Eight people hold a long banner wrapped around a bus, preventing it moving. In the foreground is a person holding a XR Youth flag.

Free and fair buses, demand campaigners

Activists from XR Youth blocked an Airport Flyer bus to call for fairer public transport across the region.

At 12.30, ten activists surrounded the Flyer, operated by First Bus, with a long banner when it stopped on Redcliffe Way, the last stop before Temple Meads. Two activists were already on board and dropped banners from the windows. 

The action, on December 4, forms part of XR Youth’s Free and Fair Buses campaign, which has already seen the group blockade an airport bus outside Temple Meads, and hijack billboards with messages for West of England mayor Dan Norris. 

Read more: Youth activists begin public transport campaign

One of the activists, Swallow, said: ‘I know it might seem a bit weird that we’re blocking a bus but we’ve got very specific reasons for doing so.’

Swallow explained that First Bus have cut 18 services across the West of England, and reduced services on many more routes, drawing heavy criticism. Meanwhile, the airport bus, or A1, has seen an increase in frequency

‘We think that it’s really unfair that the local bus services are getting cut whilst the A1 is being increased, and the reason that they’re increasing capacity is so that the airport can expand, which we also massively disagree with,’ said Swallow. 

Buses are at the core of many interlinked issues, they said, from inequality to education to air pollution. 

‘We feel that buses are used mostly by working class people who don’t have access to cars or other ways of getting around, and therefore we really think this is a justice issue, not only because of the cost of living crisis and the fact that everything’s just more expensive but also air pollution in Bristol’s a really big issue.’

They continued: ‘We believe the Clean Air Zone doesn’t go far enough to address the unfairness of the situation because it actually just places a lot of the burden on poorer people and disabled people. Whereas if they put in the Clean Air Zone whilst increasing the buses rather than decreasing like what we’ve seen, it would be a lot fairer.’

Bristol council’s own data on the matter suggests that Bristolians living in the 10% most deprived areas are less likely than the average resident to drive a car to work and three times as likely to get the bus. Forty per cent of jobseekers report that lack of personal transport is a key reason they struggle to find work. 

A long banner reads "Fair travel not air travel." It is held by 7 people around a double decker bus.
Activists are angry that airport services are increasing even as other routes are cut or reduced. Image: James Ward.
A banner reads "Extinction Rebellion Youth". It hangs out of the window of a bus.
One of the activists’ banners before it was

XR Youth want to see the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) hold a consultation and public forum to identify improvements to bus routes that would best serve communities.

On the issue of free travel for young people, Swallow pointed to Scotland and London as examples of places where public transport is free for young people (under-22s in Scotland and under-18s in London). 

‘We really see it as an achievable thing if WECA and Bristol City Council really got together and thought about it rather than focusing on ridiculous ideas like an underground,’ they said. 

The group has had meetings with Dan Norris which Swallow said have been promising, although there haven’t yet been signs of action from the combined authority. 

‘It’s going to take a lot of pressuring from a lot of different angles,’ said Swallow, adding: ‘We’re starting to see this campaign inspire more campaigns to spring out of it.’

On December 14, the Winterbourne and Frome Valley Environmental Group will protest outside South Gloucester Council chamber calling for a bus franchising system. 

Franchising has recently received public support from several prominent figures, including Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and Green Party leader and Clifton Down councillor Carla Denyer.

The blocked bus was returning from the airport to Temple Meads, which the activists hoped would mean no passengers were at risk of missing flights.

At one point there were three police cars present. The police did threaten arrest over a banner that read ” Fuck First Bus”.

The activists left after 2 hours.

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