The Official Citistar Guide to: Avoiding a Crisis

The residents have been revolting. The residents are upset. The buses have changed, but nobody told them. Not that any of them actually use the service, but they’re upset on behalf of the people who do use them. Both of them.

Over the past few days, the residents of Timsbury (a village in B&NES) have been getting upset on their Facebook group. Read more here. The highlight of this for me was a member of the Parish Council wading in and getting things all of a muddle. It has inspired me to write this helpful guide for Parish and Town Councils on coping with bus service changes.

1. Stay informed.
If nobody on the Parish or Town Council regularly uses local bus services, then find a pet bus enthusiast or regular bus user to give you a tip off. There are plenty of them about. Perhaps give them a call before your council meetings and find out if there is anything you need to know, or get them to give you a call when changes are on the cards. It may also be worth trying to build a relationship with your local district council’s Public Transport people for advance warning.

2. Understand how services are provided.
Subsidised bus services are provided under contract to the local council and you can complain to them about changes to them. Commercial bus services are not, so you’ll probably be wasting time by moaning at the council. The Timsbury case saw part of First route 179 in the village being removed. A cumbersome 5-6 minute loop around an estate strewn with huge numbers of scrap Land Rovers had been found not to generate enough passengers to be sustainable. This is generally how commercial bus services work – if people use them, they stay. Not many people did use this, therefore it went. In fairness, i could have predicted this stretch of route (which had been in place for two years) would not generate enough passenger journeys as it was us who ran it before First took it over and passenger numbers were abysmal then.

3. Don’t make broad assumptions or generalisations about travel needs.
The amount of vitriol being spewed forth on the Facebook page was ludicrous, particularly when barely any of the people posting use bus services from the village. They were busy making assumptions because there are a few pensioner bungalows down there, which i can tell from experience were mostly false. There was certainly no need for evening peak services to be serving the estate, probably not much more requirement than a couple of morning trips to Bath and two around lunchtime or early afternoon to come back.

4. Don’t moan about changes after the event.
Again on the Facebook post, at least two people were advocating petitions and the like. Don’t bother with these after the service has changed. The fact that so few people have complained before the change took place is a good illustration of how many people were inconvenienced by it. Once the service has changed (and in this case, a skeleton replacement service provided by the council), passenger travel habits are likely to change very quickly and restoring the previous service will probably be a waste of time and resources. In order to prevent sections of route being lost, noisy complaints are needed beforehand.

5. Don’t expect consultation.
This relates to the first point. Stay informed. Don’t expect First or any large bus company to come and tell you they’re planning to stop running a route or serving an area. Supermarkets don’t go out of their way to announce when they’re going to put prices up or cease stocking a certain product line. There is no statutory obligation for anyone to be consulted over changes to a commercial bus service, although it is worth knowing that your local district council’s public transport team will know at least two months in advance.

6. Don’t be so busy being angry that you ignore olive branches.
Many, many times over the past decade i have tried to engage with people who are protesting or campaigning over bus service cuts or changes. The number of people who just want to be seen being angry rather than facilitate any real change is truly astonishing. If you actually want positive change, then work with providers rather than against us. The slagging off that First gets on the Timsbury post should be viewed in the perspective of mostly having been written by people who don’t use the service but are angry on the behalf of somebody they’re imagining exists.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this blog post, or would like to talk sensibly about a bus service that would be beneficial to your locality, do get in touch with the Citistar Action Line.

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