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Q&A: Bristol bus routes go out to tender

First Bus in Bristol
Some services could be run by operators other than First

Some bus services in Bristol are to be put out to tender as Bristol City Council looks to lower fares.

The council is looking at whether other operators could run some of the subsidised services such as some park and rides.

Currently First runs 55% of council-backed routes but could lose some of these from next September.

We look at what might happen and the reasons the council wants to attract more operators to Bristol.

Q, What is the current make-up of bus services in Bristol?

A, There are two types of bus service in Bristol; commercial, non-subsidised services of which bus operator First controls 95%, and council-subsidised services of which First controls 55%.

Q, What is the authority doing to try and bring new operators to Bristol?

A, On Monday, Bristol City Council held a special meeting to discuss who would control the subsidised market for around the next five to eight years.

Q, Who came to this meeting?

A, First was among 13 bus operators who attended - including National Express and Stagecoach. Although the city council has no control over the non-subsidised services - that is for the traffic commissioner to decide - it can have an impact on the services it part-funds.

Q, What are the next steps?

Operators are being invited to bid for routes by June 2011. Successful bids would see them take over from September that year. Some 60 contracts are available with £5m of council funding behind them.

Q, What routes would this include?

The subsidised routes include some park and ride services, night buses, orbital loops and some early, late and weekend buses.

Q, Why are the council doing this? What benefit could it bring to Bristol?

Councillor Gary Hopkins says he wants more bus operators to come to Bristol and he wants to see fares lowered. He claims a study has shown fares cost around £16 a week in Bristol whereas in other comparable cities it is £12.

Q, What does First Bus have to say about this?

Tony McNiff, the managing director of First in Bristol, says it is "nothing new" that tenders go out for subsidised services and other operators run alongside First already in Bristol.

Q, But surely part of the problem is that fares are too high?

Mr McNiff says the firm dropped fares by 7% earlier this year making day rates £4, and the weekly fare went down 5%. He says Cllr Hopkins was not "terribly specific" about which other cities were cheaper than Bristol.

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