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Author Topic: Bristol Free bus service trial this weekend.  (Read 7589 times)
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« Reply #15 on: June 29, 2011, 03:22:20 pm »

Just discovered that the story of Bristol's FreeBus launch has made it to the national press.

From the guardian:

Citizens' bus service provides a free ride

The first surprise for passengers boarding the F1 bus outside Temple Meads station in Bristol on Saturday morning will be the sight of a good old-fashioned conductor. The second will be that he won't be demanding a fare.

This is FreeBus, a regular bus service funded entirely by residents. It will ferry passengers between the train station and the city centre from 10am to 6pm without troubling them for money or a travel pass.

Described as the UK's first community-funded public transport project free at the point of use, FreeBus is run and supported by a group of 700 transport activists, environmentalists and ordinary citizens.

Fed up with what they feel is a sub-standard and pricey public transport system in Bristol, they decided to raise money to launch their own non-profit service and to encourage people to use it by not charging them.

For now, FreeBus is operating only on Saturdays on a loop connecting the station with the city centre and its shopping centres, but there are plans to expand it to other days, other routes and perhaps other cities.

The chair of the group, Jack Phillips, claimed life in Bristol is blighted by buses that are expensive and slow, forcing people into cars.

"Local people have had enough, and we think they will embrace this project. This is a return to true public transport," Phillips, a master's degree student at Bristol University, said.

A trial run just before Christmas worked well. More than 30 volunteers helped, and the average number of passengers on board was 53.

Most encouragingly for the FreeBus group, the cost of running the service for the day was covered by donations from people who wanted to pay to help the scheme succeed.

"The response from passengers was tremendous," Phillips said. "Bus travel can be a dour experience in Bristol. But people loved the conductor helping people on and off, and when we explained what it was all about were very supportive."

One of the FreeBus conductors that day was Gus Hoyt, who has since been elected as a Green party councillor. He signed up because, following the general election, he feared that cuts in public transport, and many other areas, were bound to follow. They have ^ only this week Bristol city council's cabinet agreed transport cuts of ^2.2m.

"This was a very real project, something that we could grab hold of ^ a reclaiming of public transport in the city," Hoyt said. He believes FreeBus will demonstrate that citizens want to contribute to a quality public service and are prepared to try to seize power back from the politicians.

Hoyt said he does not use the buses in Bristol at the moment but walks or cycles instead, adding: "That's a quicker way of getting around."

Bristol's public transport has come in for criticism. In a report by the Campaign for Better Transport, published last year, the city was ranked 13th out of 19 cities for car dependency. FreeBus says only 13% of people use public transport to get to work.

Hoyt said the trial day was "brilliant", adding: "Passengers had huge smiles on their faces." He recalled one family from London who were thrilled to arrive in Bristol and get a free bus ride, and said: "The dad gave us a tenner as he got off." Even 14 and 15-year-olds were dipping into their pockets to donate towards the project.

FreeBus needs ^10,000 to run its Saturday service from 10am to 6pm for six months. More than ^7,000 has already been donated or pledged. If the scheme continues to succeed, the organisers will seek subsidies from the city council and try to get local businesses to help pay for the service. The bottom line is that nobody will be compelled to pay for a ride.

The project has not got its own vehicle, although hopes to invest in one in the future, but uses one owned by a "regular" bus operator in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The driver, passengers may be glad to learn, is a professional.

FreeBus hopes its model could be used for communities across the country. So as well as getting a quick, easy and cheap lift into the centre of Bristol, passengers on board F1 may just be part of a public transport revolution.

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