A fleet of green minibuses forming a new ‘on-demand’ service within the West of England will hit the streets this summer as part of a £3 million plus investment.
Passengers in ‘zones’ across the West of England will be able hail a ‘WESTlink‘ minibus by using an app on their smartphone, visiting a website or by phoning up.
The minibuses will be unrestricted by a timetable. Ticket prices will match the recently reduced fares on West of England buses.
Clever technology will use algorithms to best join up several people’s needs, combining them into one trip to get passengers to where they need to be as efficiently as possible.
The service will run between 7am-7pm Monday-Saturday.
The minibuses will run in zones designed to get people to key transport corridors where they can then pick up another bus or train.
The scheme is being funded by the West of England Combined Authority predominantly using money secured from government through the Bus Service Improvement Plan. This money cannot be spent on existing services with taxpayer subsidy but instead must be invested in services that are innovative and new.
The minibuses will be in large swathes of North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and parts of Bristol including Windmill Hill, Knowle, Brislington and St Anne. Within this overall area, there will be local zones. Passengers will be able to use a WESTlink in their local zone to link up to their local main routes.
It is hoped that smaller minibuses will be more attractive to drive and train on than traditional large buses – allowing bus companies to recruit more drivers at a time of unprecedented and acute bus driver shortages.
While a national problem, the West of England currently has a shortage of over 250 bus drivers which has put existing bus routes under immense pressure, with services reduced or even cut over recent months.
Crucially, the use of minibuses means drivers can be trained more quickly than for a large traditional bus as they don’t need a PSV licence. It also allows the more efficient use of existing drivers qualified to get behind the wheel of larger double-deckers. This will aid services on the busier routes where there are more passengers wanting to travel but who need to be confident of more frequent and reliable services.
West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “Everyone knows the buses don’t currently work as well as we need them to, so it’s time to try something new.
“I know change is difficult and people will be concerned about other cuts to supported bus services funded through local councils. But WEST link will provide a much-needed new public transport option to help people get out and about to their destinations.
“I hope we can encourage many people to use WEST link as a feeder service to connect to more high frequency bus or rail services. It should also provide access to a wider range of destinations and support local travel essential to many communities.
“The status quo doesn’t work, and many individuals and communities are suffering. For those impacted it is a really big deal so things must improve. We also need to encourage more people out of their cars if we’re going to meet our vital and ambitious 2030 net-zero targets.
“Revamping busses at a time of such horrendous driver shortages is going to be really tough, but change is essential if we are to get our bus services back on track and thriving in the future.
“These important changes will be disruptive, take time, and we will have to learn lessons as we work hard to get things right, but I urge people to try WEST link and embrace this positive opportunity to shape our transport future for the better”.