Council’s transport lead voices frustration over disruption to bus services in Somerset

Cancellations and disruption to timetables hitting bus routes across Somerset have been flagged with the region’s main operator by the County Council’s lead for transport.

Councillor Mike Rigby has written to First South’s Managing Director Simon Goff asking for an “urgent explanation” for the number of cancellations in the last year and an action plan for improvement. He has also criticised cleanliness of some buses which he said creates a “bad image for existing and potential passengers”.

The Lead Member for Transport and Digital has underlined his concerns that the unreliability of timetables will undermine efforts to get more people on buses, despite money from Somerset’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) supporting a £1 fare for Taunton, Government funding making possible a £2 single fare across the county, and the Council investing significantly in a sustained ‘Bus It’ campaign.

Mr Goff has responded citing a national shortage of drivers which has hit the industry since the pandemic, as well as an unusually high level of absenteeism, and said he is “determined to restore passenger confidence” and to ensure disruption is short term.

He has underlined measures to increase the number of drivers and new trainees coming through.

Cllr Rigby said: “I was encouraged by Mr Goff’s swift response, it shows First South/Buses of Somerset are taking my concerns – and the concerns of the public –  seriously.

“We understand there are underlying factors within the industry which have thrown up significant challenges, but I have personally experienced disruption often and many members of the public have raised the issue of cancelled services with me. It puts people in a difficult position when they may be on their way to school, work or an important appointment.

“The measures outlined to increase the number of drivers and to bring in more trainees are reassuring, but what we don’t have, and what I am asking for, is a firm deadline and targets for measurable improvement. We need this as soon as possible and I will be making this point as we continue to engage in constructive dialogue with First South to ensure disruption to bus services in Somerset is reduced to an acceptable minimum.”

In his response to Cllr Rigby, Mr Goff said: “We remain committed to delivering our scheduled services for the people of Somerset that we proudly serve and to ensure that the Bus It campaign and the wider benefits of the BSIP can be fully realised. As I have outlined, we have plans in place to help address the labour shortage issue and improvements will be seen from today.”

Mr Goff also said the cleanliness of buses would be monitored over the coming days.

Buses of Somerset currently have vacances for trainee bus drivers visit to find out more.