Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Save Our 6-7 Buses Campaign (BUS 136)


Residents have been campaigning for a full year since our 6-7 bus route within the city of Bath was, and still is, severely affected by cuts from three sources: the bus company, (First); the Council, (Bath and North East Somerset Council, B&NES) and central government cuts. Negotiations with First and the council have stalled. First claims they need subsidy. The council says it cannot afford to subsidise it because it has to provide funds to prevent loss of other services, such as those crossing county lines from neighbouring Somerset Council and Wiltshire Council which have withdrawn bus funding due to central government cuts. We see the council's lack of response to our community's need as a direct effect of those cuts. We recommend that central government approves transport funding for the Bath region and stipulates—or at least strongly recommends—that an additional bus is allocated to serve the 6-7 route.


This submission is made on behalf of 235 bus passengers in north east Bath who responded to a survey circulated less than two weeks ago by the "Save Our 6-7 Buses" campaign for your committee. Ours is a grass-roots campaign begun May 2010 when our route was literally cut in half by First, leaving us now with the worst frequency in Bath, 40 minutes—half the former frequency—in a very hilly, densely populated area. Thus the submission is also made on behalf of our whole community, shops, schools, health centre, etc. suffering from inadequate bus service linked to central government cuts. We are not seeking to regain our old frequency of 20 minutes, appreciating the economic constraints, but are asking for a 30-minute frequency, requiring the return of one of the two withdrawn buses.


Prior to May 2010, the Fairfield Park/Larkhall area was served by five buses on a 20-minute frequency. First Bus then severed the route between two halves of the local area over a steep hill. This meant each half went separately into Bath centre rather than connecting them as before. At the same time, it reduced the number of buses travelling the route to three. After intense campaigning, the connection was re-instated on 1 August, 2010, but without replacing either of the two lost buses. This has left us with a confusing 40-minute timetable which is totally inadequate to serve this large area.


The campaign team has been made up of ordinary citizens: a physiotherapist, retired civil servant, artist, cycle ride organiser, psychotherapist/nurse, retired office manager, and a journalist. We attended meetings with First and the council from the beginning, attempting to explain the damaging effect on our community, and learning a lot about bus transport. We called a public meeting; submitted a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to First Bus; mounted several high profile demonstrations; established "Adopt-a-Stop", a unique communication system with bulletins emailed to residents around the route to post on all the bus stops; letter-writing campaigns and created an email list of 200 people who have opted to stay informed. We were chosen by the Bath Chronicle as "Campaign of the Year" for 2010, but the fight goes on. Since re-instatement of the connecting loop, there has been no progress in improving our frequency because of the National Spending Review and subsequent cuts.


Bath is plagued with traffic congestion which impacts on punctuality. These delays, compounded with the infrequency, result in times when the buses do not even make it around or are so full when they finally appear that they cannot take any more passengers and leave people behind waiting at bus stops. The topography is very hilly, with essential services, post office, local shops and schools in the lower Larkhall area, the Health Centre on a steep hill in Fairfield Park, and no amenities at the top of the whole area, making it very difficult for less ambulant residents and those without cars.

"Grinding to a halt: Mounting fears over gridlock in Bath" Headline
(Bath Chronicle, 30 September 2010)


The 6-7 route serves an area with approximately 9,000 residents in three council wards, approximately 10% of the population of the city of Bath, (84,000) with young families, students, the whole range of residents. In spite of Bath's reputation for being affluent, there are some council estates and relatively deprived neighbourhoods here. There is a slightly larger elderly population than in other areas of Bath.[54] Many pensioners use their "Diamond Card" for free bus travel after 9:30am, which are subsidised at £.61p/journey so areas with more younger bus users would be more lucrative from the bus company's perspective. Our route offers a clear instance of the damaging effects of the chronic under-funding of this scheme, and this must have been a factor in First's perception of our route as not sufficiently profitable.


