PUBLIC transport campaigners Wiveliscombe Bus User Group is calling on First Bus and Somerset Council to urgently review the current No 25 service timetable after a huge drop in passengers was reported.

The group is concerned changes brought in during April which were intended to save the under-threat route from Taunton via Wiveliscombe to Dulverton were actually making matters worse.

It said research showed since the timetable changes fewer people were using the No 25 bus.

A spokesman said: “We are concerned that if bus use does decline, First Bus will use this to propose and justify further cuts.

“The current timetable clearly does not work for residents of our outlying towns who need decent public transport.

“The 25 service has become even more unsatisfactory for everybody, but the impact on students has been particularly stressful, and, sometimes, devastating.”

The No 25 route had been at risk of stopping because First Bus said it was not viable without a public subsidy, which the council said it could no longer afford because the authority was struggling to avoid going bankrupt.

A compromise between council and company was reached for a one-year extension of the service but on a reduced timetable.

The spokesman for the group, which is part of Somerset Bus Partnership, said: “When the new timetable was published, it was clear there had been some cuts at busy and popular times of the day to the number of daily buses serving outlying towns such as Milverton, Wiveliscombe, and Dulverton.”

The group surveyed travellers via a street stall and online during May and early June and a large majority said the new timetable was less suitable and they now used the bus less often.

An overall eduction of about 40 per cent in the weekly number of bus journeys was reported.

Passengers said a major problem came from withdrawing the mid-afternoon bus from Taunton, resulting in nearly a three-hour gap before the final bus of the day at 5.45pm, particularly for students.

Similarly, the loss of the well-used 9.30am Wiveliscombe to Taunton service left a three-hour gap between the day’s first bus at 7.40am and the next at 10.40am.

The spokesman said: “The feedback shows it has become more difficult for bus passengers in general to get into town in the mornings to do their business and attend appointments.

“But the timetable changes appear to have impacted most severely on students, making it difficult for them to get to mid-morning classes or get home afterwards in a timely way.

“Parents have sometimes had to drive them long distances, or students have had excessively long days if they travel by bus, 12-hour days being quoted in some instances.

“Reduced frequency and less suitable departure and return times were mentioned by many, but with fewer buses, respondents also commented the remaining buses have become more crowded and uncomfortable.

“And unreliability and late running services remain a problem and one which is made worse by the reduced frequency.”