PARK and ride bus services in Taunton will be put under new management in the New Year after Buses of Somerset said it was pulling out of its contract.

The company has been operating services from both the Silk Mills and Gateway sites since July, 2021, when it was awarded a five-year county council contract with the possibility of a two-year extension.

But First South West, which trades as Buses of Somerset, has told Somerset Council it was ‘no longer viable’ for it to run the service, despite a recent increase in passenger numbers.

Now, the council’s executive has said a new contractor has been appointed and it would work with Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, to improve the service to better suit the needs of the medical staff.

However, the council has refused to name the new operator, citing ‘commercial sensitivity’.

Both park and ride sites currently operate from Monday to Saturday with single-decker vehicles running every 15 minutes between 6.35 am and 7.30 pm on weekdays, and every 20 minutes between 8.15 am and 6.30 pm on Saturdays.

They are served in the evenings by other local bus services, including the No 1E and No 30, both of which are also operated by First.

The council has been encouraging more people to travel by public transport by using a £11.9 million Government bus service improvement grant to cap park and ride fares at £1 for a single journey until March 31, 2025.

Although numbers rose after the low fares were introduced, passengers were reported to be put off using the Silk Mills site, in Bishops Hull, because of several recent incursions by travellers.

Somerset executive Cllr Mike Rigby said: “We have had some more recent conversations with Musgrove Park Hospital, where parking has become a problem, particularly in the residential streets surrounding the hospital.

“While we previously adjusted the timetable, it did not quite fix the problem, so there is an opportunity now to look at that, to ensure the timings of the buses fit better with the shift timings of staff at the hospital.”

Part of the Gateway site, in Henlade, will continue to be leased to EDF Energy for its own park and ride service for workers on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station construction site.

Cllr Dave Woan said: “As a regular user of the park and ride, I am pleased to hear it is being maintained.

“Most of the time when I use it from the Gateway site, it is two-thirds full, that is in the early morning.

“I have not driven into the centre of Taunton since 2018.”

Fellow Somerset executive Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts said: “We have seen in our previous Somerset West and Taunton days the positive impact this has on the urban centre of Taunton, helping traffic on the Toneway.

“It is positive that we continue this, and I wonder what other out-of-the-box ideas we can have, perhaps working with the airport services that run from the Blackbrook Business Park?

“Maybe there is something we can do with the buses in relation to promoting the independent businesses in the centre of the town?”

The mystery new operator will begin running park and ride services from February 12, 2024, under an initial three-year contract.