Bus users demand First puts brakes on cuts to 38 and 178

Hundreds of people have signed petitions aimed at forcing First into a U-turn over its plans to make cuts to the number 38 bus serving the Park Estate in the south of Keynsham and the Chandag Estate’s 178 service.

The bus operator has revealed that it intends to reduce the number 38 from half-hourly to one an hour in the daytime from Monday to Saturday, while also withdrawing the service in the evening and on Sundays and bank holidays. 

People wishing to travel more frequently, the operator has said in an email to local bus users, will need to walk to Keynsham town centre.

Meanwhile, the 178, which runs from Bath to Bristol, will no longer travel through the Chandag Estate as part of its route through the town, changes designed to address issues of punctuality and reliability over the two-hour route, says First.

Both announcements have been met with anger from bus users across the town, who say elderly and less mobile residents will be badly affected, and petitions have been launched in a bid to keep the services running.

First held a consultation with bus users in May and June about services between Bristol and Bath in which people said they were happy with the level of provision but wanted to see improvements to punctuality and reliability.

More than 350 people took part in the consultation, said First, a figure blasted by those opposing the changes as “hardly proportional representation of the 16,000 residents of Keynsham”.

By the start of the month the online petition calling for the cuts to the 38 to be halted had gathered more than twice the number of those who responded to First’s survey, with 749 supporters. The petition protesting at the loss of the 178, set up by resident Samuel Waite in the past few days, has more than 50 signatures.

Frequent 38 bus user Oliver Hurley said the plans penalised people living in one of the most highly populated areas of the town and that people living on the Park Estate would face a 30-minute walk to and from Keynsham High Street to access bus services.

In a letter to First urging a rethink, he said: “Even something as simple as going shopping on a Saturday will be difficult or impossible for many people who currently rely on the 38, not to mention the impact on commuters or anyone who needs to travel in the evenings.

“After the numerous improvements that have been made to the 38 timetable in recent years, as well as much-improved ticketing options, I am staggered that First have chosen to take such a massive backwards step.”

Residents’ concerns over the number 38 have also been raised with council transport chiefs and First by Keynsham South ward councillors Alan Hale and Lisa O’Brien and Bath and North East Somerset cabinet member for transport Anthony Clarke. In a bid to maintain links to the Park Estate, Mr Clarke said the council would be funding two evening journeys from St John’s Church to the estate at 8.05pm and 9.05pm, run by Bath Bus Company.

Mr Hale said he believed the cuts to the 38 would hit young residents, with no evening services into the neighbouring cities, as well as increasing isolation for elderly and disabled residents and disadvantaging those moving into new developments on the town’s southern edge.

He said: “The new estates of The Meadows and Bilbie Green and the soon-to-be-started Persimmon and Bloor Homes [developments] will be a significant distance from the High Street, assuming of course that you are physically able to walk such a ridiculous distance. In fact, when Bloor build their estate it will be nearer to walk to Queen Charlton village than it will be to walk to High Street.”

In his petition opposing the loss of the 178 on the Chandag Estate, Mr Waite said: “First are cutting off a vital link to Keynsham town centre, Bristol and the rest of north east Somerset as a whole. Many people are unable to walk long distances to get a bus and could now feel isolated from the rest of the community.

“At a time when Keynsham as a town is growing at a rapid rate and people are being encouraged to use their cars less, we call on First West of England to reconsider these changes to the 178 bus service which will be detrimental to many residents.”

Speaking about the raft of changes being made across First’s Bristol and Bath network as of September 4, James Freeman, managing director of First West of England, said:  “The changes in September are significant and affect almost everything we operate. Amongst the alterations there are a number of very positive pieces of news, for instance improvements to Sunday and public holiday timetables on a number of routes.”

He added: “It would be disingenuous to suggest it’s all good news though. We have had to make some hard choices – not something we like to do, but necessary nonetheless. Following years of growth and expansion it is right that we have done some housekeeping, to make sure we have the balance between what we operate, and what people are using, right.

“Where routes are poorly used they have been adjusted so that we can better deploy the resources elsewhere, enabling us to serve the greatest number of people. While difficult to digest if you are one of the few affected by this type of decision, the fact remains that we are a business, and we do have to make these tough choices to ensure the long-term viability of the whole network. Where areas have been left without services, we did discuss these matters in advance with the relevant local authorities, giving them the opportunity to consider what alternatives may need to be put in their place.”

Explaining the changes to the number 38, First says the Park Estate will have hourly buses connecting it to Bath, Monday to Saturday, three an hour to Bristol, Monday to Friday (including Abus’s 349 service), and one an hour on Saturdays.

The statement adds: “The loss of evening and Sunday/public holiday services on Service 38 reflects the fact that very few people have travelled at these times, and so the resource being used to provide them is being redeployed elsewhere.”

As well as no longer serving the Chandag Estate, the Bath, Radstock, Midsomer Norton section of the 178’s route will be covered by a new 172 service along with the 173 and 174. The 178’s timetable is also changing so that buses will run every hour during the day from Monday to Saturday and, on Sundays and public holidays, there will be four journeys roughly three hours apart.

In other changes affecting the town, Service 39 is being increased from hourly to half-hourly, while on Sundays and holidays buses will run every 20 minutes in the daytime and hourly in the evenings.

Service 37 is being re-routed to travel to Keynsham town centre and then onto Willsbridge, Longwell Green, Hanham and back into Bristol.

For full details of changes to local bus services, visit www.firstgroup.com/bristol-bath-and-west

To see the online petition against changes to the 38 click here. To see petition to keep the 178’s service through the Chandag estate, click here.