Plans to change the route of the 21/22 First bus services, scrapping the West Earlham, Bowthorpe, Hospital, UEA connection, were met by a community outcry last week as students and faculty members of the University concerned about the changes spoke out against them.
Over 220 people have signed a petition against the planned changes, with many comments on the petition expressing anger at bus company First for doing this after many had bought their £200 annual season tickets. There have also been complaints about the apparent lack of a suitable replacement.
Lois Catterall, a second year UEA student with a part time city-centre job living in Bowthorpe, called the changes “completely unacceptable.” She told Concrete: “If the service to the campus is stopped getting to work is going to take a lot longer, and giving up an hour and a half of my day to commute a 6 mile journey is completely ludicrous. I paid £250 for a bus pass that I believed would give me access to a fully functioning service, and now, half way through the academic year, First want to deny me the service to campus.”
The Union of UEA Students has expressed its concern in a statement, echoing concerns about the students who bought a bus pass specifically for the 21/22 route to campus only to have it removed halfway through the year, as well as criticising the lack of consultation with students by First. The Union also pointed out that a third of landlords in the Home Run student housing programme operate in the affected area, NR5.
Tash Ross, Community and Student Rights Officer at the Union described the changes as “really worrying. There seems to have been little thought of the students who use the service, especially given that many of them will have bought a yearlong pass expecting to be able to use the services for all of the academic year. We call on First Bus to review their decision, and consult with students, especially those who have already paid for their bus pass for the year.”
Norwich city councillor Samir Jeraj has also protested against the changes. “Public transport is vital and serves a wide range of people. It is important people have access to the university and to the hospital, and that those routes run all year.”
First buses have cited “rising fuel and insurance costs, changes to concessionary fares and reimbursement procedures, as well as reductions in BSOG payments (fuel duty rebate) and council funding” as reasons for cancelling the service, claiming that the planned change is driven largely by lack of demand. A spokesperson for First defended the changes, saying that “A recent full and thorough review of the 21/22 service revealed that very few passengers are carried between the University and the N&N, and that this particular section of the route is no longer financially viable to operate. It is with regret that the decision was taken to withdraw this part of the service. Despite this withdrawal, there are still two half-hourly services from Earlham Road to the hospital (Konectbus services 3 and 4).”
However, most affected remain unconvinced. Alexander George, a UEA Law student, told Concrete: “I am a second year, and am having to change my house because of the bus. It’s completely impractical for us to stay in Bowthorpe. First claimed they researched user’s habits, and said that most users were going to the hospital, but in my experience there were just as many people getting off at the University as at the hospital. Everyone I know in Bowthorpe is looking to move for next year, and apart from anything else it’s going to make competition for houses near campus even worse than it already is, and landlords in Bowthorpe are going to end up with lots of empty houses next year. It just seems to me like a really badly thought out plan by First.”
The changes begin on Monday 16 January.