B&NES is using a proportion of its Transport Budget to support services coming into the area cut by Somerset Council, (bordering B&NES) such as Sunday, evening and Bank holiday services on the 173 route between Bath & Wells, affecting ten B&NES wards, and also the 376 between Bristol & Wells, affecting three wards. Wiltshire Council's 265, 231, 231 and 272 are likewise being cut and will draw on B&NES' budget. Since B&NES is funding these and possible future cuts, it has not been willing to pay the £80,000 quoted by First Bus as the full cost of the return of one bus. (We question this figure. Is full cost needed?

"The problem is we don't have the buses we need, and from April 17 we will lose a lot of passengers because funding cuts by Somerset County council have affected Sunday and evening services."
Norman Browne, of the South West Transport Planning Network (South West Business, 8 April 2011.)


A possible factor in the downgrading of our route has been delay in the approval of the Bath Transport Package (BTP) and threat to its funding. The BTP formed the basis of a Major Scheme Business Case (MSBC) bid to the Department for Transport in 2006. "Programme Entry" for the BTP was confirmed in October 2007, meaning that government funding for the scheme was provisionally secured through its Major Transport Scheme funding process. If the BTP is approved, we hope a small amount could fund a "de minimus" arrangement with First to make up any shortfall they incur with a returned bus, rather than the full £80,000 … but this remains to be negotiated.

"Nonetheless, it is important to remember that it is reductions to funding from central Government that are the root of the vast majority of bus cuts facing the country".
(Campaign for Better Transport website, Buses blog, 8 March 2011)


BSOG reimburses 67% of the £.5895 per litre excise duty on fuel for registered bus operators. It is being cut by 20% in phases between 2012 and 2015. Combined with any changes over funding pensioners' free travel, there will be a big impact on bus companies, in spite of the optimistic tone of Jeff Carr, First's Finance Director, in his "Pre-close trading update" Friday 11 March 2011. "…we expect to manage the impact of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, in particular the reduction of Bus Service Operators Grant from April 2012, through mitigating actions including increased efficiencies." Exactly what these efficiencies entail is spelled out in First's UK half-yearly interim report to Sept 2010 by Tim O'Toole, First's Chief Executive: "In this lower revenue growth environment, we continue to prioritise cost reductions and network management on a route by route basis. Where we have seen changes in passenger demand we have responded promptly with targeted frequency or mileage reductions which will enable the business to deliver an improved operating margin." (Page 5). He observes how the company's performance supports the board's policy of delivering at least 7% per annum increase on dividends to shareholders and says: "We have continued to take advantage of the flexible operating model in UK Bus which we can adjust to match supply with demand and during the period we reduced mileage year on year by approximately 6%." (Page 7) So it is clear that any reduction in BSOG will convert straight into cuts to less profitable routes, leaving millions of people stranded, impairing local economies, detracting from quality of life and increasing carbon emissions from cars.

"The industry has been hit by a series of issues: increased fuel duty, increasing fuel pump prices and a reduction in concessionary fare reimbursements."
Mr Pickford of Faresaver Buses, a local rival of First, (Bath Chronicle, 10 March 2011.)


In our meetings last year with First's managing directors, it became clear that the UK's "flexible operating model" was being utilised and that the reason given for cutting our service was not "to improve punctuality and reliability," as originally stated in the service change registered with the Traffic Commission or in the minimal local publicity before the cut, but was instead due to the company's perception that our route was not sufficiently profitable.


Over 10 days recently, we distributed a questionnaire based on your committee's areas of interest, specifically to gain data for this submission.
Questionnaire 9-19 April 2011, 235 returned, not all answered all questions, many included comments YesNo
1. Is the No 6 & 7 bus service important to you? 2211
2. Have you been affected adversely by the cut from 20 minutes to 40 minutes in the frequency of the 6/7 bus? 2201
3.[55] Would you be in favour of free bus pass holders being asked to pay something towards bus tickets if this would generate funds for improved services? 109[56] 115
4. Do you think the views of bus users are taken into account when companies such as First Bus plan changes to services? 5[57] 225

We staffed a stall in the shopping area for the busiest four hours on Saturday 16 April. We invited 18 local council candidates to attend from the three affected wards and nine attended, as well as a press photographer for the article in the local paper.


