Call to seize chance for better bus services

June 29 2021
Call to seize chance for better bus services

WELLS is being urged to take advantage of an opportunity to improve bus services for the city.

The Government has launched a new bus strategy entitled Bus Back Better. Peter Travis, Co-Chair of Somerset Bus Partnership – a Somerset-wide group of bus campaigners – says the strategy offers a chance of Government funding for upgrading bus services across the county, and that could mean a better bus service for Wells.

This was the message he was due to convey when addressing Wells City Council at the council meeting on June 24. Mr Travis said: “The next four months could result in a much better bus service for Wells, that’s if the city seizes the opportunities on offer.”

The Government’s new Bus Strategy comes with £3 billion of funding for improving buses in England outside of London. To speed up bus journey times, buses are to be accorded a priority, especially on urban routes, with more bus lanes being required and even the removal of parking spaces on key bus routes in towns.

Bus Back Better also calls for improvements to be made to bus shelters and bus stations to make travelling by bus a more attractive experience. The main focus is to achieve a significant shift from driving by car to going by bus.

Somerset County Council discussed the Bus Back Better scheme at a cabinet meeting on June 21. The council is due to produce a Bus Service Improvement Plan by October and will seek to develop a formal ‘Enhanced Partnership’ with bus operators by April 2022, as it prepares to bid for a share of the funding.

“This is  great opportunity to seek to bring new Government transport investment to Somerset to help tackle our rural transport challenges,” said a county council spokesperson.

Mr Travis said: “Somerset currently has a very poor record on buses, it has the fourth lowest use of buses in the country. Over the past 10 years there’s been a 43 per cent fall in bus usage and this was even before Covid struck. So, Somerset should be a big beneficiary from Bus Back Better.

“It is therefore important that Wells benefits from this Government funding that will be coming to Somerset. Over the next six weeks, Wells needs to prepare its case to send to Somerset outlining the bus improvements the city needs.”

Improving bus services could mean extending current routes, adding new routes, increasing the frequency of buses, ensuring there is a good evening and weekend service, and generally improving the overall quality of bus services.

One of the suggestions Mr Travis was planning to make at the city council meeting is an express route from Wells to Castle Cary and the railway station there.

Councillor Jenny Rust reported on the Bus Back Better scheme at the city council meeting in May.

She said: “This is a win-win situation. It is a way in which we can work together to improve public transport for all citizens by providing regular timetabled services which will get people out of their cars, reduce traffic pollution and help make a reality of our declared Climate Emergency.

“For poorer members of society and those without individual transport it can provide social and employment opportunities.”

Rob Pym, First West of England Commercial Director, said that the company is keen to develop Wells bus services.

He said: “We very much welcome and support the National Bus Strategy and look forward to working with Somerset County Council, North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority to develop and secure the best possible recovery for our services linking Wells with other parts of our region.

“We will also be working closely with our colleagues at First South West, who have a number of services linking Wells with other parts of Somerset.”