A protest will be held on Saturday after First Group announced the cancellation of bus route 161 between Shepton Mallet and Frome through Nunney with effect from 23 August.
A group of volunteers from Frome calling themselves the Frome and Villages Bus Users Group (Favbug) is organising a protest at the bus stop outside The George Hotel in the Market Place in Frome on Saturday 11 July at 10.45am.
Tracy Harding of Favbug said, “We need as many of you to get creative can you make yourselves some banners and placards to bring to Saturdays protest.”
“Can protesters from Nunney please try to put your villages name onto your banners and placards. It will send out a very clear massage to the bus operator and the council if your areas name is on them.”
“If you are coming in from other areas by bus can we please ask you to keep them covered up whilst you are on any buses. We don’t want to see bus users getting kicked off the bus before they have a chance to arrive at the protest.”
“If you are a member of any group and have your own banners please bring them along. If you have any t shirts or uniforms with your groups name on then can I ask you to wear them to the protest.”
A meeting about the cuts is being held upstairs at the Cheese and Grain in Frome on Thursday 9 July at 7pm. Local councillors and representatives from all affected communities are invited to take part in the meeting.
The meeting and protest focus on the planned cancellation of two bus routes, 161 and 184. Shepton Mallet, Doulting, Cranmore, Stoke St Michael, Leigh on Mendip, Chantry, Frome and Nunney are affected by the 161 route cut, whereas the 184 route affects Bath, Peasdown St John, Midsomer Norton, Withies Park, Chilcompton, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Holcombe, Colefore, Great Elm and Frome.
Tracy Harding of Favbug said, “If you are severely affected by cuts to the 161, such as you can’t get to school, work, hospital appointments – routine or to have major treatment for things like cancer -, or wont be able to visit elderly or sick relatives, please share your story on our website or Facebook page.
First Group has not released a statement. The firm’s social media team told Visit Nunney that the section of the route “is not being cancelled” because “we’ve not been made aware of anything”.
Chris Hanson, PR Manager for First in the West of England, subsequently told us, “It is worthy of note that First are making several changes to services across Somerset, a lot of which will benefit a large amount of people.”
This is likely to be of little solace to Nunney residents and visitors who use the already reduced service – every two hours instead of every hour, no public transport on Sundays and Bank Holidays – and now have to find an alternative.
Mr Hanson added, “The reasons these changes have not been put onto our website is that actually it is almost too early to be putting that information out yet as the change doesn’t take effect until 23 August 2015.”
“Usually service change information isn’t published until a month before the change to allow people time to prepare without the information becoming stale and out of date.”.
Not financially sustainable
In February a campaign to save the route resulted in extra money being made available by Somerset County Council. Now the bus operator says, however, that a large section of the route is no longer viable.
Andrew Sherrington, general manager for FirstGroup Wells, Weston & Bath, told Vist Nunney, “The section of the 161 between Frome and Shepton Mallet accounts for less than 10 per cent of all customers on the 161 route while accounting for 50 per cent of the resources required to run the service.”
“Although that section of the 161 is currently operated with some financial support from Somerset County Council, it is not financially sustainable to continue operating the current service pattern.”
Voluntary car scheme
Nunney already had no public transport on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Now the village will be left with no public transport and only a voluntary car scheme to provide transport for the frail and elderly to shops, friends and hospitals.
Teenagers and young adults without a car have also told us that they will sorely miss public transport to visit friends and socialise outside the village.
Nunney Parish Council has advanced plans for a new bus shelter in green oak in the Market Place – plans that are likely to be affected by the cancellation of the bus service.
Mr Sherrington added that Somerset County Council had been involved throughout our decision making process. “They are currently investigating the potential impact of these changes before deciding how further to proceed.”
David Warburton, the MP for Somerton and Frome said cuts to the service could impact lots of people living in Shepton Mallet and Frome. He added that he had set up a meeting with Somerset County Council to discuss the issue. “Without a functioning bus route, young people, old people are completely isolated,” he said.
“Withdrawing any kind of bus service is a huge loss to our community. I hope that I can act as a go-between, between the county council and bus services to find a solution.”
However, there may be a glimmer of hope – a rival bus company has said that they may be willing to step in to keep our communities moving.
Mark Petherton, operational manager of Webberbus, said his company may be willing to step in to reconnect Shepton Mallet to Frome.
“We exist to fill the gaps, and if an opportunity like this exists, we would look to take it. Shepton Mallet and Frome is a little outside our operating area, but as we already provide services in Wells, it is certainly something we would look into doing.”