First Bus ‘extremely sorry’ for service issues as angry Bristol commuters claim operator is ‘killing the city’

Residents who rely on buses voiced their anger at a meeting of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca),

First Bus is a “cancer” on the Bristol region and should be stripped of its right to run its “egregiously poor” service, furious passengers told councillors.

Residents who rely on buses voiced their anger at a meeting of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), which is responsible for strategic transport, and urged drastic action to solve the crisis. It comes as the company last week announced the “temporary” cancellation of 1,450 bus journeys a week across the city, until at least April, because of a desperate shortage of drivers to meet its own timetables.

Bristol West Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire described the cancellations to more than a dozen routes as “the apparent collapse of Bristol’s public transport system”, while passengers spoke of the devastating impact on an already crumbling network.

In response, First said it was “extremely sorry” for the problems and said the changes would make services more reliable in the meantime.

Speaking at the Weca audit committee public forum on Thursday, November 17, commuter Joe Aldous said: “Every morning I have to walk five miles to work because the three buses that are supposedly meant to operate to get me in for 9am never run.

“My mental health is deteriorating as I waste my life away waiting for buses that never come – explaining to my boss why I’m late, losing my whole evening to the sands of time because you don’t care one iota about what’s going on.

“To First Bus I say, you have failed Bristol time and time again, you don’t run the buses in the morning, you barely run them in the evenings, and you’re rewarded for running an objectively failed service. You are a burden on the city, you are a burden on the country and you should all be ashamed of yourselves. We are all, quite rightfully, hateful of you. First Bus, you are a cancer and nothing more.”

Mr Aldous told Weca: “You are enabling First Bus in killing the city. It’s time for First to ship out.”

Several commuters vented their frustrations at the bus operator.

Committee member and Bristol Lib Dem councillor, Sarah Classick added: “First Bus and the bus system in the city are truly appalling and something needs to be done urgently.”

A First West of England spokesperson said: “We are extremely sorry for the problems customers are experiencing with our services as a result of the ongoing shortage of drivers.

“In early October, we implemented service changes designed to balance customer demand with available resources to deliver reliable services for our customers. The changes were a result of changing post-pandemic demand which has seen passenger numbers fall by around 25% compared to pre-Covid figures.

First Bus said it was ‘extremely sorry’ for the issues customers had faced and promised to improve its real-time information screens at bus stops.

“The effects of this have been further impacted by the driver shortages, also experienced by the rest of the industry, but which are particularly acute in our region. Continuing driver shortages are also making it difficult to operate all journeys in our current timetables.

“Consequently, we have just removed some journeys across several services on a temporary basis. By giving customers advance notice of cancellations, we want to make it easier for them to adjust their travel plans if need be.

“Cancelling these journeys in advance also means our operations teams can focus on delivering a more reliable service for our customers, rather than dealing with cancelling journeys on the day.”

The operator also noted affected journeys would show as cancelled on the First Bus app and on real-time information screens at bus stops.

“However, 95% of our journeys and all Metrobus journeys will continue to operate as planned,” the spokesperson continued. We appreciate these changes will cause some disruption to our customers – the very last thing any transport operator wants to do is reduce or cut services and journeys and we recognise the impact such changes are having on some of our communities. We are doing our utmost to address the driver shortage with an active recruitment campaign.”