Furious passengers brand First Bus a "cancer" and demand operator is tripped of right to run services

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter

24th Nov 2022 | Local News

Lewins Mead (A38) is a major bus route in Bristol. Source: Google. Free to use by all newswire partners
Lewins Mead (A38) is a major bus route in Bristol. Source: Google. Free to use by all newswire partners

First Bus is a "cancer" on the Bristol region and should be stripped of its right to run its "egregiously poor" service, 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 last week 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 Thursday, 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.

"My mental health is deteriorating as I waste my life away waiting for buses that never come – explaining to my boss why I'm late, losing my whole evening to the sands of time because you don't care one iota about what's going on.

"To First Bus I say, you have failed Bristol time and time again, you don't run the buses in the morning, you barely run them in the evenings, and you're rewarded for running an objectively failed service.

"You are a burden on the city, you are a burden on the country and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

"We are all, quite rightfully, hateful of you.

"First Bus, you are a cancer and nothing more.

"Public transport is meant to be a lifeline to so many, and you don't even come close to delivering.

"You have sapped it of all value – the disabled, the elderly, young families, the vulnerable, all to the chopping block so you can make a quick buck."

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.

"Where is the response, the outrage, from Weca at how poorly First is serving our communities?

"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 back into the 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 West of England 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.

"The changes were a result of changing post-pandemic demand which has seen passenger numbers fall by around 25 per cent compared to pre-Covid figures.

"The effects of this have been further impacted by the driver shortages, also experienced by the rest of the industry, but which are particularly acute in our region.

"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 giving customers advance notice of cancellations, we want to make it easier for them to adjust their travel plans if need be.

"Cancelling these journeys in advance also means our operations teams can focus on delivering a more reliable service for our customers, rather than dealing with cancelling journeys on the day."

They said affected journeys would show as cancelled on the First Bus app and on real-time information screens at bus stops.

"However, 95 per cent of our journeys and all Metrobus journeys will continue to operate as planned," the spokesperson said.

"We appreciate these changes will cause some disruption to our customers – the very last thing any transport operator wants to do is reduce or cut services and journeys and we recognise the impact such changes are having on some of our communities.

"We are doing our utmost to address the driver shortage with an active recruitment campaign."

The full list of cancellations is here: https://www.firstbus.co.uk/bristol-bath-and-west/news-and-service-updates/news/temporary-journey-cancellations-due-ongoing

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