Secret Squirrels

Foreword: I apologise for breaking the promise to try and divert my attention elsewhere from the start of the last post on this blog. I am trying my hardest to move on, but the source material is too rich to pass up.

Bus operators are expected to begin the registration process for bus services at least 70 days prior to them starting, changing or being cancelled. Registrations must be agreed by the councils (or at least notified to them) 28 days prior to lodging them with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner in Leeds, 42 days before the change. Tendered services are supposed to be formally contracted and registered prior to the 42 days notice period with the TC’s office.

Written Thursday 25th March 2021:
In contrast, North Somerset Council are currently attempting to procure a bus service (numbered 51) between Weston-super-Mare and Lower Langford to start next Thursday (1st April) with precisely seven days notice. This procurement closes at lunch time on Friday. This will replace part of the contracted A5 service which has been due to end on this date since it was originally commissioned and the Weston Community Transport L1 service, although the route of the latter is mostly being withdrawn.

Furthermore, the request makes reference to another mystery service with which it is timed to connect, thus making the timetable as tendered non-negotiable. This connecting service appears not to have been registered, nor formally announced with now less than a week to go to the cancellation of the service it will replace.

The staff at North Somerset who are responsible for this short notice shambles are the same ones who are being praised by one of their elected members on his website for the HCT 53-55 services which were also registered at short notice, within four weeks of their scheduled start date. I wonder if this praise also recognises the shockingly poor practice being demonstrated by North Somerset Council as a transport authority in flagrant disregard for appropriate notice periods and proper process. Had the council undertaken a proper procurement exercise instead of this rushed job, i have little doubt that more economic and sustainable services could have been procured. Unsuccessful operators have not been informed of the awarded contracts, nor in some cases informed at all that they have been unsuccessful in the bidding process. But then, perhaps they’ve taken inspiration from central government’s activities a year ago at the height of the first wave and decided that by rushing things they can make sure their right people make a king’s ransom from the contracts.

The alliance of independent political firebrands who are leading North Somerset down this path are led by Councillor Don Davies, whose name has popped up here before. He’s the latest in a long line of politicians and council staff trying to make a name for themselves by deciding they know best. He boasts on a North Somerset press release that “We have effectively ripped up the timetable and started again to make catching the bus more convenient and accessible. Journeys that weren’t possible previously now are.”. Perhaps the point should be made to him that this has been done at least four times in the past 15 years in North Somerset and it hasn’t ever increased passenger usage. Every time you rip up the existing network, you are likely to alienate many existing users of it. To paraphrase Councillor Davies: Journeys that were previously possible now aren’t. I would have thought this was basic Transport Planning theory, but apparently not.

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