Claire Sully Supporting Bus Users – as they demand a better service from bus company

Burnham & Highbridge Bus User Group with Somerset Council, First Bus, BoS & Highbridge Town Council & MP Candidate Claire Sully

The Burnham and Highbridge monthly bus user group have told First Bus they need to urgently improve their service.

Users of the bus network in Burnham and Highbridge voiced their concerns with the service, providing valuable interaction with operator First Bus Group as well as the local town council, Somerset Council, a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Claire Sully and Bridgwater & Taunton College.

The session heard views from a student bus user, who spoke of frequent issues with buses, resulting in their late attendance for college or being left stranded to get home. 

Of the key routes discussed, the 20 service from Taunton to Burnham-On-Sea and the 21/21A service from Weston-Super-Mare to Burnham-On-Sea were identified for improvements to service reliability.

Those attending the forum were Peter McNaughton from First Bus, Michelle Boddington and Eve Watt from Bridgwater & Taunton college, Somerset Council’s Public Transport Manager John Perrett, Head of Highways Cllr Richard Wilkins, First Bus’ Head of Network George Burton, and Claire Sully, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the new Bridgwater constituency, which includes Burnham-On-Sea. Chairing the session was Cllr Lesley Millard, with the panel hearing from bus users on their experiences and pleas for a better service.

Bus users detailed how the buses were unreliable and that communication from First Group was patchy. A student, who said he wanted to ensure young people’s voices were heard by the bus company, said how he and his friends were often late for college. Other bus users who spoke included parents of students that struggled going to work while feeling a lack of confidence in the bus service to turn up to take their children to college. A key issue raised was not being provided information when a bus was running late, not stopping or not turning up altogether.

Other feedback from users included there not being enough seats on buses, and students having to stand for up to an hour. The bus user group asked: ‘Should there be double-decker buses?’

It was commented that there was no bench at some stops, or covers for when it rained, while other complaints included the Bus App not being reliable and the company failing to provide updates on X (formerly Twitter).

Young people and other users are frequently left stranded and are often late into college. Buses breaking down make travel to college difficult, and it’s a worry. “It is totally not on leaving young people isolated abandoned,” said Cllr Millard during the session.

In response, First Bus explained some of the challenges affecting the service, including workforce shortages. They said they were looking to encourage female drivers to join the company. George Burton, Head of network, First Bus, said: “It breaks my heart to hear the issues you have experienced.” He continued: “You are a priority number one.”

“We must now see them deliver on their promises to improve services and communication to users.”

First Bus said they have a new team starting, who are accomplished and experienced and hope this will improve the service. Peter McNaughton from First Bus added: “We are not quick enough with communities in providing real time information when there are issues with buses.”

Mr McNaughton said they have taken on an extra member of staff and they are conducting weekly service reviews. First Bus said they value the work of the bus user group and Somerset Bus Partnership.

Cllr Richard Wilkins, lead member for Transport at Somerset Council, said: “First Bus has a lot of problems and this needs to be sorted quickly. Reliability is key, if buses aren’t reliable people stop using them. That is unacceptable.”

Somerset Council’s John Perrett, added: “Our job is co-ordination for buses we fund. For buses that are commercial (like the services discussed today) we are limited, but we can listen and try to influence. We have seen improvements in a year. It seems communication is an issue. We will keep talking to colleges and bus advisory groups to understand what isn’t working.”

Following the User Group feedback, Cllr Millard asked: “What can we do better? We need to aim high. We can’t begin to promote the service until we see improvements.”

Cllr Millard said bus users had provided a clear picture, citing a lack of communication at the heart of the issue, leaving students abandoned.

She said: “There is no info on what is going on. Arriving students at college are anxious. It is frustrating that a working group was set up one year ago and there seems to be little improvement.”

Representatives from Bridgwater & Taunton College said: “The college has recruited a member of staff to support students who have challenges with buses. The college is limited with what it can do with the 21 service as it’s not a chartered service.”

The college said they have regular meetings with the bus company.

Claire Sully said: “First Bus have shown a willingness to improve these services, in particular the 20 and 21/21A services, and I am grateful for their cooperation. We must now see them deliver on their promises to improve services and communication to bus users.

“I, together with Cllr Wilkins, will continue to discuss these issues with Bus companies and those affected.”

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