Council saves Frome bus service
In last week’s Leveller Confidential, we talked about local bus services. Specifically what the council could do, and what it can’t to help out. Today we got a first hand example of what it can do. The number 30 service which connects the town centre and suburbs of Frome was due to be withdrawn. The commercial operator claimed it was unprofitable.
The rules over council support for bus routes date back to the deregulation of the buses. They are designed to be obstructive. So for instance, even if an operator makes super profits from one service, it cannot use those to cross subsidise another. It is designed to allow operators to make profits, but prevents them from helping isolated communities. A council may only step in to run a service if there is a social need and a commercial operator cannot be found.
The old number 30 was withdrawn on 20 August. Transporting Somerset appointed Somerset County Council’s own in house bus fleet to take over the service. SCC say there has been a seamless changeover to the new service starting today (Monday 22 August). The new council service operates the same timetable, route and fares from Monday to Friday,. There will be the same route and fares on Saturday too: “plus some minor tweaks to the timetable to allow the bus service to run more efficiently.”
Cllr Mike Rigby, SCC’s Executive Lead Member for Transport and Digital was pleased with the result: “We don’t have unlimited funding. We sometimes have to make difficult choices on which routes we can subsidise if operators cease to run them. In this case we were able to identify the necessary funding to ensure we keep the service running for now. It is with a view to finding a new commercial operator to run the route in the future, if patronage improves.”
I do hope residents of suburban Frome will use the rescued bus service to get to the town centre, even if it means the tiny inconvenience of not using their car. This will encourage the council to protect bus services elsewhere in Somerset.