MORE than 100 people at the weekend attended the first of a series of protest rallies against bus service cuts in the Wiveliscombe and West Somerset areas and elsewhere.
The rally, one of the largest in many years, was organised in Yeovil by the Somerset Bus Partnership.
It follows First Bus South’s announcement that it would have to cut the frequency of the No 25 and 28 services in April if Somerset Council did not continue to subsidise them.
The No 28 route connects Minehead via Dunster, Watchet, and Williton to Taunton and would be reduced from a half-hourly service to one every 45 minutes.
The No 25, which runs from Dulverton via Bampton, Wiveliscombe, and Milverton to the county town, would become a three-hourly service, with a spur to Langley Marsh axed completely.
The council currently uses a Government grant to support the buses until March 31, but said it will not have enough money to continue doing so as it attempts to avoid bankruptcy and close a £100 million budget shortfall.
A recent promotional campaign saw passenger numbers increase but First Bus said it was not enough to make the routes viable, and it would also have to stop two buses serving the South Somerset area for the same reason.
Bus partnership co-chairman Peter Travis said: “Our campaigning to protect and improve our bus services in Somerset must and will continue.
“Somerset has some of the worst-rated bus services in the country and we deserve and need better.
“The best way each of us can help improve our buses is to choose to go by bus more often.
“But we want the council and First Group to play their part by ensuring these vital bus services are there for us to use.”
The partnership, which is the umbrella organisation for the 11 bus users groups in towns across Somerset, is planning more demonstrations across the county.
Mr Travis said: “Two-thirds of Somerset councillors from all the major political parties, when they were elected in May, 2022, made a pledge to improve bus services in Somerset.
“We will hold them to their commitment.”
In a joint statement, First Bus and the council said: “Representatives from both Somerset Council and First Bus South are continuing to work together and have frank and constructive conversations about the issues.
“Both parties remain very hopeful a way forward can be found for these services.
“We understand people’s very real concerns and we hope to be able to provide an update soon.”
More information about the pledge signed by councillors, and who put their names to it, can be found here.
An online petition launched by the partnership last week against the bus cuts has so far attracted nearly 1,500 signatures.
The partnership was formed in 2021 to provide a voice for people in Somerset and ensure their views were heard on what was needed from bus services.
It aims to encourage a ‘modal shift’ from private cars to buses and to improve bus/rail integration.