OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on transport issues in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in The Pigeon in March 2020)

I’ve written about buses before in The Pigeon and it’s something a lot of constituents write to me about – now the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), which has the ultimate say over public transport in your area, wants to hear your thoughts on its plans for bus travel in Bristol South and beyond.

It relates to a transport strategy which aims to double bus passenger numbers in the region by 2036.

Bus travel is hugely important for people here in Bristol South. With some of the lowest levels of car ownership in the city, more people in Bristol South rely on a reliable and affordable bus network to get around. The citywide aim to reduce air pollution will never be achieved if we can’t get people out of cars and onto public transport.

Children from Hareclive E-Act Academy in Hartcliffe have been campaigning for free bus travel and this is something I support. Bristol South has huge issues with educational attainment and we need to remove barriers to this, one of which is issues around transport. Some children need to take two buses to get to school or college. We need to do better for these children.

Metro Mayor Tim Bowles says that ‘getting the West of England moving’ has been one of his key objectives since he was elected as mayor three years ago. Indeed, one of the aims of having a regional mayor was to help improve infrastructure such as transport but we’re yet to see this in action.

Last month (Feb), the government pledged an extra £5billion to improve bus and cycling services across England. It is up to Tim Bowles and WECA to secure a chunk of this funding for the region. This might go a small way to redressing the decade of cuts which have seem many routes disappear.

Here in Bristol South we’ve seen a reduced service with some buses no longer running on Sundays. And we are still waiting to see metrobuses running on the Hengrove to Ashton leg of the m4. I convinced WECA to reinstate it on the route map after it disappeared, but it’s not yet translated into actual buses on the road.

If you look at what other regional mayors such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester are doing, you’ll see the foundations being laid to create a more joined up and effective bus network using bus franchising, where a regional authority controls the frequency, fares and routes of buses. This is much like Transport For London, and something I have long called for.