BUS It for ‘Less than a Latte’ is the message from Somerset Council as it kicks-off a campaign to drive up passenger numbers on four key bus routes.

The campaign was launched hot on the heels of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing this week that the Government was extending its £2 fares for any single journey cap to December, 2024.

The latest round of the ‘Bus It’ campaign, supported by the Somerset Bus Partnership, aims to support four at-risk First Bus South routes covering Minehead, Wiveliscombe, Dulverton, Taunton, Yeovil, Wincanton, and villages in between. 

Working with First Bus, the council will be targeting communities along the at-risk routes, raising awareness of the services and highlighting the affordability of bus travel and the many other upsides of leaving the car at home.

The Government’s support means any single bus fare in the county still costs just £2 - less than the price of latte from most high street coffee shops.

The council has already stepped in to use funding from its Government Bus Service Improvement grant to subsidise some struggling bus routes, including the No 25 from Taunton via Cotford St Luke, Wiveliscombe, and Waterrow to Dulverton, and West Somerset’s No 28 Taunton-Williton-Watchet-Minehead, until the end of next March.

Residents warned to 'use or lose' the at-risk No 28 bus between Minehead and Taunton.
Residents warned to 'use or lose' the at-risk No 28 bus between Minehead and Taunton. (Tindle News)

But it said in the face of its huge budget shortfall it could not commit to supporting the services beyond March.

A spokesman said: “Unless passenger numbers rise significantly and the services become financially viable for First Bus South, which operates Buses of Somerset, the at-risk the services may be reduced or stopped completely.”

First Bus South has signalled it will review the routes before the funding ends next year, taking into account new data on passenger uptake.

Somerset executive Cllr Mike Rigby said: “We will be appealing directly to the communities on these routes to safeguard their services by using them.

“The extension of the £2 fare is great news for bus passengers and anyone thinking about getting on board.

“All these routes link key towns and many village communities in between, but simply not enough people are using them.

“In the current financial climate, the council will not be able to subsidise these routes indefinitely and that inevitably means people need to use their buses or lose them.

“If you live in these communities and you are commuting to Taunton or Yeovil by car it has to be worth your while to think about the savings you can make by using the bus instead with the rising cost of fuel compared to cheap bus fares – less than a latte to get to the centre of Taunton from Langport or Somerton.

Bus it for 'less than a latte'.
Bus it for 'less than a latte'. (Tindle News)

“If you do the maths, it is close to a 50-mile round trip from Taunton to Minehead on the 28, which costs just £4. What else can you buy for that these days that offers that kind of value?”

First Bus South director James Eustace said: “We are working closely with Somerset Council to ensure we provide services that local people can rely on.

“We have been open about the challenges we have faced in Somerset, but we are working hard to address reliability and punctuality through our new network timetable, as well as recruiting more drivers. 

“We want to encourage people to use the bus as a cost effective, greener method of transport.

We will be playing our part by continuing to improve reliability, helping our passengers get to where they need to be.”

Somerset Council and the Somerset Bus Partnership launched the ‘Bus It’ campaign last summer to try to encourage more people to ‘Bus It’.

More information, including working out how much you could save, is here.

Figures show that bus use increased by 32 per cent across the county between January and June of this year thanks to initiatives such as fare capping, which includes a £1 fare in Taunton, and the ‘Bus It’ campaign. 

To plan a journey on any Somerset bus route, visit the council’s Think Travel portal here.