TWO under-threat West Somerset bus services have been given a 12-month reprieve after an agreement was reached between First Bus South and Somerset Council.

The council had previously said it could not afford to continue subsidising the No 28 and 25 services after March.

But it has now agreed to use Government funding to support the 25 bus for a further year, while at the same time the 28 will operate without the subsidy.

First Bus has agreed to continue to run and promote both services during the year while working with the council and the Somerset Bus Partnership to maintain a campaign to encourage more people to use the buses.

The No 25 Taunton via Wiveliscombe and Bampton to Dulverton bus makes its way past protesters on Saturday.
The No 25 Dulverton bus makes its way past anti-cuts protesters in Wiveliscombe. (Alain Lockyer)

The No 28 route connects Minehead via Dunster, Watchet, and Williton to Taunton, while No 25 runs from Dulverton via Bampton, Waterrow, Wiveliscombe, and Milverton to the county town.

Both services, as well as two other buses serving South Somerset, were at risk of being stopped or reduced due to low passenger numbers.

The bus partnership has held a series of protest rallies against the cuts and on Tuesday (February 20) lobbied Somerset councillors when they met in Bridgwater to agree a budget for 2024-25.

It also launched an online petition against the cuts which in just one week was signed by more than 2,500 people.

Details of changes to the 25 and 28 services will be announced by the company shortly. 

The 25 will continue to serve all points on its route, but to ensure it remains viable, the timetable will see some changes.

Some daytime journeys will divert on the 28 route through Cotford St Luke and North Fitzwarren at certain times of the day and will be renumbered as 28A. 

Service 28 will also be revised, including some direct journeys between Taunton and Minehead, and the introduction of an express service for customers of Butlin’s, in Minehead, numbered X28, which will operate Monday to Friday.

Following feedback from stakeholders, the evening 28 services will be retimed to align with trains serving Taunton Station.

Somerset executive Cllr Richard Wilkins said: “We are really pleased to be able to make this announcement today, after long and detailed negotiations.

“We know how important these services are for people and we have recently seen the strength of feeling around ensuring they are protected.

“Passenger numbers have been rising, which is positive, this trend still needs to continue to ensure the long-term future of the routes.

“The message to everybody is please do keep using and valuing these services, and we will continue to work with Buses of Somerset and Somerset Bus Partnership to promote bus travel.”

Protests against bus service cuts took place in Wiveliscombe.
Protests against bus service cuts took place in Wiveliscombe. (Alain Lockyer)

First Bus South commercial director James Eustace said: “Reducing or withdrawing services is the last thing we want to do, so we are delighted to have found a solution with Somerset Council that allows the four routes to continue to run.

“While running these services remains commercially challenging, we understand how valued the services are, which is why we have agreed to support the local community and continue to run the 28 route without financial assistance.

“However, we need to be clear that for bus services to continue operating in the long-term they need to continually be commercially sustainable and cover their cost of operations.

“We will continue to work closely with the council and Somerset bus user groups to encourage more people to use the bus.”

Local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger expressed ‘absolute delight’ at the reprieve, which he said followed councillors, parishes, and partnership protestors putting up ‘a pretty strong case for retention’.

Liddell-Grainger said: “I am immensely grateful for the huge efforts that Somerset Council leader Cllr Bill Revans in particular has devoted to this issue in a period when there are so many other calls on his time.

“Those services are a real lifeline for people needing to get into Taunton for college, or medical appointments or to catch trains, and the consequences of losing them would have been unimaginable.

“I am absolutely delighted at this outcome and I would only urge those many, many people who campaigned against the cuts to start taking the bus more often as the best possible method of showing their true support for the services.”