Bus transformation planned for cheaper fares across area

First Bus in Bristol

Bus transformation planned - Credit: Bristol Post

Cheaper bus fares could soon be available in Portishead, Nailsea and Clevedon under a radical new vision to upgrade the public transport network.

Plans being submitted to central Government this month will call for hourly buses every weekday between 7am and 7pm in all communities with more than 1,000 residents, and more frequent services in urban areas. 

They say North Somerset and the West of England should have simple and affordable multi-operator ticketing as standard, greener vehicles and the first electric buses within two years. 

But councillors fear the government could quickly pull the plug on the £3billion funding, leaving them forced to cut services. 

Speaking at the executive meeting on October 20, council leader Don Davies said the 'disappointing' news of another delay to the reopening of the Portishead railway line showed buses were the only genuine alternative to private cars in North Somerset. 

Cllr Davies said: “We want to make sure that everybody within North Somerset has access to a bus or or a dial a ride service.

“We want higher bus frequencies with a good range of destinations and connections, far more than we’ve got now. 

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“We’re very cognisant of the 24-seven economy so there are bus services early morning, evenings, at night and at weekends. 

“Everybody wants a much cheaper, simpler and affordable fare system. 

“We need that affordability for families and have a bus network that is a single system so that it’s very much part of a network.” 

At the meeting Cllr Davies, as the executive member responsible for transport policy, was delegated authority to approve the final version of the bus service improvement plan for submission to government by the end of the month.

It was noted that the bus service improvement plan was still a draft document which provided an indication of the key aspects but was subject to further refinement and update.

Cllr Mark Canniford said he did not trust the government not to withdraw the funding, and then the council would be forced to cut bus services. 

Colin Medus, the council’s head of public transport transformation, said that risk did exist so the council had to boost passenger numbers to make sure services are sustainable. Bus use fell to eight per cent of pre-Covid levels in the first lockdown and still only sits at 70 per cent. 

Mr Medus told executive members: “This is a big change in how buses operate. It puts local authorities more central to the process. That’s a double-edged sword. 

“It gives us more influence in terms of connecting communities but when there are hard decisions that need to be made we will be more involved in that, and cannot perhaps so easily just blame it on the commercial operators as we’ve done in the past.

“It’s beholden on us to encourage people to return to public transport.”

Cllr Bridget Petty said the coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on bus travel and passengers were returning to find it diminished. 

She said she recently drove a blind resident to Nailsea after learning there was no bus service from Backwell on a Saturday, adding: “We’re failing our residents who have any inequalities and disability issues. 

“Only when we have a reliable and feasible bus service will residents feel they have the option to leave the car at home.” 

The plan calls for simple, cheaper and more affordable fares with multi-operator ticketing as standard, and envisages reduced fares being delivered for local travel in Portishead, Nailsea and Clevedon. 

Responding to complaints about inaccurate real-time information, Mr Medus said services are sometimes cancelled because drivers test positive or get 'pinged' at the start of their shifts, leaving no chance to replace them. 

He said some well-used bus stops could be fitted with CCTV cameras amid concerns for the safety of women and girls, who he said would feel safer if buses are used more. 

North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority will submit the final version of their bus service improvement to government later this month.

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