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Protests as “unfit” First continue to cut bus services

The 267 bus protest in Rode.

The 267 bus protest in Rode.

ANGRY bus users have begun protesting after being told that First bus company will be cutting its last remaining services in and around Frome from August.

Protests have taken place in Rode and Frome this month, following the announcement that the 161 184 and 267 bus services are to be slashed.

The announcement comes just weeks after the 30 and 234 were also cancelled by the company. Two of First’s remaining three services will disappear next month.

The Frome to Shepton Mallet section of the 161 route will no longer be operated, and the 184 will not run through the town. The 267 service will be reduced and no longer stop in Rode.

First claim that the above routes are not financially sustainable, but that parts of the axed routes would be picked up by other services in the area.

But local bus users say they will be hit hard by the cuts to services.

Keith Harrison-Broninski said, “I live in Nunney, where the cancellation of the 161 bus route – the only bus service for the village – will be horribly bad news for the many young and old residents, and others who do not drive.

“If there was ever a case for private companies showing themselves as unfit to run public services, this is it.”

Local resident Matt Thacker echoed the sentiment saying, “I have a car, but try to use public transport as much as possible to reduce my carbon footprint.  The public transport in Frome is already overpriced and too infrequent.

“Public transport should be delivered as a public service and not be subject to the cold logic of markets, which disregards the needs of the vulnerable.  No way to run a society.”

Openstorytellers, a charity in Frome that works with adults with learning or communication difficulties, has told how cutting bus services could be life-changing for its members.

Two members of the group, Clemma Fleat and Susie Dayman-Johns said, “We use 161 because it enables us to get to Frome every Thursday to come to Openstorytellers office group and we learn office skills and it is very important for us that the 161 does not get cut.

“It would mean taking away from us something very important and meaningful. Everyone will be disappointed and it would make our life a misery if we didn’t have a way of getting to our group.

“We all feel very angry and shocked at how you can do such a thing, it will affect us badly.

“In the past we had problems with the buses which disrupted our getting to our group in Frome. We feel so let down and upset.”

Director of Openstorytellers, Simon Morris said, “The news about the number 161 First Bus from Shepton Mallet to Frome being axed comes as a huge slap in the face to many of the service users of Openstorytellers, who are vulnerable and isolated adults with learning disabilities that rely on this bus to access the groups they attend in Frome.

“The 161 may never be packed to the rafters, but those customers that really need it should be just as important to First Bus as those on the more profitable routes – a bus company should be thinking, “Who do we need to help and how can we do that?”; not, “Where can we make the most money?”

The 161, 184 and 267 routes connect Frome to  Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Bath, and Wells, as well as places within Frome and smaller villages such as Rode.

A huge protest took place in Rode this month, when an estimated 400 people blocked the High Street to protest the news that the 267 service would no longer stop in the village.

Rode Parish Council chair, Steve Eyles said, “It is the Frome to Bath 267 service that is the lifeline for many of our residents,  whether it’s to get to work, school or hospital and that’s the lifeline that First is wanting to cut. This will isolate very many of our Rode villagers from the services that are only accessible in neighbouring towns.”

The recent cuts are the latest in a spate of cutbacks by First Group, who revealed just last month that they would cease to provide the 30 and 234.

The company has made it clear that the routes around Frome are not used enough to cover the costs of running the buses.

Speaking on the 161 cancellation Andrew Sherrington, First’s general manager for Wells, Weston and Bath said, “We are making several changes to our network in the West of England on August 23. Whilst many of the changes create better bus links for residents, some changes will remove bus links.

“The section of the 161 between Frome and Shepton Mallet accounts for less than 10% of all customers on the 161 route while accounting for 50% of the resources required to run the service.

“Although that section of the 161 is currently operated with some financial support from Somerset County Council, it is not financially sustainable to continue operating the current service pattern.

“We have been faced with a difficult choice between withdrawing part of the route, or withdrawing the route in its totality.

“We have taken a decision that will benefit 90% of our customers as it will increase the frequency on the route from Wells to Shepton Mallet as well as providing a Sunday and Public Holiday service (the result of several public requests), though we know that will be of little comfort to those remaining 10%.

“Somerset County Council has been involved throughout our decision-making process. They are currently investigating the potential impact of these changes before deciding how further to proceed.”