By Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis: Council leaders have vowed to work together to restore some of the cut bus services in the West of England ahead of a major meeting.
Bath and North East Somerset Council leader Kevin Guy, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, and South Gloucestershire Council leader Claire Young all appeared at a protest over axed bus services which was held before a meeting of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) meeting this afternoon.
Mr Guy told protestors before they headed into the meeting in Keynsham: “Myself, Marvin, and Claire have been working really hard on ensuring we get buses back to the rural communities and buses back for the most vulnerable.”
He said they had a proposal to use the underspend from the Metro Mayor’s birthday buses scheme — which has come in way below the predicted £8m price tag, with £131,000 spent so far and the final cost now expected to be about £3.1m.
Buses were slashed across the region earlier this year in a funding row between the councils and Metro Mayor Dan Norris who heads up the combined authority.
More than 1,000 people — including the three council leaders — signed a petition by councillor Fiona Gourley, Bath and North East Somerset Council’s member advocate for rural communities. It said: “There is a bus crisis across rural North East Somerset affecting at least 40,000 people. Many of us feel angry, isolated and frustrated as we struggle to get to education, work, healthcare, shopping, and other vital appointments, because we have lost our regular buses.”
Sisters Margaret Dando, 80, and Janet Stevens, 88, live in Paulton, and were among those protesting about the lost bus services. Ms Dando said she relied on the 82, which came to the estate she lives on, to visit her disabled son in Midsomer Norton and now she has to walk further to the next bus.
She said: “We are lucky at the moment. Janet’s 88. We can just about manage to walk down the bus stop at the moment. But it takes us about 15-20 minutes to do so. We won’t be able to do that in the winter.”
But Mr Norris says the birthday bus scheme is all about getting more people to use the buses and that 52% of people who had signed up for the pass now said they would use buses now. He added that more money for buses was on the agenda.