News / Transport

‘Reclaim our buses’ protesters face hostility during march

By Mia Vines Booth , Saturday Sep 9, 2023

An eventful protest demanding better bus services in Bristol was met with hostility by some on Saturday.

Activists from Youth Strike 4 Climate, Reclaim Our Buses and XR Youth were joined by members of Bristol Green Party outside City Hall, to demand WECA metro mayor Dan Norris adopt a bus franchising model in Bristol.

Protesters marched from College Green through Broadmead to the WECA offices in Redcliffe, where activists occupied the offices for nine hours on Friday before being removed by police.

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Carla Denyer pledged to bring buses into public ownership if the Green Party were elected – photo: Rob Browne

Campaigners claim a number of cross-party councillors pledged their support to the bus protesters during the sit-in.

At one point, protesters standing in the middle of Park Street holding a sign reading ‘Free buses, fair buses’, were approached by a driver, who drove within touching distance of the protesters before getting out of his car and attempting to rip the sign out of their hands.

Later, on Bristol Bridge, another driver attempted to rip a similar sign from protesters and throw it into the Floating Harbour while hurling abuse at them.

At another point, a car in front of the protesters repeatedly revved its engine, purposely releasing fumes onto people marching.

As protesters got closer to WECA’s offices, a group of children followed them, shouting at police to arrest the protestors, telling cars to drive into them, shouting abuse at protesters and throwing firecrackers at them.

Protesters face off against angry drivers – photo: Mia Vines Booth

Campaigners believe bringing buses into semi-public ownership through a bus franchising model will mean they will be better funded, more reliable, and less expensive.

Poppy, a youth campaigner in Bristol, said the buses were “run for profit, not for people.”

“They are cutting community bus routes, they are treating drivers badly, and the fares keep going up,” they told Bristol24/7.

“We need a better bus system… Franchising is a step towards nationalisation… Rather than First Bus getting to decide what routes they run, it’s in WECA’s control.”

Dan Norris has said he will look into bus franchising, but the group said they have yet to see any evidence of this, and that Norris is one of the last Labour mayors to consider franchising in the UK.

On Saturday morning, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees signified his support to protesters, calling on Dan Norris to provide a better bus system on Twitter, using an image from bus protesters at Cabot Tower earlier in the week.

Co-leader of the Green Party and Clifton Down ward councillor, Carla Denyer, spoke at the rally. She said Dan Norris was “sitting on his hands” when it came to bus franchising which she said, although not perfect, was better than the current system.

“My experience from knocking on doors all over the city, is that sorting out Bristol’s transport mess is an issue that transcends age, class, ethnicity, political leaning. So while this wouldn’t be a panacea, it’s definitely part of the solution.”

“The Green Party is really clear that we would bring buses and rail into public ownership.”

Hotwells & Harbourside councillor, Patrick McAllister, highlighted how his demographic was hit hard by substandard bus services.

“We need buses that are affordable, reliable and dependable… As a young person myself, we need options beside cars which are so much less accessible to people in my demographic.”

Bristol24/7 has approached WECA and Norris for comment.

Main photo: Rob Browne

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