£8m birthday bus ride giveaway slammed as "kick in the teeth" for communities who have lost services
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
25th May 2023 | Local News
An £8million giveaway of free bus rides in the month of West of England residents' birthdays is a "kick in the teeth" for communities who have lost vital routes, it is claimed.
Opposition Conservatives in Bristol and South Gloucestershire have slammed Labour metro mayor Dan Norris's "badly timed" and "wasteful" incentive to get more people to use the public transport network following the controversial withdrawal of dozens of services.
South Gloucestershire Council shadow cabinet member for planning, regeneration and infrastructure Conservative Cllr Liz Brennan said: "I am utterly perplexed at the Weca mayor's decision to waste a colossal £8million on what amounts to nothing more than a desperate publicity gimmick and a shameless act of self-promotion.
"It is an enormous sum of money that could easily be put towards resurrecting all the services that have been cut after the Weca mayor claimed he could no longer fund them.
"We hear all the time from residents who have been left isolated due to the bus cuts, with vulnerable people unable to get to hospital appointments, visit their family and friends or even simply do their weekly shopping.
"Instead of giving people free travel for one month of the year on already existing services, it would be much more sensible to put that money towards resurrecting services that have been cut and that have left people isolated.
"Rather than continuing to waste public money on swanky new office blocks, large increases in back office staff and now multi-million pound giveaways for people during their birthday month, I urge the Weca mayor to use this additional government funding wisely and continue to support services such as the 622 or the 84/85 services – and as many others as possible.
"With his ever-increasing catalogue of wasteful spending, the Weca mayor simply cannot continue to say that no money is available for public transport in South Gloucestershire."
Bristol City Council Conservative group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: "This announcement strikes me as an extraordinary use of taxpayers' money which will do little to address the real travel problems confronting our city.
"It is all very well trying to encourage more people to use the buses and thereby achieve the much vaunted 'behaviour change'.
"But, at a time when much of the road network is falling apart, I suspect most of the travelling public would rather see such substantial investment going into tackling our crumbling infrastructure.
"This scheme is also badly timed since Bristol recently earned the rather dubious distinction of having the worst pothole-ridden roads in the country.
"Sadly, this whole thing appears to me to be a quirky, gimmicky giveaway designed to enhance Dan Norris's re-election aspirations rather than genuinely improve congestion and individual transport options."
South Gloucestershire Conservative Cllr Rachael Hunt told a full council meeting on Wednesday, May 24: "This amounts to nothing more than a publicity gimmick and is a kick in the teeth for all those residents who have been left isolated through cuts to their bus services.
"What studies have been done to show that this incentive will increase bus use or improve transport links for our hard-to-reach communities? None that I have seen."
Mr Norris, who leads the West of England Combined Authority and is in charge of the region's strategic transport, said: "This is a serious plan to encourage a long-term shift in travel behaviour.
"It's making the West of England the envy of the country with the director of Bus Users UK describing it as 'an absolutely fantastic initiative.'
"The plan is for Birthday Buses to act as a catalyst for bus travel in the West of England to boost the number of passengers which we must do to reduce congestion and pollution.
"It is also a welcome help to residents during this difficult cost-of-living crisis."
Bath & North East Somerset Council opposition Labour group leader Cllr Robin Moss said: "It's a great idea to encourage people to travel by bus.
"Hopefully once we've got in the habit we'll all use our buses more. The bonus is that we help to reduce congestion and pollution and it will be a welcome help to residents during these difficult cost-of-living crisis times.
"It's a shame that the Tories oppose this, but it is consistent with their lip service on climate change prevention.
"It's perhaps one of the many reasons there are so few of them left in local government."