Service cuts show it is time for the bus bill

Environment Image of a bus
Photo: Bevan Foundation
ViewsSeptember 1st, 2021

It’s time for a radical rethink of Wales’ bus network, says Bevan Foundation Director Victoria Winckler 

For me, as for hundreds of thousands of other people, buses are my lifeline. They mean I can get to work, go shopping, get to hospital appointments and visit friends and family. Over the last week I have seen both how good a bus service can be – and also how truly awful.  

These experiences highlight the deep flaws in our bus system, and point to how it could be better.  

Let’s start with the awful 

 On Friday 27th August, Stagecoach bus announced – via an email newsletter – that it was changing timetables across south Wales. This is nothing unusual for bus regulars, who have to live with constantly shifting times and routes.  

What was shocking was that some of the changes took effect from 29th August, giving passengers less than 48 hours notice of the change for those lucky enough to see Stagecoach’s email. For those who did not – and it is worth remembering that the people who use buses are more likely not to use the internet regularly – there was little publicity.  There was nothing on buses and nothing in the brand new bus station either (which continued to display old bus times 3 days after the new timetable was introduced).  

These changes were not minor tweaks either. In Merthyr Tydfil for example Sunday services on a large number of routes were withdrawn completely and many early morning and evening services have been scrapped.  

Inevitably, many people were left standing at bus stops unaware of the loss of a service. People have lost wages and risked their jobs because they have been late for shifts or been unable to get to or from work at all. They have missed hospital appointments, disrupting the running of clinics at Prince Charles Hospital. And people have been left stranded after visiting family over the Bank Holiday, thinking they could get home when they left.   

It doesn’t have to be like this 

The TrawsCymru network showed that it doesn’t have to be like this. In north Wales, where I recently used the network extensively, offered clean, comfy and branded buses that arrived on time. There was clear information at bus stops, with well-kept shelters at most of them. Reliability and comfort are taken for granted by car drivers but are all too rare for bus users.  

The TrawsCymru network is run by the Welsh Government and is probably one of the most widespread and visible presence of the Welsh Government outside of our towns and cities that there is.  Crucially, the services are run on a non-commercial basis which means that less well-used but no less essential services (such as those in the evening) still run.  

The TrawsCymru network is not perfect. The wider marketing of services is far from good, and there’s a lack of clarity about carrying folding cycles, lack of toilet facilities etc. Nevertheless, it does show that bus services can be good quality.  

So what can be learned?  

The Welsh Government had consulted on a draft Bus Bill in early 2020. While the bill could have gone further, it was at least a start. The pandemic saw the bill being withdrawn alongside a major shift in how buses operated in order to keep a skeleton service on the road while we were all told to stay at home.  

Stagecoach has demonstrated that without greater regulation – and despite considerable government support in the last 18 months – they will still operate with little regard for passengers (or workers).  

It is time to put a Bus Bill back on the Senedd’s agenda.  

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. She previously chaired the Bus Policy Advisory Group and also reviewed the TrawsCymru network on behalf of the former Minister for Economy and Transport 

One Response

  1. Sonia Behr says:

    No government can be serious about climate change without a complete and radical overhaul of public transport, especially buses or an equivalent to get people easily from outside their homes to the trains, hospitals, towns etc.
    When I last went on a bus I was shocked at the price. Here in the valleys I think we need smaller (preferably electric) vehicles which come more frequently and don’t stop in evenings and weekends. Good to hear it’s better in North Wales!

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