Christmas Update 2022 and looking forward to 2023Dear All,
Hope you are all well. There are several important things going on in terms of buses in Wiltshire at the moment, and so we thought we would provide you with a comprehensive update ahead of the festive season.
The Annual Review of Wiltshire’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) has now been published, and can be found ((here)) on Wiltshire Council's site.. We are also mirroring the original 2021 BSIP, updates from November 2022, and the Enhanced Partnership documuents via Option 24/7.
As explained at the beginning of the document, it is intended that the Annual Review is a document for further discussion and review with stakeholders, to enable us to develop a fully revised BSIP in 2023.
In light of the fact that we were unsuccessful in achieving Department for Transport (DfT) BSIP funding, the aim is to set new and achievable targets alongside revised plans to grow bus patronage, increase bus modal share and meet the aims of the National Bus Strategy over the next 12 months. The Annual Review sets the framework, developing the BSIP in line with current funding constraints, and providing a basis for developing a detailed delivery plan for the future.
I should of course start by saying how good it is to see the numerous mentions of the working relationship and monthly meetings between Wiltshire Council and Option 24/7 in the document, and the obvious value that Wiltshire Council place on that. We very much look forward to further developing that relationship with them during the months and years ahead.
In general terms, the document takes a positive approach that says "These are the things we would like to look at doing even though we don't have much funding", rather than a shrug of the shoulders and a "That's all folks!" more negative view. Examples include:
- There is a clear focus on developing the proposed Superbus interurban bus network, particularly on routes out of Bath. With this in mind, our representatives in the area have been involved in our initial discussions aimed at working with Wiltshire Council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to introduce new fast "Wiltshire Whippet" bus services between Bath-Corsham-Chippenham, and from the University of Bath to Winsley, Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge. The document also sets a new objective/opportunity to explore increasing bus service provision between Bath and Melksham in the context of complementing the rail services from Melksham to other destinations, which alongside the electric Melksham Rail Link bus proposal to link Melksham Station with new housing developments and industrial areas, also holds out the prospect of reversing the recent loss of some town bus journeys in Melksham due to driver shortages. We will continue to work together in the New Year with the aim of bringing these new bus service proposals to fruition.
It should also be noted that another proposed Superbus interurban corridor between Chippenham-Calne-Royal Wootton Bassett-Swindon has recently had its key bus service frequency restored to every 20 minutes during the daytime, and we are hopeful that this will also be the case in the near future with the existing X31 bus service between Bath-Corsham-Chippenham. As well as this, restoring the every 30 minutes daytime frequency on the D1 Bath-Bradford-on-Avon-Trowbridge-Westbury-Warminster route once driver shortages ease has been a key priority for Wiltshire Council, and remains so.
- The assessment of potential new bus links around Mere and Warminster - including with Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) - is included as a new objective/opportunity in the document. Our Warminster representative has constantly raised the need to improve bus services in that quadrant as a result of local feedback, and Wiltshire Council's inclusion of that element in the BSIP Review, along with the recently introduced new and improved contracted bus service from Mere and Zeals to Gillingham, is evidence of the beginnings of a fresh commitment to the area, which we fully intend to nurture and encourage further in 2023.
- Developing the BSIP in line with current funding constraints does have have some drawbacks though, and although early progress in Malmesbury was made in improving the local bus network in line with our passengers' feedback, and in Chippenham, where the town bus services were expanded with extra journeys and new links to Birds Marsh, unfortunately the ambition to increase town bus services in Wiltshire to at least 2 buses per hour is being downgraded in priority due to the funding situation "for the time being" as the BSIP Review document puts it.
However, even here we are aiming to turn a negative into a positive, with the formation of the Wiltshire and Somerset Electric Bus Partnership that has been set up between the Town Councils of Westbury, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Corsham, Trowbridge and Frome, along with Option 24/7, our partner organisation Somerset Bus Partnership, and community interest electric bus operator The Big Lemon, who have recently begun operating bus services in the Bristol and Bath areas. One of the key aims of the Wiltshire and Electric Bus Partnership is for ourselves, Somerset Bus Partnership, The Big Lemon and the Town Councils involved to source new streams of funding to introduce new or improved electric town bus services in towns across Wiltshire and Somerset, and good progress towards achieving that is already being made in a number of places. Therefore, we would not be surprised at all to see at least a couple of these new or improved electric town bus services start operating in Wiltshire towns in the near future. We are holding monthly meetings to move this forward, and if you have a Town Council or equivalent in your community area that you think would want to work with us as part of the Partnership to introduce electric bus services, then please do drop us an email.
- In Salisbury, the objective within the BSIP remains to introduce "turn up and go" frequencies on key route corridors, improve infrastructure, and further roll out decarbonised bus services. Of course, this once again raises the debate as to whether it is desirable to focus several BSIP ambitions in one place. However, the buzz that has been created around the Taunton Bus Town BSIP scheme in Somerset, along with its new £1 single fare - also proposed in Salisbury - strongly demonstrates how beneficial it could be to showcase key BSIP improvements in one area which are clearly linked to key BSIP improvements right across the county as part of an overall integrated and coherent plan.
From 1 January 2023, 130 bus operators across the country will introduce a £2 fare cap on single tickets. The cap will remain in place until 31 March 2023. The DfT has issued guidance and a list of participating operators, which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/2-bus-fare-cap
In Wiltshire, you will note that Faresaver, Go Salisbury Reds/Swindon's Bus Company, Stagecoach and First West of England are all on the list, but FromeBus, Beeline, Coachstyle and Libra Travel are not.
However, Wiltshire Council have confirmed that there are special reimbursement arrangements for some of the smaller operators who only run tendered services. Therefore, they have issued instructions to non DfT-listed FromeBus, Beeline, Coachstyle and Libra Travel to implement the £2 fare cap on Wiltshire Council-tendered services, on the basis that the DfT will reimburse Wiltshire Council for it.
This means they are anticipating 100% coverage (excluding school services) of the £2 fare cap in Wiltshire, as the commercial services in the county are all operated by bus companies on the DfT list. It is undoubtedly one of our best upcoming opportunities to encourage more people to use the bus, so we would be very grateful indeed if you could do all you can to let people in your community area know about the £2 fare cap.
The tender for the revamped Wiltshire Connect Pewsey Vale bus network, funded by a £1.2m DfT Rural Mobility Fund grant, has gone out to operators this week. This is for 3 vehicles for new DRT services, and 2 vehicles for revised timetabled and semi-flexible bus services. A presentation explaining the scheme in detail is mirrored ((here))
It is no secret that it has been a struggle over the years for those on the ground in Pewsey Vale seeking the kind of bus service network that passengers truly want to persuade Wiltshire Council to deliver that. However, the feedback we have received is that Wiltshire Council have engaged positively with local community leaders and passenger representatives on this project, which is obviously a good early sign. It goes without saying that our community representatives and colleagues in Pewsey, Devizes, Marlborough and Tidworth have our full support as they work together with Wiltshire Council to achieve their aspirations within this scheme.
Our next Bus Service Improvement Plan meeting with Wiltshire Council will take place on Thursday 12 January 2023. I would be grateful if you could let me know of any issues that you would like us to raise there by return email - It would be appreciated if you could do this no later than Wednesday 4 January 2023, so that we can finalise a meeting agenda with Wiltshire Council in good time.
Last but not least, many thanks indeed to you all for your efforts and the support you have shown Option 24/7 as its community area representatives - It is hugely appreciated. Let me end by wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.