Last updated: 19th March
I worked hard to get the bus connection to Clevedon (and Bristol Airport) re-instated in April 2021, but as we know, we lost the 54 service on 2nd September 2022 after the bus operator, HCT, was wound up. North Somerset Council had supported that service to the tune of £118,000. First Bus subsequently withdrew their X2 service on 9th October 2022, leaving us without a bus service. That was a new low point and is unnaceptable.
I still want the return of a timetabled Clevedon – Yatton service, and we will get that with the re-route of the X5 – once the High Street improvements are completed in the summer.
The commercial bus market is broken and while fixed-route buses are incredibly efficient in areas of higher population density, they are often hugely inefficient in more rural or semi-rural areas like large parts of North Somerset. We’ve all seen double-deckers in the middle of the day with absolutely no-one – or hardly anyone – onboard.
We needed to do something different to transform public transport in North Somerset, so in partnership with the West of England Combined Authority, the council is launching a new, Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) bus service on Monday 3rd April – branded as WESTlink – to help serve areas of the district without regular routes – or like Yatton, Claverham, Kingston Seymour and Kenn – re-connect communities without any service at all.
We will still support fixed-route services where this is viable, but DRT will (I hope) give us the best of both worlds – the DRT service can provide more efficient transport cover for a larger geographical area which then acts as a ‘feeder’ service into the fixed-route lines.
This will be very new for our area so bear in mind this is under development and the precise scope might change in the early days as we respond to how people use the service. But this is a genuine and exciting opportunity to improve access to bus services for many rural communities currently missing out or paying the price for service cuts.
How will it work?
There will be no fixed route and there’s no fixed timetable. The bus comes to you, typically using smaller, more agile 16-seater wheelchair accessible vehicles. This map shows in green the areas where the service will initially operate in North Somerset.
You will be able to book a journey through a branded mobile phone app – or by making a phone call to trained staff at a call centre – for a journey as little as 60 minutes before you want it, or up to 24 hours in advance.
You be able to choose a start and finish point and provide a “Depart at” or “Arrive by” time and will receive instructions on where to catch your bus – usually from a stop near to your home – and be told how long you will need to wait to be picked up and taken to your destination. You will also be able to book a return journey. The technology is ‘intelligent’ and cleverly reacts to the various requests and demands and pulls together trips in real time to optimise the best route for drivers and passengers who have booked. You might want to make a short trip within the ‘zone’ or connect to an enhanced timetabled fixed-route service on the wider public transport network, such as the X1.
The DRT zone has been drawn to allow for greater flexibility. So, for example… you will be able to book a bus from Yatton to the surgery at Pudding Pie Lane in Langford or the community hospital in Clevedon. If you live in Kingston Seymour (where I believe there has been no bus service for nearly a decade), from April you will be able to book a seat on a bus to take you to Yatton railway station, or Clevedon seafront… wherever you want to go really, as long as your destination is within the zone.
If using the mobile app, you will be able to see the vehicle approaching on the app and receive an alert prompting you to start moving in the direction of a nearby bus stop.
Along with bringing every bus stop back into use (with hundreds of new bus shelters being installed over the next two years), there will be lots of ‘floating bus stops’, too.
If you have a disability you will be able to register with the service for home pick ups and drop offs.
I have high hopes for DRT, and it is certainly not a silver bullet to solving public transport in our area; but I believe it is an important step – and this is the biggest mobilisation of DRT to date in the UK.