. Losing it would affect NHS staff and patients and widen health inequalities, she said. 

The axed bus routes form 60% of the region’s 69 subsidised services. Many link rural areas to towns and cities but some run within Bristol.

During the meeting, West of England mayor Dan Norris blamed the leaders of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and B&NES councils for not paying enough, with this year’s increase to their transport levy less than inflation, while council leaders accused WECA of wasting money.

Mr Norris said: “We have £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.”

From April, passengers in many areas will be able to use a new ‘demand responsive transport’ minibus services, called West Link, to connect areas with little or no scheduled service to main routes.

The service will run in some parts of south Bristol, as well as large parts of North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. The Metro Mayor stressed that West Link was not a replacement for subsidised services, despite launching at the same time many subsidised routes are withdrawn. He said funding came from a government scheme which could only be spent on “new and innovative” forms of transport.

Lib Dem Cllr Winston Duguid, chair of the West of England scrutiny committee, warned against taking a “big bang approach” on April 2 with the new minibus services. He said WECA  should lobby the government for extra powers and funding, to be able to sort out the 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..”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service