A transport campaigner has called for an urgent review of bus services that cross south and east Bristol.
Dave Redgewell from the South West Transport Network said he is “horrified” by the level of services through these areas, which include some of the most deprived parts of the city region.
He said a reduction in local bus link services during the coronavirus pandemic had left residents without enough buses to make necessary trips – such as to the shops and nearest hospital – easily.
When those services aren’t available, people have to catch a bus into the city centre and then another one to get where they want to go.
“People do not want to travel into central Bristol to get where they’re going,” he said.
“What we want is the local links restored and that is the responsibility of the local transport authority, which is the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).”
WECA said it has no plans to review the bus network at present.
Redgewell made particular mention of two services run by First Bus: the 96 from Brislington to Hengrove, and the 37 between Bristol and Bath.
The 96, which serves South Bristol Hospital and Broadwalk Shopping Centre, is “causing a lot of grief” as it runs two-hourly Mondays to Saturdays and does not run on Sundays any more, he said.
“Even though South Bristol Hospital is quite a major hospital for south Bristol and north east Somerset.
“There’s been a lot of people saying that with that level of frequency, it’s not a level of frequency you can get to the shops or get to healthcare effectively, really.”
Redgewell said the “worst one” is the 37, as it only makes four trips a day, down from every hour before Covid-19 took its toll on bus services.
The 37 travels between Bristol and Bath via Lawrence Hill, St George, Hanham, Longwell Green, Bitton and Kelston.
“You ask the public in Longwell Green whether they believe that four buses a day are now sufficient to Bath, where one of the biggest hospitals is and the city centre is.
“That is quite a significant downturn from an hourly bus service.”
Redgewell is calling on WECA to review the entire network of tendered bus services across south and east Bristol, whether they are run by First, Stagecoach or other operators.
He said WECA had conducted a “very successful” review of services in north Bristol and produced a “brand new network” with Stagecoach.
Crucially, that review had ignored the boundaries between Bristol and South Gloucestershire and instead focused on the needs of communities. Redgewell wants WECA mayor Tim Bowles to take the same approach in south and east Bristol.
“If he’s done a review of north Bristol, he can do a review of east Bristol and south Bristol,” Redgewell said.
“Buses are now funded by the Department for Transport under Covid-19 operating grants.
“If they were to use this money more sensibly, we probably could get better value for money for the taxpayers of WECA and get a better network.”
A spokesperson for WECA said: “WECA is continually monitoring passenger usage of bus services across the region and working with the Department for Transport and local bus operators to maintain levels of service that meet the needs of the travelling public, as circumstances change in response to the Covid-19 restrictions.
“As and when existing bus service contracts come to an end we will need to carefully consider how best to use the limited public funding available.
“However, it is not intended to review the whole network of tendered services at this stage while the overall travel situation remains uncertain.”
First West of England’s managing director James Freeman said: “The pandemic has had a significant impact on the way that we operate and in the way that we think about and allocate resources across our network.
“We are still running at dramatically reduced on board capacity because of social distancing.
“Since the end of May we have been working to increase the level of service across the network but First West of England now receives payment from central Government to operate buses where demand is most concentrated.
“So we have to work closely with WECA to ensure our resources are most effectively deployed.
“Many of our south Bristol services are now either operating at or above their pre-covid level frequency.”
Freeman said a number of services operate regularly in south Bristol and while the 37 services, which connects Bristol to Bath via St George, has been operating at a lower frequency, it is due to relatively low passenger demand.
He said a number of other services, such as 44 and 45, offer alternatives along parts of the route.
Freeman added: “We continue to monitor passenger demand and capacities across the network on a daily basis and make frequent changes to respond to any issues that arise. Our intention will be to reinstate further journeys on Service 37 when able, however, this will be based on when resource becomes available and in agreement with WECA.”
Main photo courtesy of First West of England
Amanda Cameron is a local democracy reporter for Bristol