Local taxpayers to subsidise “rubbish” bus services

A U7 bus at a stop in Webbs Wood Road, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

Bus services described as “rubbish” by the Mayor of Bradley Stoke are to be subsidised by local taxpayers for at least three months until a new operator can be found to operate them on a commercial basis.

Wessex Connect, which operates the U7, U7A and U8 services, announced last month that it would be stopping the services from 20th May because, it claims, they are “commercially unviable”. The move would have left the whole of the south of Bradley Stoke without a daytime bus service for six days of the week.

But bus users attending a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council’s Planning Committee last week were critical of the way the services have been run since they were introduced in September 2011, as a replacement for the previous 71 and 72 services.

Around twenty-five members of the public attended the meeting and they were unanimous in their criticism of Wessex Connect, citing stories of ticket machines not working, buses running late or not turning up at all and drivers taking the wrong route.

Malfunctioning ticket machines not only resulted in revenue being lost but also led to an understatement of passenger figures, they observed.

Justin Thomson of Wessex Connect said the services had been losing “six figures a year” when his company took them over in 2007. They had hoped to increase patronage by, for example,  introducing new vehicles but had now been hit by a reduction in Government grant and increasing fuel costs. The company had also been affected by the recent loss of a 17-vehicle contract at its Bristol depot and needed to act now to protect jobs, he added.

Bradley Stoke Mayor Cllr Ben Walker told Mr Thomson:

“Yes, you can market a service and try and get news out on the streets. The fact is that bad news travels faster than good news and your service is rubbish. You aren’t going to get people on it.”

Roy Steele, Principal Transport Officer at South Gloucestershire Council, informed the meeting that a proposal for replacement services to cover a provisional period from 20th May had been discussed with Wessex Connect, adding that it was hoped to find a permanent solution from September 2012.

But he warned:

“The Council has a limited pot, so whatever we do now must be clawed back over the rest of the year”.

Confirmation of the decision to provide a taxpayers’ subsidy for an interim period came two days later, in a press release issued by the Conservative Group on South Gloucestershire Council:

“After appeals from local Conservative Councillors and residents, the Council’s Integrated Transport Unit (ITU) has been involved in discussions with all the bus operators in the area in an effort to secure replacement services and demonstrating that there is a viable market for services in the town.”

“A new commercial replacement service is expected to be in place at the beginning of September and so, in the meantime, it has been agreed that an interim arrangement with Wessex Connect can be funded by South Gloucestershire Council to keep the U7 and U8 services running with some changes.”

The changes include:

  • The interim service on the U8 will be slightly reduced from five morning peak journeys to four, with the first two journeys having the timing amended;
  • The later return journey at 18:15 will not operate as the ITU advises that this service carries the least number of passengers to Bradley Stoke;
  • The U7A will not operate as the ITU advises that this duplicates a number of journeys that Wessex currently provides on private contracts with employers in the area;
  • The U7 will operate an amended route (MoD Abbey Wood will now only be served during am and pm peaks) with seven journeys during the off peak period giving local access to facilities Monday – Friday.

Conservative Councillors for Bradley Stoke South Rob Jones and John Ashe, who have been campaigning for a solution for alarmed local bus users, said:

“Although this interim arrangement will still mean changes to the U7 and U8 services, we welcome the relief this brings to the bus drought that our town had been facing.”

“We have been contacted by many local residents who had been concerned at the impact that Wessex Connect’s withdrawal of these services would have had on them and we would like to thank the council officers in the ITU who have been working on ways to minimise this impact.”

“We will keep on pushing for a more comprehensive commercially-operated bus network for all of Bradley Stoke because a community of our size really needs it.”

Timetables for the revised services are expected to be made available later this week.

Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol this morning, SGC’s executive member for planning and transport Cllr Brian Allinson said:

“We stepped in to enquire how much it would cost to continue [the services] and the figure was way beyond what we could pay because our budget had already been set for the year.”

“We’ve negotiated a slighly different frequency, which has brought the price down but it’s still going to cost us quite a lot of money to provide the service until September.”

“We’re in deep conversation with a number of major bus companies and we’re sure that by September we will have the matter resolved.”

A spokesperson from Council’s press office confirmed the details released by the Conservative Group but was cagey about revealing the cost to local taxpayers, telling us:

“We’re not yet in a position to disclose SGC’s financial contribution.”

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  1. And yet again they reveal their desire to throw our money away.

    But won’t tell us how much, how very convenient. But no more than we have come to expect from SGC.


  2. Great news for those who need to use public transport to get to work. Well done to Cllrs Ashe and Jones for their lobbying. I hope that the new provider from September offers a better service than Wessex have done. The obvious solution would be to persuade First to run the 73B service 7 days a week. Here’s hoping.


