Bristol mayor Marvin Rees calls for city’s bus services to be brought back under public control

He’s ‘massively concerned’ about First’s recent wave of cuts

The Mayor of Bristol has called for the city’s buses to be brought back under public control after the recent wave of cuts to services by First left him ‘massively concerned’.

Speaking to BristolWorld at a press conference this morning (Wednesday, April 27) Marvin Rees said public transport was a vital ‘public good’ and something he’d like to see Bristol City Council ‘get their hands on’.

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On Sunday (April 24) more than 20 services across the city were changed or axed altogether by First, which blamed driver shortages, dwindling passenger numbers and the ill-effects of the pandemic.

But cuts like these, said Mr Rees, come at a ‘real cost’ to Bristol - driving ‘social fragmentation’ and blocking opportunities for people within communities left without a reliable route into the city centre.

Passengers on a First bus wait for it to leave a stop in Bristol.

Mr Rees said: “Bus companies are private companies and we don’t control them.

“These companies have to produce a return for their board and aren’t based in our city, so they’re not immediately locally accountable - they’re accountable nationally.

“That’s not to say that the local management [at First] isn’t good. Drivers, Covid and how First manage their workforce is something we’re going to have to be gracious about.

“I think in James Freeman and Doug Claringbold we have people who are really batting for Bristol and working hard for us. But again, they’re part of a multi-national company.

“And our point to the Government is that public transport, like health and education, is a public good.

“It needs to come back under public control so that we can wield it to build coherent, inclusive communities.

“And so we can decarbonise the fleet, which again is subject to a business case within a company that isn’t accountable to the places in which operates.”

With regards to the recent cuts, he said: “We’re massively concerned about it.”

Plans to bring bus services into public control are already underway elsewhere in the country.

Transport for Greater Manchester are set to have have the final say on routes, timetables and fares for a number of different franchises in the city, which bus operators would then bid competitively for, from 2023.

It follows a High Court ruling that Great Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s move to hand bus services to the public, ‘putting people before profits’, was ‘not unlawful’ after the decision was challenged by Stagecoach Manchester and Rotola.

Ultimately, Mr Rees added, the situation in Bristol all boils down to funds and a green light from the Government.

“Ownership is one thing, but there’s no substitute for money,” Mr Rees went on.

“National government put loads of money into Transport for London. And that’s great for them, I’m not complaining about it, they need it.

“I’m just saying we should all get it so that people have a viable alternative to the private car and we can build that city connectivity.”