Two school bus services are axed

Two bus services that ferry students and pupils to a South Gloucestershire school are being scrapped. The axing of the 458 and 963 from September will mean children from the Bradley Stoke area who attend Winterbourne Academy will be left stranded.

South Gloucestershire Council has told the school that it is “very unlikely” that the buses will continue as it can no longer afford to subsidise them, while Travelwest’s website confirms that they are due to be cancelled on September 3.

Both are regular public “supported services” that lose money and so are subsidised by the council.

The authority says it recently allocated £352,000 to save five other routes, including three which will continue to serve the school in Winterbourne and “keep communities connected”.

The 458, operated by Stagecoach, runs from Fishponds to the academy via Downend, Frenchay and Bromley Heath, while the 963 from Patchway, which was only taken over by Transpora from Stagecoach in April, stops at Aztec West, Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford.

In a letter to parents at the end of last term, Winterbourne headteacher Jenny Cartwright said the council had told the school that it could no longer pay for the buses. She wrote: “I have been told by South Gloucestershire Council that, whilst there is no formal decision on the routes, it is very unlikely indeed that these services will run.

“There is no additional funding available from South Gloucestershire for these routes, and the council have also reminded me that WECA (West of England Combined Authority) have stated that services will not be reviewed again until April 2024.

“The ‘late bus’ which takes students home when they stay to clubs or have lessons at other Olympus [Academy] schools and therefore miss the normal bus will continue. This leaves the school site at around 4.30pm.

“However, spaces on this are limited and we will be reviewing the impact on this bus in September in order to assess if there is a need to change how the bus operates in the future.”

She said that Stagecoach had told her three other of its services to the school – the 427, 459 and 460 – would continue but with different timetables.

The headteacher wrote: “The 460 route has been saved by ‘stacking’ it with the other bus routes. This means that the same bus and driver will complete one route and then another.

“In the [new] timetable, the 459 stacks with the 460 in the morning and the 427 in the afternoon. This will mean that some learners will arrive to school earlier than the school would have been previously open.

“Whilst it is good that three of our routes are continuing, I appreciate that the timetable changes and the loss of the 963 and 458 will be concerning to many parents.”

A council spokesman said: “WECA is the local transport authority and is responsible for bus services in the region. We became aware that support for a number of local bus services was being withdrawn earlier this year and since then we have been working tirelessly to find alternative ways to fund them, as they play an important role in taking local children to school.

“We’ve recently committed an additional £352,000 to extend the 622, 84/85, 427, 459 and 460 services to keep communities connected and enable the children that use them to get to school.

“Unfortunately, we do not have unlimited resources to fund all the services at risk, and we encourage partners to work with communities and bus operators to find a solution to the issues facing many bus services across the West of England region.”

By Adam Postans,  Local Democracy Reporter