Don't Cut Us Off! Meeting at Mendip District Council Chamber on 3rd August 2015
The public meeting organised by Shepton Mallet Town Council and chaired by Cllr Martin Lovell to discuss the proposed changes to the bus timetable was attended by more than 80 bus users from Shepton and the surrounding villages. Concerned bus users from Frome and nearby settlements also were present.
The panel consisted of David Warburton MP, James Freeman South West Managing Director of First Bus, Tracey Harding Frome and Villages Bus Users Group (FAVBUG) and Garfield Kennedy Shepton Mallet Town Councillor and co-founder of the Don't Cut Us Off! campaign.
The consensus from the panel was the current system of public transport is not working for rural communities. Garfield Kennedy said: "Mendip Council tells us in their recently published Local Plan that Frome does not have enough jobs and residents needs to have access to jobs in Shepton. If the 161 service between Frome and Shepton is axed, how can people access these jobs?".
Somerset County Council are the Transport Authority for this area. James Freeman said that the County Council knew of the proposed cuts to the 161 service months ago. Yet it was pointed out that the County Council and its councillors had not informed either parish and town councils or bus users. James Freeman said: "First Bus is a commercial company and must make a bus service financially viable. Under current regulation we cannot cross subsidise different routes. It is for the County Council to support rural routes."
The meeting heard that it may be possible for a smaller bus company to be brought in to keep a bus service between Shepton and the surrounding villages. James Freeman said he would be open to approaches to negotiate a cross service ticket with other operators, although this would be best organised through Somerset County Council.
Tracey Harding of FAVBUG complained that buses are cut without due regard to the impact to bus users. Passengers are not told of changes and she only found out about the recent alteration to services by chance and rumour. Tracey Harding said FAVBUG wants to work with local bus users, the County Council, bus companies and our MPs. We all want bus services that are integrated and serve the needs of our community. Only bus users being at the heart of decision-making can this happen."
David Redgewell of South West Transport Network told the meeting that the primary responsibility for providing local buses is the County Council. They should be encouraged to apply to the Local Enterprise Partnership to use bus services to boost the rural local economy.
Many passengers told the meeting of poor quality public services. Many questions were asked including: “why is it that the bus from Shepton to Wells misses the bus to Taunton by a minute of so?” The same person pointed out that because of this, morning appointments at Musgrove Hospital are impossible to get to. Another asked: “If the cuts are made to the 161 service how can people who don’t drive access banks, trains and hospitals in Frome?”
Shepton town councillor Chris Inchley said: "The 161 service has buses from a previous century. They are not comfortable. I welcome the new 174 Service to Bath from Shepton that First has announced but they needs to advertise their services. If nobody knows they operate a route how can they expect the service be widely used?"
James Freeman of First Bus said: "I fully understand the damage that the cutting off buses to Frome can cause. We are willing to work with another bus company on ticket transfers."
Garfield Kennedy complained our local community needs to re-establish control over local services. Laws over regulations and competition need to be revised by reinstating public service at the heart of local transport.
David Warburton MP said that the Don’t Cut Us Off! meeting was both important and a very positive initiative for our communities and congratulated Shepton Mallet Town Council for hosting it. He said that he is meeting the Government Minister responsible for Transport, Andrew Jones MP this week (on 4th August). He promised to raise all the issues that were discussed. The MP thought there was a need for a sustainable transport group, involving Somerset County Council officers and councillors, MPs and bus users groups to find better solutions to serve the needs of rural communities.
It was agreed to organise another meeting of bus users to form the Shepton and Villages Bus User Group (SAVBUG). Those invited will be, Martin Abrams of the Campaign of Better Transport, the County Council, bus operators, FAVBUG, all who have expressed an interest in being a part of SAVBUG and local MPs and local councillors.
FAVBUG Meeting 22nd April 2015
The main areas discussed were:
Working with First Bus – Anna has met with First Bus and discussed a range of options including offering Frome a Community Fare (with 10% reduction) that could be sold via the Information centre in the Cheese and Grain. They are keen to work with us on this.
Transport Day – we need to engage with people who aren’t currently bus users. A Saturday in June or July is being organised to find out where and when people want to travel. This could form the basis of an evidence base to support improvements to local services.
Service improvements – we discussed a range of options for improving current services, from reduced bus sizes at off-peak times to expanding some routes like the 30 and making it hourly, rather than half hourly. We need to develop a comprehensive list of suggestions that we can then research and discuss with the bus operators. The transport day will feed into this. We will also investigate working with providers such as Frome Minibuses to potentially trial new routes.
Welcome packs – Frome Town Council is developing a pack for new residents which will include information about public transport. First have provided a bus pack with timetables and a free ticket. There are other promotion ideas too to make the services more sustainable