Our primary recommendation is that central government approves transport funding for the Bath region and stipulates—or strongly recommends--that one of the two buses taken off be returned to serve the 6-7 route, to approximate a 30 minute service.

Since we have shown that our route is affected by problems in the larger context such as central government cuts leading to cuts elsewhere which impact on our council budget and First, we recommend that:

—  1.  That no urban area should provide a bus frequency below 30 minutes.

—  2.  That the Department of Transport should issue clear guidance to local authorities to ring fence moneys for buses.

—  3.  That local authorities be instructed to allocate parking fines to local transport.

—  4.  That any bus service reductions or improvements be subject to full consultation with all users.

—  5.  That West of England Partnership with Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Swindon and Greater Bristol be made to work together in an Integrated Transport Authority or transport partnership with powers to regulate fares and frequencies, tender and improve bus, rail and ferry services.

—  6.  That there should be no cuts in budgets to improve bus shelters, real time information, bus stations, interchanges with rail and investment in bus priority measures or new low floor vehicles.


A small selection

"Our bus service is now the worst in Bath. Government policy should be to increase bus services in our attempt to lessen carbon emissions."

"I am a non car user so the 6/7 bus is very important."

"Try standing at the bus stops with a hyper five year old and a screaming baby for 40 mins to see how users feel about the service!"

"As a student living in Fairfield Park area the bus service has proved detrimental to my schedule and I would nor recommend students moving to that area."

From Fairfield Park Health Centre: "The service changes were implemented without any consultation with local residents or service users, and with no consideration for the impact on the local community, businesses and residents. For example, a large number of the patients of Fairfield Park Health Centre are elderly and/or have limited mobility, therefore they rely on the 6/7 service to get to the surgery from Larkhall. The journey from Larkhall to Fairfield Park includes a significant incline which many elderly patients would not be able to manage on foot. Having a regular, reliable service that operates between Larkhall and Fairfield Park is essential for the continued success and future development of these thriving communities."

"It is crucial that local communities have good public transport links."

"Because the service is less regular I am far more likely to use the car and hence the roads are more congested."

"This bus is useless if you have an appointment or need to catch a specific train, just too irregular and unpredictable, so I have to use a taxi or persuade someone to drive in, which is crazy when we are trying to get traffic down. Need more regular service."

"The reduced service has made it very difficult for Larkhall residents. The timing (every 40 mins) makes the timetable difficult to relate to - even a half hour service would be more understandable."

"By cutting the buses it damages the community - it damages local shops."

"As a very elderly disabled pensioner I am in a constant state of anxiety when going into town for the return journey:
Will the bus come - I can't stand & wait for the next one
Will I be able to get on it room-wise
When or where can I sit as I travel with a 3 wheeler walking aid and I am very limited that way. I never had this problem when the service was every 20 mins."

"It's a long wait when the bus is every 40 mins. I use the car more - which goes against my principles. Bus fares are wicked in Bath - much higher than elsewhere."

"A reduced bus service leads to even less passengers making it less and less viable. A better service should encourage more bus use."

"The worst sort of publicity for First is to have the bus sail past at the bus stop. Do they realise this?"

"This service is grossly inefficient; the buses never appear to run when scheduled and 40 minutes is too long to wait for a bus."

April 2011

54   Bath and North East Somerset Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment Consultation Document, 27 October, 2010, pub. by B&NES and Bath and North East Somerset NHS, chart p.14 Back

55   The campaign team feels strongly that the free travel for over 60's is a socially inclusive measure and we would not like to see it eroded. It is also one giant step towards getting people out of cars and onto public transport. Back

56   Most favourable comments included a proviso that the contribution should be small and affordable (30-50p) and that there was a danger that this might be the "thin end of the wedge" Back

57   These five commented that first responded after the campaign persuaded First to reinstate the route on August 1st. Back

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Prepared 11 August 2011