Just over a week ago, First Bus were rightly called out for an ill considered ‘Walking Sucks’ promotion aimed at encouraging students at the University of the West of England to use their bus ‘services’: Are First Bus taking the p**s? 13.11.22. A gimmick which First Bus later admitted was in poor taste. Well, not only was it in poor taste, it was flying in the face of the harsh reality of yet more cuts to bus services: First Bus just cancelled 1,450 Bristol bus services a week until at least April 16.11.22. In the face of this level of service cuts, it looks like walking, far from ‘sucking’, will be about the only option available. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up, could you?
Cutting 1,450 bus services a week is going to make travelling round Bristol even harder than it already is for non drivers. It sure as heck isn’t going to encourage anyone to leave the car at home and take the bus it it? All it will do is speed up the downward spiral of decline as fewer people use the buses because they don’t have any confidence that what services remain will actually run on time. This flies in the face of the messaging we’re being bombarded with to use cars less and switch to public transport. A switch which under current circumstances is difficult to make: Set up to fail 24.10.22.
First Bus have said that they have been forced to make these service cuts because they don’t have enough drivers to run the timetable they were trying to run. The driver shortage has been caused by a complex range of factors, that’s undeniable. However, it has to be acknowledged that one of them was the offer of better pay and conditions from the freight sector. You can be forgiven for thinking that for any company running a bus service, a key priority would be doing all they can to ensure they have the drivers needed to run the service the region they operate in. That means treating their drivers well so they don’t get tempted by better employment options elsewhere. It also means undertaking enough in the way of long term planning to anticipate and be able to react to a range of situations that could compromise their ability to operate a decent bus service.
First Bus are a private company whose priority is generating a profit to keep their shareholders happy. Which explains why they’re happy to boost the frequency of the lucrative Airport Flyer service running to and from Bristol Airport while presiding over cuts to services elsewhere in the region: Youth activists block airport bus in protest for fairer public transport 6.11.22. All of which proves that the model of tendering out bus services to private companies whose priority is profit as opposed to providing a comprehensive service has failed. It’s time to take bus services into full public ownership so passengers and workers can work together to plan and build the service the region needs.