Users of a rural bus service are celebrating the success of a year-long campaign – but they are urging transport chiefs to go further.
Bath and North East Somerset Council has agreed to maintain its £5,000 subsidy for the 179’s single Saturday service for another 12 months after it faced the axe.
The authority will also pay out £124,000 – more than 10 times the previous amount – to keep the bus running along a modified route during the week.
Campaigner Clive Turner said: “Although we have saved the current service and improved it slightly by also getting the 768 service to be more integrated with it, it can still only be described as a basic service and a shadow of what it was in 2017.
“Our ultimate goal is to get all those “lost” evening and weekend buses reinstated.
“In fairness to B&NES Council, we understand and appreciate that they have done all they can for now under the current financial and political circumstances.
“We now eagerly await the outcomes of various activities going on behind the scenes, namely the West of England Combined Authority’s long overdue bus strategy and the Government’s public transport strategy, both of which could still have a positive effect on our objectives.”
The current weekday 179 service runs from Midsomer Norton to Bath and carries more than 33,000 passengers. The subsidy for 2018/19 was 35 pence per person, a total of £11,501.
That sum was agreed as a “stopgap” after the sudden withdrawal of First Bus, and B&NES Council expected bids for a full contract would be much higher – in part because the chosen provider will need to upgrade its vehicles to comply with the clean air zone coming to Bath in 2021.
It would have cost £107,100 to maintain the current route and weekday timetable for the 179.
Instead, the council looked at integrating the service more with the 768, and extending to the Beecham Place development in Midsomer Norton – a move that allows it to tap into £45,000 of funding from the developer.
The 179 and 768 will both will be offered by CT Coaches.
On Saturdays, the 179 makes one return journey between Timsbury to Bath, “a basic facility for residents of Timsbury and Tunley to get to and from work” in the city.
The bus carries 560 people a year, making the annual subsidy of £5,460 worth £9.01 per person – the second-highest amount after the £11.62 per passenger paid for the 752 and the 754.
Restoring the all-day service would have cost B&NES Council £55,554, so it will maintain the current level.
Joint cabinet member for transport services Councillor Neil Butters said: “The report on the 179 bus service shows that the cost of restoring an all-day Saturday service is poor value for money.
“However, sustainable transport to meet the needs of rural communities is being prioritised across Bath and North East Somerset in our input to Weca’s bus strategy, which is currently being developed.”
Mr Turner said in response: “We have to be realistic and recognise that many rural public transport needs will only ever survive with the aid of subsidies.
“The real issues are getting our fund holders to recognise this and give it the importance it deserves, and adopting a standard criteria for bus subsidy allocation.
“[It should] incorporate impact on communities and the environment, not just a “value for money” measure, which is a very blunt and inadequate tool, especially when people’s everyday lives are involved.
“I hope that B&NES Council input to Weca’s long-awaited bus strategy truly reflects this and that it also reminds Weca mayor Tim Bowles that not all roads lead to Bristol.”
He thanked everyone who had supported the campaign.
A Weca spokesperson said: “Weca is working with the bus companies and our constituent councils on plans to boost the frequency of services where they are needed, to help deliver a sustainable and reliable bus network that works across the region.
“The bus strategy is an important and complex piece of work which is looking at our current network and assessing the opportunities and challenges across the region.
“It’s important that people have options about how they can move around, and the bus strategy will be considering options for the provision of rural services which ensure that accessibility is maintained whilst ensuring the most effective use of a limited amount of council tax payers’ money.
“As the transport authority, Weca is also considering how best to transfer across its core functions, which are currently being undertaken by our constituent councils on our behalf.”
Cllr Joanna Wright, joint cabinet member for transport services, said: “Keeping bus services running smoothly is a priority for the council and is in line with our commitment to ensure that our residents have sustainable alternatives to car travel.
“Despite a significant increase in costs, we want to meet the needs of urban and rural communities that are not served by the commercial bus network.
“With financial contributions from Weca, we have been able to maintain these bus services – including two that were under threat of withdrawal by the operators.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter