Plea to extend Thornbury to Yate bus service dismissed

The 622 service will now be axed from the start of April, along with many other subsidised bus routes in the West of England region.

Around 42 bus routes will be scrapped over the next few months due to huge inflation hitting the bus industry. 

Some areas will see a new dial-a-ride service starting next month, although this will not be a replacement for the subsidised routes about to be axed.

The three councils in the region — Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, and South Gloucestershire Council — said they couldn’t afford to increase the amount they pay to subsidise all of these services enough to cover rapidly rising costs.

Conservative Councillor Toby Savage, leader of SGC, urged Dan Norris, the Labour metro mayor of the West of England, to pay £785,000 to keep some routes going for a couple more months, until the new dial-a-ride West Link service beds in. 

West Link is a new type of bus service known as ‘demand responsive transport’ (DRT).

Mr Norris previously admitted the West Link service, which won’t have a fixed timetable, would struggle with teething problems while it’s initially set up. 

But he claimed the real reason behind the calls to keep the 622 service running was due to upcoming local elections — which will be held in South Gloucestershire on May 4.

The two politicians disagreed on the request for extra cash, during a meeting of the West of England Combined Authority on Friday, March 17. 

Meanwhile, the two councils enter ‘purdah’ this week, meaning there are strict restrictions on making political decisions before the elections.

Speaking during the meeting, Cllr Savage said: “We find ourselves in a difficult situation which we can today come together to resolve and ensure a smoother transition to DRT.

“The councils did want to extend a number of supported services over several months, and we built into our budgets the increased costs next year, at the levels advised by WECA.

“Those costs have now come in higher than anyone thought they would. It’s now too late for councils to get approval for those costs. 

“The only decision-making route open to us is today’s meeting to ensure that those vital transitional services can continue to be commissioned.

“If this doesn’t happen today, there will simply be no link between Yate and Thornbury. This will mean over 5,500 journeys will not be catered for. 

Cllr Savage suggested the £785,000 could come from the West of England’s reserves, and this could then later be clawed back from “operational efficiencies” which are due to be made in the combined authority. 

But one issue is that the West of England has some of the lowest financial reserves of all 10 combined authorities in England, according to WECA bosses.

Mr Norris said: “What Toby has said about not being able to make an emergency decision is simply not the case.

“There are processes that you can adopt if you wish to do that. You can do things in purdah if you wish to, but you’re choosing not to do that.

“I’m going to be a politician now and say that this is more about an election bribe than anything else.”

The amendment to spend £785,000 of the West of England’s reserves on keeping some routes going was voted down.

Voting rules means all three council leaders and the metro mayor must unanimously agree before any decision is made. 

Cllr Savage and the Liberal Democrat deputy leader of Bath and North East Somerset voted in favour of the decision, while Labour mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees abstained, and Mr Norris voted against it.

After the meeting, Conservative Cllr Steve Reade, Conservative cabinet member for regeneration, environment and strategic infrastructure at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “I am extremely disappointed to see the WECA mayor veto our attempts to ensure the 622 service could be extended.

“This extension would have been enormously beneficial for residents to allow a period of grace while the new DRT model is introduced.

“The council was keen to make it happen and we had cross-party support, but sadly the WECA mayor did not share our commitment to residents.

“It makes no sense to have this money sitting in WECA’s reserves when bus users need it now.

“We continue to believe that the WECA mayor is taking a mean approach to funding existing bus services.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Adrian Rush, representing Chipping Sodbury and Cotswold Edge, added: “The whole situation is a farce — the 622 was only going to be extended for two months to tide the Tories over the elections in May, and the people relying on this bus service were still going to be struggling in June.

“The new council would have had no time to set up a replacement bus service after the elections.”

You may also like...

The Traffic SEO