First boss grilled over 73 bus route change

Photo of a green bus.
A First Bus service 73 vehicle, pictured on Bradley Stoke Way.

A boss from First Bus has defended the firm’s rerouting of its 73 service such that it no longer makes a loop through the south-east corner of Bradley Stoke, along Webbs Wood Road and Baileys Court Road.

Following a change that came into effect on 30th January 2022, the service now traverses the full length of Brook Way, with a small diversion to go in and out of the Willow Brook Centre.

To maintain an interchange with services M1 MetroBus and T1, the 73 now additionally stops at the Willow Brook northbound stop on Bradley Stoke Way prior to entering the Willow Brook Centre.

Aside from the fury that the change caused amongst affected passengers, First has also faced criticism for a lack of advance consultation with local councillors and the short notice given to passengers.

Photo of a sign at a bus stop.
Sign at the Baileys Court Inn bus stop: “No services serve this stop”.

Government regulations require bus operators to give 70 days’ notice of a proposed change, formed of 42 days’ notice given to the Traffic Commissioner preceded by a 28-day period of consultation with the local transport authority (locally this is now Weca, the West of England Combined Authority).
But members of Bradley Stoke Town Council say they were only notified of the change on 4th January, by which time it had already been registered with the Traffic Commissioner (although not properly advertised by that office until 20th January).

First’s operations manager Chris Hanson was subsequently invited to address a meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council on 19th January 2022, where he outlined the firm’s reasoning for altering the route.

He explained that the bus industry is facing enormous challenges due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on passenger numbers. The government has provided support, but the level of this assumes that bus patronage has returned to 85 percent of pre-Covid level, when it is actually only 64 percent in Bristol.

With government funding due to end in April, the company is having to urgently look at its underperforming services, of which the 73 is one.

Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Care, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

The introduction of the T1 and M1 services has attracted a lot of passengers who used to use the 73, affecting its financial sustainability. Another challenge is that the 73 service is, in Mr Hanson’s words, “appallingly unreliable”, with just 63 percent of journeys classified as being ‘on time’, compared to First’s target of 95 percent.

Mr Hanson said that the stops on the south-east loop were “exceptionally poorly used”, accounting for less than 1 percent of total patronage on the route. That meant that servicing the loop was “taking up a disproportionate amount of time”.

He concluded by saying that the route change was “not necessarily the end of it” and he advised councillors to additionally make representations to Weca.

Asked to explain how leaving out the south-east loop would increase reliability of the overall 73 service, Mr Hanson explained that, depending on the time of day, 16 to 17 minutes would need to be added to some end-to-end timetabled journey times on the route, necessitating the allocation of an extra vehicle at a cost of up to £225,000. However, it was calculated that by saving 8 minutes on all journeys, the need for an extra vehicle could be avoided. And by coincidence, cutting out the Bradley Stoke south-east loop saves almost exactly that amount of time.


Comments on the Journal’s Facebook page

JT: So no buses will now come down Baileys Court Road! My elderly neighbours use this bus to get to Tesco, and their GP surgery. It’s appalling for First Bus to remove the only bus
serving us in South Bradley Stoke.

HM: How do I get to Filton Avenue/ Gloucester Road without getting two buses? Now I have to walk 1 mile to get it.

TA: history is repeating itself and the South are again the excluded. They did this back in the late 90s I recall. Utter disgrace.

CO: In these times of encouraging public transport usage there will be no link from Baileys Court etc. to Bristol Parkway. It has to be said though that when I have used the 73, the patronage from this area is low – sometimes running non-stop along great lengths. If it’s not viable, it will go.

LP: Brilliant decision as living in Little Stoke I have a lengthy walk to pick up a 73. Now I will be able to walk down to the Braydon Avenue stop on Brook Way, which is where it originally stopped years ago.

Related link: Minutes of the town council meeting held on 19th January 2022 [MS Word]

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 2 & 3). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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