The owner of an independent Bristol bus company is in advanced talks to take on and save a popular service from being cut next month.
The beleaguered number 96 bus from Brislington Square to Hengrove Park via Knowle West is one of several services being scrapped by FirstBus, which claims that passenger numbers are so low that it loses the company money each time it leaves the depot.
But the 96 is a vital service for many, particularly children and students who live in Knowle West and Hengrove and go to school or college in Brislington.
FirstBus is cutting or changing routes on several buses from October 9 due to a chronic shortage of drivers and a drop in passengers since the pandemic.
But now a small local bus operator is in talks with The West Of England Combined Authority (WECA) about taking on the number 96 bus from FirstBus.
At a public bus forum in Brislington last week, veteran bus operator Alan Peters of St Philips-based ABus told First West of England boss Chris Hanson and Metro Mayor Dan Norris that he would happily take on the threatened 96 route.
In front of a packed meeting of residents and bus users, he said he would take it on for £200,000 if it was to run Monday to Saturday or £150,000 for weekdays only.
Today, Mr Peters told Bristol World: “We are in negotiations with WECA to take on the 96. What we’ve been offered so far is only for six months. If it was for a year or longer, it will be worth buying an additional vehicle.
“The revenue on the 96 is very low and it wouldn’t be more viable [than it is under First Bus] but the £200,000 tender money would pay for the cost of running it.”
Mr Peters says he feels strongly about keeping the 96 running because it’s a bus that is needed by a lot of people in an area underserved when it comes to public transport.
“Most children and students in places like Knowle, Knowle West, Brislington and St Annes go to school and college in Brislington and I have an affinity with people in those areas.
“It’s a service that is needed but it’s a service that will never pay. When I was at school in Brislington many years ago, there were eight school buses picking up kids from Knowle, Brislington and Stockwood and now there’s practically nothing.
“I think there should be more school buses anyway and that would get children into the habit of using more buses in the first place.
“We are now in negotiations for the 96 and although it would be a slightly different timetable, the morning and afternoon journeys would be pretty much the same as it is now so kids can still get to school.”
The offer to take on the service comes as hundreds sign a petition for the 96, and 36, to be saved. The ePetition started by Brislington Councillor Tim Rippington will be given to Bristol City Council.
ABus was launched by Mr Peters in 1991 when he was made redundant from his management job at the Badgerline operator. The company went on to organise the free Glastonbury Festival buses from Castle Cary railway station and later ran buses to and from the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “I’m pleased we’re in the final stretch of talks to secure a service that’s so important for locals in Hengrove, Brislington and their surrounding areas.
“The conversations I’ve had with ABus have been really very positive from the start, and I’m glad work has been and continues to be progressing at pace.
“I promised we would put the pedal to the metal in the search for a solution for locals, and I’m confident with a bit more effort from both sides, we can dot every i and cross every t, and so get this agreement over the line.”