Dial-a-Ride and community minibuses in Bristol axed - while ‘big question marks’ hang over 12 bus routes

Despite the announcement by Bristol Community Transport (BCT) , the M1 metrobus it operates is understood to be safe

Vital community bus services used by hundreds of vulnerable people in Bristol will be axed from Friday (August 26).

Bristol Community Transport (BCT) has announced that its Dial-a-Ride service and community minibuses, which are a lifeline for many elderly and disabled residents, will stop operating despite desperate last-minute efforts to find alternative providers.

West of England metro mayor Dan Norris says “big question marks” now hang over BCT’s dozen mainstream bus services, although the m1 metrobus is understood to be safe.

In a statement on Tuesday (August 23), the social enterprise organisation said: “We regret to announce that Bristol Community Transport will no longer be in a position to deliver our community transport services in Bristol – including Dial-a-Ride and minibuses for groups.

“These services will come to an end on Friday, August 26.

Lynn McClelland, chief executive of BCT’s parent organisation HCT Group, said: “It’s a sad day for all of us.

“We understand just how important these services are for the people that use them and it is the last thing we wanted to do.

“The move follows a period where we have been rocked by multiple challenges – a period of difficult trading prior to the pandemic, the financial impact of the pandemic itself, followed immediately by the current surge in fuel prices and the cost-of-living crisis.

“This has led to a position where continued delivery of these services is unsustainable.

“We have tried to the very last minute to find an alternative operator for these services, but sadly, we have been unsuccessful, which means these services will now come to an end.”

Labour’s Mr Norris, who heads the region’s transport authority the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), said: “On Friday, the buses run by Bristol Community Transport are scheduled to run as normal, but there are big question marks over their future.

“But sadly, their minibus and Dial-a-Ride services will stop.

“HCT, the owner of Bristol Community Transport, is in trouble nationwide and has also recently pulled out of running bus services in Yorkshire and is selling off their London operations.

“When the West of England Combined Authority became aware of the problematic situation it urgently contacted other bus companies to see if they would take over the running of both the buses and the community transport.

“Progress is being made on the main bus routes, including the flagship m1, and we are hopeful that some of the other services will be taken over by other providers too to provide continuity.

“There is also some limited interest from community transport providers to take over those services going forward but sadly not immediately.”

A spokesperson for First West of England said: “The m1 service is operated by HCT under contract with First and we expect the service to remain operating.

“We recognise this is an important route for Bristol and we will take all necessary steps to ensure that it remains so.”

Bristol city Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Brown said the Dial-a-Ride service closed suddenly last week.

He said: “Most of the affected services are subsidised for a reason – it is a reflection of the importance of ensuring that communities are connected and that residents have access to public transport that will facilitate their needs, enabling them to access shops, healthcare, and leisure venues.

“Bristol Lib Dems believe that consideration should be given to Weca purchasing Bristol Community Transport in order to protect both the service it provides, and the jobs of its staff.

“We have been calling for more public control of our buses for several years and the current administration has always rejected this. Now, they may have no choice.”

Bedminster-based BCT has about 600 active passengers and provides crucial services such as taking people with mobility problems to the shops.

It is understood talks are ongoing to try to find replacement providers for its mainstream buses.

These are the 505 Long Ashton park and ride to Southmead Hospital, the 52 South Bristol Hospital to Cabot Circus, Bond Street and Old Market, the 53 Clevedon circular, the 54 Bristol Airport to Clevedon, 55 South Bristol to Bristol Airport, 506 Broadmead to Southmead Hospital, 511 Bedminster to Hengrove, 512 Broadmead to Bedminster, 515 Stockwood to Hartcliffe, 516 Knowle to Hengrove Park via Whitchurch, and the 62 Dursley to Bristol.