Buses clash in turf war

Crossville and First Bus vehicles in the town centre.

Crossville and First Bus vehicles in the town centre. - Credit: Archant

A WESTON bus firm has been accused of ‘putting its interests ahead of customers’ by its main rival in a row threatening to nearly double passengers’ waiting times on one of the town’s ‘lifeline’ routes.

First and Crosville buses both operate services around Weston, and the two firms are at loggerheads over the timing of their buses.

Crosville recently altered its timetable to schedule buses on the busy 103 route so its vehicles run just four minutes ahead of First’s number 3, effectively giving it a bigger chance of securing more passengers.

First has this week revealed plans to amend its own scheduling so buses from the two companies are once again evenly spaced – and has publicly ‘challenged’ Crosville to put passengers first by ‘respecting the 10-minute frequency’.

In response, Crosville insisted it would always ‘put Weston first’, but maintained it would not be ‘bullied’ out of setting its own schedules.

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An independent passenger watchdog told the Mercury this week bus services serve as a ‘lifeline’ for many people, and added any changes ‘must put passengers’ needs first’.

Crosville managing director Jon Jones-Pratt said its 103 bus operates into the quiet late-night hours, something First does not, and Mr Jones-Pratt said it needed to be a financially prudent service to keep running.

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He said: “It’s a commercial decision but you have got five vehicles running on this route. We are the main operator on the 103 route, and we have a system in operation running from 7am until midnight.

“We are trying to encourage value with low ticket prices, and we have got to be commercially viable to ensure we are able to provide that. It’s not all about profit – we were asked to put the 103 on by customers and it has helped the network.

“We want to make Weston blossom and get away from being pushed around with the big boys trying to bully its way through and get some PR.

“The 103 needs protecting – turn the clock back to five or 10 years ago and services were being pulled left, right and centre. We don’t have Bristol to help pull us up financially. The timetables don’t work, either; with traffic and things you end up just following each other around. We have been out to see the timings.”

First’s regional managing director James Freeman rejected criticism over the accuracy of timetables as ‘generally untrue’, and told the Mercury running the two services at regular intervals had proven better for the public.

He said: “If there are going to be lots of buses, passengers want them to be regular. It gives people a much better service – for many months, the Crosville buses were just sat in front of our own. It boils down to whether the operator puts its interests ahead of customers.

“The effect was that there were two buses very close to each other and then a gap of nearly 20 minutes until the next little convoy.

“We have no problem with competition, but we challenge the managing director of Crosville not to change the times yet again but in the interests of bus users to respect the 10-minute frequency on this important route.

“This will win more users out of cars onto the buses, thereby freeing up more road-space and benefitting the environment.”

Mike Hewitson, head of policy from independent watchdog Transport Focus, added: “For many, bus services are a lifeline. Any service changes must put passengers’ needs first and those changes must be publicised widely.”

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