October 2021: News from the Metro Mayor

September 30 2021

Bus services need more government cash

MY nephew rang me last week, shocked when he heard my voice booming out across the bus he was travelling on. Confused, he had searched for his uncle among the passengers until he realised I was not there in person, but only as a recorded message thanking people for wearing masks!

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to First Bus for supporting my campaign to encourage passengers to wear masks so we can keep everyone safe – and apologies to everyone who has to put up with my voice! I believe mask-wearing continues to matter on public transport as one way of encouraging more people back onto buses, which is vital to meet our ambitious net zero targets. But currently we only have about 60% of pre-covid passenger numbers, and that’s caused a problem.

The government rightly subsidised buses during the pandemic but they figured passenger numbers would quickly recover from their covid nosedive once people started venturing out more. They fixed on a number of 80% of people travelling again.

So with that over-optimistic figure in mind, at the end of August the government suddenly slashed two-thirds of its support for West of England bus services!

The result was to be expected: bus companies cut back routes, leaving people frustrated and angry about being unable to get to work or study, get to hospital or go shopping.

I have some pots of money – but they are limited and can only be spent once. So I am having to see if there are some routes I can help save. But without more government cash many people will, I’m afraid, be left disappointed.

Government needed to take a more measured approach that would adjust the funding to help our bus services recover to properly reflect gradually-rising passenger confidence and numbers.

Across parties, MPs agree with me. I was delighted that Conservative MPs Chris Skidmore and Jack Lopresti, Lib Dem Wera Hobhouse, plus all Labour’s local MPs co-signed a letter I wrote to the transport minister calling for a rethink.

I’m certain that bringing decision-makers and influencers together – to work in the interests of local people – is what’s needed if we’re to solve our region’s big challenges.

It’s not just about saving buses. We also need to improve our public transport. Having lived all my life here, I know the problems well. And efforts to improve things haven’t always worked.

Successes like Metrobus are easily overshadowed by major projects that never got off the ground, despite lots of talk.

Across our region there are infrequent bus services. Often they don’t go where you need them to. Sometimes you have to sit and take detours to places you don’t want to go, in order to finally reach somewhere you do!

None of this will be solved overnight, but I’m pleased to have secured half-a-billion pounds for transport improvements, which will start kicking in next year. This will allow me to act more quickly to sort local transport challenges now and in the medium-term, as we build the high-quality West of England transport system of the future.

A reliable, affordable, environmentally-friendly way of getting around our amazing region is what we all need and deserve.