Labour councillors in Bristol have voiced their “serious concerns” at the state of the bus system in Bristol, calling it a “crisis”. It comes as the West of England mayor Dan Norris revealed that 18 bus services in the region are set to be scrapped from October.
Eleven commercial and seven subsidised routes have been named as part of the cuts in response to a national driver shortage, set to come into force on October 9. The Labour metro mayor recognised that “these cuts will be disheartening and worrying for local people”.
Bus companies across the country have been forced to cut key routes to cope with the shortages. Bristol Labour has stated the “crisis” is expected to worsen in six months’ time when the Government’s extension of the Bus Recovery Fund is set to end entirely.
Which routes are being cut? The 18 bus services set to be axed in the Bristol region
Labour councillors are calling on the government to address the crisis urgently, claiming many Bristol residents will who rely on public transport risk being cut off from work, family, leisure and retail. Marley Bennett, Labour Councillor for Eastville Ward, recognised the crisis was both an issue in Bristol and across the nation.
“Bristol is facing a bus service crisis,” he said. “Bristol Community Transport folding, and the end of its Dial-A-Ride services, is a huge blow to people who relied on its services.
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“Now we’ve learned of First Bus’ reported upcoming cuts to a number of key routes including the Number 5, which runs through St Paul’s, Stapleton and Oldbury Court. This will lead to people being cut off from work, family, leisure and retail.
“This crisis is not unique to us; it’s a national problem, brought about by a shortage of bus drivers and a lack of Government funding. We need urgent action from central Government, which is currently sitting on its hands distracted by its leadership election.”
Cllr Bennett said increasing the number of bus drivers is needed as a matter of urgency. He added that man drivers have been tempted by higher-paying HGV roles during the cost of living crisis.
He continued: “We’ll continue to lose bus drivers unless something changes – the Government needs to mandate and fund an immediate pay uplift for bus drivers and work with Combined Authorities to expand their training programmes.
“It also has to acknowledge that the shortage of drivers is, in part, due to a lack of workers as a result of Brexit and mitigate this. The Government has previously relaxed visa restrictions to allow more agricultural workers into the country – there’s no good reason why a similar approach couldn’t be replicated for bus drivers.
“We need immediate action to save threatened bus services, but the long-term solution to this is bringing bus services back into public ownership, so they are managed in the interests of passengers rather than the financial benefit of private shareholders.”
In response to the cuts, a spokesperson for First Bus said: “Like all other bus operators in the UK, we have worked closely with our local authority partners to adapt our services so they are sustainable in the long term. The majority of our networks will be retained, and we will work to match our resources with demand for services in order to provide the majority of our customers with the most reliable network.”
The company has said it will be in a position to announce finalised changes for our customers by the end of next week.