'People power' pushes First into rethink over Keynsham buses

October 07 2016

Bus users in Keynsham say “people power” pushed First into making a series of concessions in its overhaul of services in the area – although many say the provision still falls short.

Bus users in Keynsham say “people power” pushed First into making a series of concessions in its overhaul of services in the area – although many say the provision still falls short.

Changes due to come into effect on September 4 included the loss of the 178 service in the Chandag Estate and of the Park Estate’s 38 service in the evenings and on weekends, which sparked strong public opposition across the town.

James Freeman, managing director First West of England, attended a Keynsham Town Council meeting in August where dozens of residents spoke against the proposals and Keynsham South councillor Alan Hale told him First was “isolating significant parts of the community”.

But on the day the new timetables were introduced First announced it would be making alterations to its plans following the feedback.

A temporary service – the 19B – will maintain a link for the Chandag Estate between 10am and 3pm Monday to Saturday, while a more permanent solution for journeys between Oldland Common and Keynsham is looked at, the firm said, including the possible extension of the B&NES-run 665 service following a public consultation.

Meanwhile, the Park Estate is getting an evening shuttle service – the 38A – from Keynsham Church, which will run every half an hour between 8pm and 11pm, Monday to Saturday, for an initial three-month period.

The Southmead Hospital to Keynsham service – route 17 – will continue to run on its original route rather than through Staple Hill  until January 2017 to allow for further consultation.

Mr Freeman said: “We are pleased that in partnership with the councils we have found a number of ways to better support the communities in those areas.  We would like to thank the councils for playing such a constructive role and also those members of the public who provided feedback.”

He added: “In view of the points made by many people at the Keynsham public meeting I had a further in-depth look at how many people were going where.  First Bus came to the conclusion that there were in fact sufficient users to make an experimental shuttle service worth trying.  We moved quickly so that we didn’t have an awkward gap between the old service and the new.”  

He said he was optimistic about the future of the 38A, with 15 people using it on its first night. He added: “We realise service changes impact people in many ways.  We also know how important it is to listen and consider people’s opinions, which is why we work with the councils and engage with the public and bus passengers through a mixture of consultations, customer panels, public and direct meetings, and simply by listening and talking to the people who use our buses. 

But at the same time, there is a commercial reality that we need bus passengers in sufficient numbers to use our services, otherwise they become unsustainable.”

Meanwhile, discussions have continued online about the changes, with people on the Chandag Estate in particular saying they will still face difficulties in getting around.

Writing on Streetlife, one resident said the 19B falls “way short of what we have lost” while another said she has been left “feeling like Cinderella” with the reduced service forcing her to leave Keynsham by 2.30pm or face several hours’ wait for the next bus.

Concerns have also been raised about provision on the Park Estate with one resident reporting that a single-decker travelling through the estate at 7.40am was already full by the time it reached the High Street. 

With the announcement of the 38A service for the Park Estate, B&NES Council has said the twice-nightly service by Bath Bus Company through the estate, funded by the local authority following First’s announcement it would be withdrawing evening buses, is likely to be discontinued. A statement to Councillor Alan Hale from the public transport department said First had informed them of the change of heart on September 2 and that the council has to give contractors three months’ notice to terminate contracts.

The statement added: “We are obliged by law not to subsidise bus services that compete directly with commercial services, however uncertain the future of those services is.

“It is, of course, possible that First may decide in the intervening period that they will not continue their service beyond January and they don’t have to make that decision until November so we may be faced with the need to renegotiate a replacement service again.”