Bristol Green Party councillors are calling on the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) Mayor Dan Norris to extend the 512-bus service for two weeks. They are demanding more time to make sure there is time to help users make the transition to ‘Demand Responsive Transport’, the experimental new transport service being trialled across Knowle, Windmill Hill and Totterdown, as well as Brislington and rural parts of the region.
The new service is due to start in just one week and will be an app and telephone-based service, where users call up or use an app to book the service, but currently there is still no website or phone number for users to contact. Green Councillors first raised concerns last December, warning that providing information on the new service model would be crucial to its success, however the Combined Authority has still not given further information to people who need to know how to plan their journeys.
Concerned residents attended a meeting on 17 March to hear about the new service, but the WECA officer who attended was only able to give minimal details. Further information was promised initially in March, but all promised dates have now passed without progress. The new experimental transport service will launch on 3 April. Other meetings about the service change have been cancelled, as happened in Brislington.
The new ‘demand responsive service’ is being trialled in parts of the West of England where bus services are being cut. Funded from a central government initiative, the proposal was intended to make up for the loss of some of the traditional bus services.
Windmill Hill’s Green councillors have said many of their residents who organised the meeting on 17 March do not find digital technology easy and need extra help to understand the change.
Councillor Lisa Stone said, “We organised this meeting two months ago and publicised it widely so that we could try and play our part in making this new model a success. It is a shambles that just one week before the end of the much loved local 512 bus, and the launch of the new alternative service, local people remain in the dark.
“The Impact assessment of cutting this bus route showed that old and disabled people are going to be directly affected. One of the people who came to our meeting is a still active 89-year-old, who has tried three different mobile phones but does not find them easy to use at all.
“There is no doubt that the older people need some continuity and a chance to get paper-based information directly on the bus that they have used for years. This experimental service – a big gamble in the first place – is now having the odds stacked against it by the failure to prepare.”
Councillor Ed Plowden added, “To mitigate the impact on older people, details of the new service model need to be made available directly on the bus itself for at least two weeks before switching over.
“There is Government Grant funding that cannot be used to keep the old service going, but can and should be used for marketing to explain how this new demand-based service will work. Ensuring that clear and detailed information is available on the bus could be paid for by the marketing budget by extending the 512 for a short period. We could all then work hard to ensure that the service can be directly marketed to users.”
“I call on the Combined Authority to make an emergency decision to make sure that the contract is extended. This will allow for a smooth handover by placing all the required product information on the bus itself.”
Local Resident Tina, said: “It seems unimportant to most people that a small bus service could impact so much on senior or disabled people. They do not need to use a public bus and it seems inconceivable that being able to get from the top of a hill to do some shopping and back up again – or to have a day out to the centre of Bristol or access to the bus station with connections to Clevedon or Bath could impact so much on their lives."