WESTlink is a new service which has replaced around forty scheduled rural bus services in the West of England. It is a demand responsive transport (DRT) service, which is booked by telephone, online, or using a smartphone app.
The background to WESTlink is discussed in detail in this article on Roger French’s ‘Bus and Train User’ blog. It is probably not unfair to say that WESTlink is an experiment, driven by the Department for Transport’s funding rules as much as anything.
WESTlink is organised into Three zones:
- North, covering the area around Thornbury, Yate and Marshfield;
- South, covering the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare, Nailsea, Clevedon, Radstock, Midford and Keynsham;
- Future Transport Zone (FTZ), covering Severnside, Filton and Bradley Stoke.
Journeys must be completed within a zone, so while you could travel from Clapton in Gordano to Wellow in a single journey, you’d have to book two rides to get from Compton Dando to Bitton.
Severnside is part of both FTZ and South, and Keynsham is in both North and South zones. The North and South zones operate from 07.00 to 19.00, Monday to Saturday, while the FTZ operates from 05.30 to 21.30 Monday to Saturday and 09.00 to 18.00 on Sundays. We are not clear on how the FTZ will be distinct from the other zones other than that it appears that other Mobility as a Service facilities will be available in this area.
The fare for a single journey is a flat £2 for adults and £1 for children.
According to WESTlink, ‘Passengers can get on or off at existing bus stops (over 1,800) as well as at a number of easy to reach places, and then connect to major bus and rail services.’ Severn Beach station could have acted as a railhead for the area around Thornbury and Almondsbury, but its zoning at the extremity of the FTZ prevents this. Similarly WESTlink vehicles serving Bristol Parkway station will be in the wrong zone to serve Winterbourne and Frampton Cottrell.
FoSBR believe that integration between modes is essential for good public transport. We think that bus-rail integration was not properly considered when the zones were drawn up.
Will it work?
In principle, properly funded, WESTlink could provide a better way to serve rural areas. In practice, however, we have some concerns. Conventional timetabled bus services allow users to plan their day. Will WESTlink users be able to rely on getting a ride when they need it in times of high demand? According to Roger French:
WECA confirm it’s been awarded to an operator “with a one hour service level” adding in its report to that January meeting “in some cases, this offer will far exceed current supported bus service availability”. That’s as maybe for a once a week shopping journey type bus service when maybe you are flexible enough to book your bus and then wait an hour for it to arrive, but it’s a completely different matter if you’re travelling to work or school or a medical appointment and previously had the certainty of a fixed timetabled bus service on which you could rely but now you could be waiting for the bus to arrive for up to an hour.
FoSBR campaigns for rail at the heart of a sustainable transport system. DRT could be used to feed train stations, expanding their catchments. This only works if the zoning allows it, and if people can reliably book buses to deliver them in time to catch their train.