by adamboyden on 4 February, 2017
Original article (see update below)
Last August, B&NES Council announced they were reviewing (and hoping to cut) their subsidy for the 267 evening services that run from 8pm between Bath and Frome (and stop at Norton St Philip, Rode and Beckington) and did a short consultation. I immediately began working with FAVBUG, Frome Town Council and the village parish councils along the route and other councillors (including Somerset County Councillor Linda Oliver) to retain the subsidy and save the service. At our first meeting I and cllr Damon Hooton put forward the idea that the parish councils along the route should join forces to take over the public subsidy necessary to retain the service for their residents, because most passengers are from Somerset and our county council had stopped supporting evening bus services in 2011.
I and others contacted Mendip District Council, Somerset County Council, B&NES Council, Frome Town Council, Beckington, Rode and Norton St Philip Parish Councils, and First Buses. We publicised the B&NES consultation widely, and over 70 people, several other councillors and all the parish councils responded, all asking for B&NES to retain the subsidy. I also asked B&NES to talk to the other councils to see if a partnership could be formed to jointly support the service. I also spoke on the issue at a B&NES Council Scrutiny panel meeting in September with cllr Oliver and Tracy from FAVBUG.
As a result, First Bus announced they would run the Friday and Saturday services commercially, leaving only the Monday to Thursday services from 8pm under threat.
In January, the B&NES Cabinet member for Transport announced his decision to cut the subsidy and end the whole evening service contract at the end of April, but that B&NES would contribute 15% of the subsidy needed to retain the weekday service if other councils could make up the difference. Why 15%? From the limited survey data available, it appears that 15% of the evening bus passengers are B&NES residents, 85% are Somerset residents (of which 75% are from Frome and 10% are from the Somerset villages.
Members of FAVBUG also interviewed several passengers who will be affected if the evening service ends – see here for details.
At a FAVBUG ‘bus summit’ in January, which I attended along with representatives of all the councils involved and First Buses, and which was chaired by cllr Oliver and Rode parish councillor Peter Travis, First Buses proposed to subsidise the weekday service for a 4 month trial period from May to August. This means only £2194 of public subsidy would be required for this trial period. We all agreed that the 4 main parish councils affected (Frome, Beckington, Rode and Norton St Philip) would be asked to share this reduced subsidy for a short period, but the largest share based on passengers/ residents would fall on Frome Town Council. Town Councillors asked that contributions still be sought from the transport authority Somerset County Council rather than mainly relying of FTC and Cllr Oliver agreed to ask again.
A full update is provided in the report in agenda item 4 of the FTC Town Matters meeting on 22nd February – see here. This proposed options for FTC to contribute to the trial period: £365, £914 or £0. Somerset County Council has agreed to contribute £365. Rode, Beckington and Norton St Philip Parish Councils have agreed to contribute. Mendip District Council has not yet agreed to. I asked for Frome Town Councillor’s support. To ask Town Councillors to support the service and help save it, please come to the meeting at Frome Medical Practice, 7pm on 22nd Feb, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once hopefully the funding for the trial period is agreed, the idea is that the councils work together with bus providers to make the service more sustainable by increasing passengers or reducing costs. Fingers crossed, the plan will work!
Update after Weds 22nd February Town Matters meeting
I understand that on Wednesday, Frome Town Council’s Town Matters Committee approved the necessary £1200 funding to retain the service for a 4 month trial period up to September. This completed a deal involving a new partnership of Somerset County Council, B&NES Council, Frome Town Council, and Norton St Philip, Rode and Beckington Parish Councils, and First Buses, which was agreed in principle at a meeting in January. Councils and campaigners have until June to find a more long-term solution to saving the service.Leave a comment