Bus users young and old, frustrated by poor service, are calling for fundamental change to how the region’s buses are run.
A small group gathered outside the offices of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) on Redcliffe street in a protest organised by the Ditch First Bus campaign and joined by members of WESTACT and XR Youth.
Dan Farr, the founder of Ditch First Bus and self-described ‘long-suffering bus user,’ said there is a ‘crisis with the buses.’
‘I just think we can’t go on because it’s just such a chaotic situation.’ said Dan, citing late and cancelled buses and service cuts as key issues with FirstBus.
Dan has relied on the buses since he was at school and still uses public transport to get to work every day from his home in Stoke Gifford.
He said he was ‘one of the fortunate ones’ to have two bus routes, the M1 and T1, which are well-funded, although they are often overcrowded, he added.
For months, social media has been awash with tales of buses running late, arriving overcrowded, or being cancelled altogether.
The Ditch First Bus protest, on February 15, comes as Bristol and the West of England’s buses are fast becoming a top political issue.
Nearly 1500 services have been cut by FirstBus in recent months, and more cuts are to come. Those who rely on public transport have expressed fears of parts of the city becoming “bus deserts”.
The leading solution being proposed by politicians and campaigners is franchising, whereby WECA would contract several private bus companies to run services. Franchising is used in London and Greater Manchester.
In December 2022, Bristol City Council passed a motion supporting bus franchising for the region and calling on metro mayor Dan Norris to explore the option. Norris has said he will do so but not before reviewing data from Greater Manchester, which will not be published until 2026.
And it is not just in Bristol that people are taking action against poor public transport. Protesters in Sheffield recently demonstrated outside the offices of their regional authority demanding a franchising system.
XR Youth have protested FirstBus recently for their own reasons. The group wants public transport to be made free for under-25s and recently made this point by spray-painting bus shelters in central Bristol.
They have also protested cuts to services, most recently blockading an Airport Flyer bus. The Flyer has recently seen an increase in services even as less well-used services are cut, a disparity XR Youth say is unfair.
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