    I can only assume that you do not use the awful public transport from Bradley Stoke south. SGC are not throwing money away. They are ensuring public transport continues in Bradley Stoke south. While I agree that SGC should be more open, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request will get you the figures you clearly desire.

  3. Its not ideal but its something for the meantime. It was always pointless to me to run the 5.50 and 6.05 because they were never used. The 6.05 would pass me on my dog walk at 6.15 with one passenger on occasion but mostly with none. Even going along with his lights off – no point having a bus all lit up if there were no passengers!!! The later buses timings were more suitable for most workers.

    What Wessex Connect needed to do right from the start was a survey asking what was the best time mornings and evenings for passengers to travel and what was the maximum they were prepared to pay per return etc and then work the bus times and ticket prices around the most popular.

    Also, the ticket machines are still not working correctly, and my return ticket is never clipped by the driver so how do they know I’ve used the bus back from the centre???

  4. The location and size of Bradley Stoke makes it difficult for a comprehensive and frequent range of bus services to be offered. With all bus routes in Bristol focused on the Centre, the current 73 route is busy along its whole route and adding extra buses or stops is not really possible.

    The advent of the park and ride behind Parkway Station, with rumours of a new express route to the ring road does offer the chance for Parkway station to become a bus hub and provide an increased range of services to/from Cribbs Causeway, Bradley Stoke, Stoke Lodge and Patchway.

  5. Taking up on the posting from Richard A, I am not too sure what he suggests.

    Is it two separate services 73 and 73B, or the same as Sundays (at present), i.e. alternating routes of 73 and 73B?

    If it is the latter on a 7-day basis, who needs Wessex?

  6. To anon-e.mouse ,

    Saying sgc are once again throwing money away,on a bus service seems a very selfish attitude.

    The person may not need the bus services ,but there are plenty of people who do.

    I think all the councillers at the meeting at the jubilee centre,about the loss of bus services ,were very understanding.

    i would just like to thank them for their efforts to have arranged a temporary solution and hope the new bus service that starts in september,will be better than wessex.

  7. Why is it very selfish MH? Is it selfish to want to know just how much tax payers money is being given to a private company?

    Its interesting that Bristol City Council are now going to take (at long last) a firmer line with First bus who are the beneficiaries of millions in subsidies funded by you and I yet feel they can threaten the council if they don’t get their way.

    I want to see every pound of my exceedingly hard-earned momey spent wisely and transparently. That’s not the case with this decision and not selfish to ask if we are getting value for money.

  8. I find it ironic that councillors from the political party that deregulated bus services in 1986 (under Thatcher) are now seeking praise for using taxpayers’ money to bale out a private company that has failed to run a service competently.

    The legislation allows literally anyone to run a bus service but sets down no standards for the quality of service that is provided.

  9. @moe

    My suggestion would be for First to simply alternate their 73 service between the 73 and 73B routes during everyday as they do on evenings and all day Sunday at present. We can then do without Wessex and any council subsidies.

  10. Whilst alternating the 73/73B service 7 days a week will address this issue, it will turn a 15 minute service for many to a 30 minute service.

    Already Emerson Green has a 6 minute service thanks to buses via Downend and via Staple Hill, its a shame something cannot be done to provide Bradley Stoke with a similar level of service.

  11. Announcement on the SGC website today:

    From 20th May 2012:

    U7/U7a/U7ac These commercially run services have been cancelled by the bus operator, as they are no longer considered commercially viable. Service U7 will continue to run on Monday to Friday, with financial support from South Gloucestershire Council.

    U8 This service will now be financially supported by South Gloucestershire Council as the commercial service was cancelled by the bus operator. There will be minor amendments to the timetable, but with one less journey in each direction.

    482/483 Revised Monday to Friday timetable with one fewer journey from Cribbs Causeway. Saturday and Sunday services remain unchanged. This service is now supported by South Gloucestershire Council 7 days a week.

    More info: New timetables from 20th May 2012

  12. The reason me and others stopped using the bus in the south is simply a poor timetable. Working 08:00-16:00 shifts are common but whilst the bus will get you in on time you have to wait until after 17:00 to get a bus home. Only other option is to use First to come home and walk but that means two operators and no cheap option.

    Match people’s working patterns and they might return.

    I moved to a motorbike after an inspector said he had done the same as he could not rely on his buses!

  13. A Freedom of Information request asking SGC to disclose how much it has paid Wessex Connect to continue these services until September has been refused on the grounds that it is “likely to prejudice the commercial interests of a company”.

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