Outrage over decision to drop hospitals bus run
A BUS service that links Southmead and Frenchay Hospitals is under threat after First announced it will no longer run the service.
The number 18 operates between Emersons Green and Southmead Hospital, via Mangotsfield, Downend, Frenchay, UWE, Bristol Parkway Station, Little Stoke and Filton.
But despite passengers almost doubling since First was awarded the contract by South Gloucestershire Council last year, the operator says the subsidised service is still not "financially viable".
A First Bus spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that we have given the council notice of our intention to withdraw from operating service 18.
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"We began operating this service in September 2011 and have done everything we can to make it financially viable since then, for instance altering the timetable a number of times to make it more punctual and reliable, and therefore more attractive to customers.
"Problems still remain, though, and while passenger numbers have increased since we've had the contract they are still short of what we had hoped, making the service financially unsustainable for us."
The number 18 runs about 66 journeys per day, with an average of between eight and nine passengers per bus journey. Pensioners using it have free bus passes, which means that First does not receive any extra money each time one boards the bus.
South Gloucestershire councillors are angry and frustrated by First's decision. The authority's Integrated Transport Unit is now trying to find an alternative operator when the number 18 contract finishes in September.
In a joint statement, Conservative councillors for Emersons Green, Colin Hunt, Dave Kearns and James Hunt, said: "We are outraged about First's actions because they are cutting the only direct service that links our area with both Frenchay and Southmead hospitals, less than a year after being awarded the contract.
"This service has only been around for nine months and was introduced after a period of much uncertainty – now these same passengers face yet more uncertainty. First's decision makes absolutely no sense, because in the nine short months that the 18 service has been running, passenger numbers have almost doubled from 8,000 to 15,000 per month.
"A bus service really doesn't get any more 'life-line' than this and so we are pleased that council officers are investigating what alternatives can be put in place to ensure that bus passengers aren't inconvenienced by First's bus cut."
Bradley Stoke North councillor Ben Walker (UKIP) said: "In a time when the public are being asked to utilise public transport more, why aren't operators doing all they can to encourage that and stop focusing on a return to the companies' shareholders?"