First asked to rethink Bristol changes

Bristol City Council has asked First to rethink some of the changes it proposes to implement to the city’s bus network on 1 September 2013. The operator has already asked the Traffic Commissioner for permission to make the amendments to its services. The local authority is asking the company to work with it on making changes, which it believes will support the city’s overall transport plan. It fears that some of the current proposals put forward by FirstGroup will cause confusion for bus users and turn people off using public transport in some areas. The routes in question are all commercially run, so the Council has no final say over the plans.
Bristol City Council’s request for a rethink was made in a letter from Bristol’s Assistant Mayor for Transport, Planning, Strategic Housing and Regeneration, Cllr Mark Bradshaw, addressed to First Bus Interim MD for Bristol, Paul Matthews. In the letter, he said the Council welcomes many of the changes, such as more frequent services, extra early morning buses and the extension of daytime journeys on Service 20 to Charlton Road. He also acknowledges that much good work has been done between the council and First Group on the Greater Bristol Bus Network, which saw more frequent buses in some areas and a recommitment to night journeys in others. However, he added, ‘I do have a major concern that bus service changes are taking place in an ad hoc manner and not as part of a wider network strategy to significantly increase bus passenger numbers and improve citywide connectivity.’
One of the proposed changes the Council would like reviewing is the renaming of Services 352/353 to Service 1 to align with the operator’s existing X1 service. The council feels that two ‘1’ services operating in the same city and sometimes stopping in the same places could confuse passengers. The council does not want to see Service 40 between Downleaze and Julian Road in Stoke Bishop lost. It has offered to look again at parking restrictions and enforcement in the area if it would help persuade First to keep operating the route. It is also asking for the service to terminate somewhere other than Union Street in the city centre as this is already congested. The council feels that the proposed withdrawal of the direct link from the south of the city to the BRI (Service 20) is a backwards step, which it believes could harm already disadvantaged communities. It is calling for First to consider a suitable replacement.
Cllr Mark Bradshaw said, ‘We have a good working relationship with FirstGroup which has seen many improvements to bus services. There is much to welcome in their proposals but we would like to see further changes which would make a big difference to local people. We also think it’s wise to work more closely together so that any changes can contribute to the big picture. For our part we’re doing plenty of work to improve parking arrangements and traffic management in areas where First have told us there are problems, and we’re open to doing more if it helps keep valued bus services in place. I’m sure our constructive criticism will be well received by First Group and I look forward to having some positive discussions with them in coming weeks. Above all, the desire for a connected and accessible city is not best served by piecemeal changes to bus routes and increasing the risk of creating isolated communities and individuals.’
Talking about the changes last week, Commercial Manager for First in West of England, Simon Ford, said, ‘The changes we are making to the network are, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive. We are adding in extra late night services connecting key destinations for instance Bristol and Bath, and are improving the frequency of a number of other routes too. To make these changes though we have had to adjust some of the under-used services and so while the vast majority of the news is positive customers should note that there are some route changes in some places. We are also taking steps to split one route to address long standing issues we have faced and to hopefully ensure it remains commercially sustainable. We would strongly urge those people who use local bus services to familiarise themselves with the changes that are being made. New timetable information will be made available online from 20 August and will be available to pick up from travel shops from the following week.’

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