Buses matter. They are a lifeline here in Cheltenham for so many people, from children travelling to school to older people attending appointments at Cheltenham General.
And like many in Cheltenham, I have grown increasingly frustrated over recent months by the unreliable service. The delays, cancellations and disruption have been completely unacceptable. Some have been left for hours waiting in vain for a bus. School, work and important medical appointments have sometimes been sometimes missed altogether.
That’s why I robustly challenged Stagecoach, and made clear that the service was not performing adequately. Although it’s true that passenger numbers have dropped significantly since the pandemic, something confirmed by the drivers I chatted to on the Prom, that wasn’t an excuse in my view.
Now at last, the situation seems to be improving. In response to pressure from me and our wider community, Stagecoach published an action plan to drive up reliability and capacity. Key to it is ensuring better staffing levels on core routes, through boosting driver recruitment and working conditions. That is very welcome, and early signs are that it is having a positive impact.
But I was concerned that the plan proposed the withdrawal of Service F, from Leckhampton into town, including stops at the hospital and the Bath Road shops.
This community should not be left without access to an adequate bus service. So I was pleased that the local authority subsequently agreed to my calls to put a bid for a replacement F service out to tender. That has been successful, and Marchants have stepped in.
Encouragingly, I have received really positive feedback from residents about Marchants’ service, which is proving reliable and comfortable. I have this week written to the Cheltenham company to thank them for achieving high standards.
We still have a way to go. But the situation is much improved. I will be meeting with the local authority on Friday to discuss next steps.
[Column first published in the Glos Echo]