Under threat 96 bus service saved by independent operator and it’s on time ... almost

The beleaguered number 96 from Brislington Square to Hengrove Park was earmarked as one of several services being scrapped

A south Bristol bus service threatened with the axe has been saved by an independent bus company. The number 96 bus from Brislington Square to Hengrove Park via Knowle West was earmarked as one of several services being scrapped.

Operator First Bus claimed that passenger numbers on the 96 were so low that it lost the company money each time it left the depot. But St Philips-based ABus has taken on the 96 and it’s business as usual on this vital service, which is a lifeline for children and students who live in Knowle West and Hengrove and go to school or college in Brislington.

The timetable for the 96, which runs every two hours, is pretty much the same as it was under FirstBus. Reports on the first day indicate that the service has been running smoothly, although when Bristol World waited for the early afternoon bus in Brislington, it was running 12 minutes late.

First Bus cut or changed routes on several buses on Sunday (October 9). It claimed the reasons for the cuts was a shortage of drivers and a drop in passengers since the pandemic.

But at a public bus forum in Brislington last month, veteran bus operator Alan Peters of ABus told First West of England boss Chris Hanson and Metro Mayor Dan Norris that he would happily take on the threatened 96 route.

The 96 pictured in Brislington on the first day of service under new operator ABus

At the time he said: “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 felt 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.

Alan Peters of bus operator ABus is in talks to take over the threatened 96 service

“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.

“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.”

Hundreds of local people signed a petition for the 96 to be saved. The ePetition was started by Brislington Councillor Tim Rippington and was 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.