First boss faces criticism over 'isolating parts of community'

The boss of First West of England has been told his firm should have more “social conscience” when deciding whether to axe bus services relied upon by local people.

James Freeman, managing director of the bus operator, attended a public meeting in Keynsham on August 16 to  discuss a host of changes affecting bus services in the town, which are due to be introduced on September 4.

Dozens of residents joined local councillors to tell Mr Freeman how the reduction of services to the Park Estate and Chandag Estate would affect their day-to-day lives. While some bus users said they were concerned about longer walks home in the dark from the High Street or would have to return to using their cars, others said they were facing isolation with the loss of their only link to work, hospitals and their social network.

Under the changes, the 178, which runs from Bath to Bristol, will no longer travel through the Chandag Estate while the 38, which serves the Park Estate to the south of the town, will be cut from half-hourly to one an hour in the daytime from Monday to Saturday, while evening, Sunday and bank holiday buses will be withdrawn entirely.

Online petitions calling for a halt to the plans for both services have gathered more than 1,100 signatures collectively, while other petitions have also been placed in spots around the town.

Mr Freeman explained that changes were necessary to both services to improve reliability over what are very long routes

Mr Freeman told the meeting that commercial services were paid for by fares and, like all operators, First had to balance the cost of running them with revenues. Councils could step in to fund services, he added, as could any other registered operators in the area.

He said: “The local authority has the overall view of the transport network and is empowered to provide additional services above what commercial operators can do.”

Bath and North East Somerset Council has stepped in to fund two evening journeys from St John’s Church to the Park Estate at 8.05pm and 9.05pm, run by Bath Bus Company, but Richard Smith, senior transport officer at the council, told the meeting extra pressure on budgets meant the authority was “limited” in what it could do to provide supported bus services.

Keynsham South councillor Alan Hale told Mr Freeman: “I appreciate decisions are based on commercial matters but I still believe First ought to have a social conscience – you are isolating significant parts of the community.”

In response, Mr Freeman said it seemed the local authority was not prepared to use powers available to support the local network, adding: “We can’t just run buses because we like doing it – where is the council’s social conscience on this?”

Following the discussion, town councillors voted to set up a working party to gather input from the community to try to develop a solution.

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.

The 17A, which travelled from Keynsham to Southmead Hospital, is also being withdrawn while the 17 will stop in Keynsham once an hour.

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

The new timetables are also available online.

Council consults on extending Keynsham and Saltford's 665 bus service

Residents are being asked for their views on the future of Keynsham and Saltford’s 665 bus service – which could step in to provide a new service for the Chandag Estate, council officers suggest in a report.

B&NES Council is considering introducing changes to several supported bus services from May 2017 as it is facing a funding shortfall.

The 665 service could, a report by public transport officers suggests, be extended to meet growing demand as Keynsham expands.

The 665 currently operates Monday to Saturday during off-peak periods in areas away from main bus routes, offering a hail-and-ride service in Keynsham and Saltford, and is used by more than 18,000 passengers a year. In 2016/2017 it will cost £39,755 to run, with passenger fares providing £16,859. The cost per passenger journey to the council is calculated to be £2.13.

Council officers say a revised service, however, could: have extended hours, operating in morning and afternoon peaks; improve services through the Chandag Estate by providing more regular links into Keynsham, replacing links lost in the rerouting of the 178; remove duplication of services 38 and 349 in the Park Estate; link new development areas to the town centre, railway station, and schools; and retain links to Saltford and Gaston Avenue in line with demand.

The extended service would cost more, the report says, but s106 contributions from developers could be sought to support it.

Residents are being asked for their feedback on the service’s future, before the consultation ends on Friday, September 16. People can respond online at www.bathnes.gov.uk/consultations/changes-supported-bus-services-may-20117 or by emailing public_transport@bathnes.gov.uk or visiting a council One Stop Shop.