FIRST Bus should be stripped of its right to run its “egregiously poor” service in Bristol, furious passengers told councillors.
Residents who rely on buses voiced their anger at a meeting of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), which is responsible for strategic transport, and urged drastic action to solve the crisis.
It comes as the company announced the “temporary” cancellation of 1,450 bus journeys a week across the city, until at least April, because of a desperate shortage of drivers to meet its own timetables.
Bristol West Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire described the cancellations to more than a dozen routes as “the apparent collapse of Bristol’s public transport system”, while passengers spoke of the devastating impact on an already crumbling network.
In response, First said it was “extremely sorry” for the problems and said the changes would make services more reliable in the meantime.
Speaking at Weca audit committee public forum on November 17, Joe Aldous said: “Every morning I have to walk five miles to work because the three buses that are supposedly meant to operate to get me in for 9am never run.
“This is a central road that runs from north Bristol to the centre – it’s not a rural hideaway, though that’d be no excuse, even if it was.”
He told Weca: “You are enabling First Bus in killing the city. It’s time for First to ship out.”
Another passenger, James Campbell, said in a statement to the committee: “First Group’s bus services are egregiously poor and Weca must take action urgently. I see the only option available as cancelling First Group’s contract with its respective councils or with Weca and bringing buses back into public ownership, where profits are ploughed into services.”
A third, Katherine Anthony, said the lack of decent public transport in Bristol was “shocking”. She said she would be forced to buy a car because of the stress of her daily six-mile journey from her home in Whitchurch to Redland.
Committee member Bristol Lib Dem Cllr Sarah Classick said: “First Bus and the bus system in the city are truly appalling and something needs to be done urgently.”
B&NES Lib Dem Cllr Winston Duguid, who chairs Weca overview & scrutiny commission, told the meeting: “It is a desperate situation.
“What you’ve articulated is that it’s affecting thousands of people, and it’s very powerful.”
Bristol Labour Cllr Brenda Massey said: “Something else that has impacted on residents has been changes to routes which cut off my constituents from doctors’ surgeries, and these are older people who depend on these.”
A First spokesperson said: “We are extremely sorry for the problems customers are experiencing with our services as a result of the ongoing shortage of drivers.
“In early October we implemented service changes designed to balance customer demand with available resource to deliver reliable services for our customers. Continuing driver shortages are also making it difficult to operate all journeys in our current timetables. Consequently, we have just removed some journeys across several services on a temporary basis.”
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service