Decision on emergency bus funding

Temporary support for three former Webberbus routes is unlikely to be extended when it runs out in December.

Emergency funding has helped cover the costs of the 67 service (Wookey Hole/Wells to Burnham-on-Sea) and F and C services in Bridgwater town centre since the key operator ceased trading at short notice at the end of May.

The interim contracts expire on 26 November and unfortunately no new operators have expressed an interest in taking them on, as happened with the majority of the previously Webberbus-run routes.

The council plans to extend the contracts until the end of the year but cannot afford to extend any longer. A decision due to be taken on Friday (21 October) recommends that the emergency funding for the contracts is not extended beyond 31 December, when the routes will cease to operate.

Alternative arrangements will be available for County Ticket holders who use the services to get to college.

The County Council spends around £1.6m subsidising bus services across the county, but the huge pressure on all its budgets means it cannot afford to continue the arrangements costing an extra £22,000 per a month.

The average number of passengers per trip on the C and F services is four, and seven on the 67.

In the coming weeks transport officers will be contacting bus operators and parish councils to see if there are opportunities for community-supported, no or low-cost alternatives that the council can encourage and support to fill some of the gaps.

The County Council continues to fund the Slinky service and financially support demand responsive Community Transport schemes by covering half the cost of fares for journeys made using concessionary bus passes.

“We have done our best but unfortunately no operators want to run these routes because they are not viable,” said Councillor David Fothergill, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.

“The Council’s financial position is well-documented, with falling funding and increased costs, and we cannot afford to carry on paying this extra money for these routes. We will do what we can to assist communities if they have ideas for alternatives, for example through community car share schemes or changing the areas covered by Community Transport schemes.”

Councillors whose wards are covered by the buses have been notified of the planned decision. Parishes councils will be contacted from next week and students will be notified of alternative arrangements once these have been agreed.