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Fears Somerset bus routes could be axed amid financial crisis

FOUR bus routes in Somerset could be under threat if extra funding cannot be agreed.

In recent years, Somerset Council has provided extra funding to operator Buses of Somerset to prop up a number of routes.

Among them are numbers 25 (Taunton – Dulverton), 28 (Taunton – Minehead), 54 (Taunton – Yeovil) and 58 (Yeovil – Wincanton).

And at a meeting of the Bus Advisory Board on Tuesday (February 6), it emerged the routes could be axed should council funding be withdrawn.

The funding was announced in August last year to great fanfare, with Roads Minister Richard Holden touting the financial support.

“People up and down the country deserve a clean, reliable, and affordable public transport system. That is why we have provided Somerset Council with over £12 million to boost and retain its bus services,” he said.

“Supporting the council to retain these vital services is fantastic for local residents, who will be able to continue get to work, attend medical appointments and visit loved ones for less and more easily.”

Somerset Council’s then-lead member for transport and digital, Councillor Mike Rigby (Lib Dem, Lydeard), urged people to use the routes to ensure they keep running.

It came after encouraging news in April of last year, when Cllr Rugby and Simon Goff, MD of First South, the parent company of Buses of Somerset, vaunted a rise in bus users.

They said passengers numbers had risen by around 14% after the introduction of the £2 fare, using funds from the Government’s Help for Homes scheme, plus the council-funded £1 fare for routes in Taunton.

However, it seems those warnings have – to some extent – fallen on deaf ears.

Buses of Somerset said while numbers had increased, it was not to an extent that would mean financial support could be withdrawn.

They said no final decision has been made over the routes’ future and that any cessation of the journeys was “the last thing we want to do”.

The 54 bus service between Taunton and Yeovil could be under threat as financial pressures continue. Picture: Buses of Somerset

The 54 bus service between Taunton and Yeovil could be under threat as financial pressures continue. Picture: Buses of Somerset

“We’re currently reviewing our entire network in Somerset, which we do twice a year in line with our Enhanced Partnership agreement with Somerset Council,” they said.

“Throughout this period, we’re working closely with Somerset Council, local councillors, and bus user groups on our plans for bus services.

“At (the) Bus Advisory Board with Somerset Council, we were asked to outline what our network could look like from April 2024 if the current funding we receive to support services 25, 28, 54 and 58 were to be withdrawn.

“It is important to note that no final decisions have been made yet on any of the four routes.

“Last July, Somerset Council agreed on a funding package that helped to bridge the gap between the operational costs and the revenue, and since then, this has allowed the four routes to remain as they are today.

“In that period, we’ve seen passenger growth but unfortunately, not to the extent that would negate the ongoing need for financial support.

“Somerset Council has been out to public consultation regarding their budget for 2024/25, and we have made it clear that ongoing funding is required to protect these bus routes.

“We understand the social value that these routes provide and the great job that our people do every day to keep people moving.

“Reducing or withdrawing routes is the last thing we want to do, but without ongoing support, this could be an outcome.

“The effect the pandemic has had on services, as well as rising costs due to inflationary pressures, has meant we have had to reassess all of our bus networks and can no longer operate bus services that are not at least covering the costs of operations.

“We remain committed to working with Somerset Council to find a solution and will meet again over the coming days. We understand how important these services are to people. A further update will be provided once we have clarity over the future of funding for these routes.”

Reacting to the news, Liberal Democrat candidate for Taunton and Wellington, Gideon Amos, slammed privatisation of bus services.

“After Buses of Somerset threatened cuts to 54, 58, 25 and 28 without warning, I’ve spoken with our Lib Dem team at Somerset Council,” he said.

“We’re now working together to save as many as we can from Buses of Somerset cuts.

“The Conservatives should never have privatised our buses in the first place.”

And the Somerset Bus Partnership group, which campaigns over services in the county, said it was planning a demonstration over the possible cuts.

The group is planning on a protest in Yeovil, at a place to be confirmed, at 11am on Saturday (February 10).

“We invite you, all passengers, families, friends, councillors, MPs and media, to join us and stand strong in protecting these services for those who depend on them,” they said.

One Comment

  1. Martyn Smith Reply

    Less buses means more cars = more pollution, more traffic jams, more accidents, more potholes…..all of which will ultimately cost more money. Robbing Peter to pay Paul!!

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