Community leaders are being encouraged to hold “big choices on buses” meetings by Metro Mayor Dan Norris who wants local people to be a key part of the important conversation about the future of public transport across the West of England.
The Metro Mayor will kick off the discussion by holding a series of “big choices” public meetings in Yate, Southdown, Whitchurch and Bradley Stoke in the first week of August.
The Metro Mayor says that when it comes to local buses it’s a case of “short term pain but long term possibilities”.
Buses in the West of England are facing a toxic mix of challenges. There is a critical shortage of bus drivers, passenger numbers are 25% down on pre-pandemic levels, inflation is spiralling and the Department for Transport has confirmed that all covid financial assistance will end in October.
But it’s not all doom and gloom as the West of England Combined Authority, led by Mr Norris, has secured the second highest cash injection for buses from government nationwide as part of its Bus Service Improvement Plan. This money will kick in next year.
The Mayor hopes community leaders will run “big choices” meetings to look at individual bus routes, but also to explore bigger questions about trade-offs and compromises.
He said: “There are no right or wrong answers here. That’s why I need to get a sense of how local people feel, and hear their ideas and wisdom. We need to think how to deploy the limited numbers of bus drivers in the region. Do people want more frequent or more reliable services? Would you use the limited cash available to support the last rural bus in a village or add extra buses on overcrowded city routes?”.
Mr Norris says he is keen to hear from people who use buses but, crucially, also from those who don’t as increasing passengers numbers is vital to increase fare income and to tackle the climate emergency.
Metro Mayor Dan Norris continued: “I will not shy away from the very real challenges we face on the buses at the moment. Without doubt, there will be more cuts as government Covid-support comes to end in October. I want to be completely up front about that, and this is why I want to have a conversation with local people about the big choices we face now. We need to ensure what we do is value for money for West of England taxpayers and come up with new ideas. For example, I’d like to see far more minibuses in rural areas that aren’t on fixed routes to meet the needs of more communities. I know too that many residents would like to make the switch to buses, not least because so many local people really want to help tackle the climate emergency. We need to design a service that meets more of their needs. So please do get involved with our conversation about buses. I really need your help. Together let’s make big choices”.
Information gathered will feed into the Network Review of buses taking place this summer.