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Maesteg residents’ concerns over cuts to ‘lifeline’ bus services

Maesteg Bus Station And Town Hall (Pic: Lewis Smith)

RESIDENTS living in a Bridgend community say they feel they are becoming increasingly isolated, due to the reduction of a number of “lifeline” bus services.

Those living in and around the Maesteg area say despite being in a town of more than 20,000 people, the level of public transport has almost been reduced to that of a “hamlet in the middle of nowhere” over the course of the past few years, leaving many with a growing sense of frustration.

Recent changes in the local bus network came after the announcement of the Welsh Government’s Bus Transition Fund which will run until March 31, 2024, and replaces funding previously available through the Bus Emergency scheme, which was designed to support operators after the pandemic.

It has led to a number of service reductions from providers right across south Wales over the past few months, with many in Maesteg saying they are now starting to feel the impact on their everyday lives.

Philip White uses the local bus service regularly to get from his home just outside of Maesteg to Port Talbot, and says at the moment there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

He said: “We have definitely seen a drop in the number of services around the area over the last couple of years, to the point that after half past five in the evening there is pretty much nothing to get you to and from Maesteg.

“It’s hard for people who are reliant on the buses, especially those who need it to get to work or to visit the local hospital, because the services are just so limited – particularly when you need to be there at a certain time.

“It’s hard, and it’s even worse if you live on the outskirsts of the town in places like Oakwood, or Maesteg Park, because like us today we’ve had to get a taxi in to connect to our bus to Port Talbot which adds an extra cost on the journey. There’s no services at all to some of these places and it should definitely be looked at.”

His grandson Rhys Evans, 18, attends a local college in Caerau and said transport is a constant issue in the area for those who don’t drive. He said: “There’s no service in place for me to get to college so I’m constantly relying on lifts or taxi’s which can cost a lot of money.”

Maesteg Bus Station – Rhys Evans Left Phillip White Right (Pic: Lewis Smith)

Ann Brewster, 85, lives in Caerau Bridgend and also relies on the local bus service to get around. She added: “The bus service has gone really down hill. The service for me to get to Caerau and back only goes every hour, and if you miss that or it doesn’t turn up you have to wait another hour again.

“I have to rely on the buses because I don’t have a car and taxi’s are getting expensive, so it is frustrating. In the evenings if you’ve got work or someone in the hospital you can forget visiting them on the bus, and to be honest it can make you feel quite isolated.”

Ann Brewster Maesteg bus story (Pic: Lewis Smith)

Jan Whelan, 74 lives in Maesteg Park, and says while it may only be minutes away from the main town of Maesteg, with steep hills surrounding it on each side and no regular bus service, it can feel like a million miles away.

She said: “It’s awful at the moment because with no regular bus service up in Maesteg Park, the older residents have become completely cut off. Buses are just a memory up here now after the service was ended two years ago, and a lot of people are completely reliant on taxi’s or lifts from their loved ones.

“What’s worse is that there is no shop, no post office and no cash point, so people need to get down to Maesteg, but for the elderly people surrounded by the very steep hills it isn’t possible to walk. In a way we’ve lost a bit of our independence without the bus here so we would like to have it back.”

Maesteg Jan Whelan (Pic: Lewis Smith LDR)

Councillor Ross Penhale-Thomas of Maesteg West has previously described the public transport network in Maesteg as being “more akin to that of a hamlet in the middle of nowhere,” adding that cuts to buses had been mirrored by train service that was a “lottery.”

He said: “Bus services have been reduced significantly in the past year in particular, while the last bus up to Maesteg from Bridgend isn’t far beyond 5pm. Subsidies have been cut back year on year so in some places, there is either a skeleton service or no provision whatsoever. While there are plans to have a more unified bus network across Wales, the situation going forward is really precarious.

“As for the trains, it is a lottery as to whether the service turns up on time or is cancelled. When it is running later than usual, there is often the knock-on effect of terminating the service further down the line at Tondu. Passengers are then stranded with no alternative provision for the remainder of the journey – and are left scrabbling around to find lifts either with family members or taxis.

“I used the service regularly over the Christmas period and it was chaotic – from the usual delays or cancellations to over-crowded carriages and low capacity, where not enough carriages were put on. If we are to encourage more people to use public transport, the services provided need to be both convenient and reliable. At the moment, they are neither.”

A spokesperson for Transport for Wales said discussions about improvements to the line were currently under way, saying : “We’re investing more than £800m in brand new trains for the Wales and Borders network. Following the completion of driver training, the Maesteg line will receive new Class 197s early this year on an interim basis ahead of the introduction of new Class 231s.

“We’re in discussions with Bridgend County Borough Council about their aspirations for transport in Maesteg, and how we can best support them. We’re also in discussions with Bridgend County Borough Council and Network Rail to consider options for improved service frequencies for train services to and from Maesteg. These options are at an early stage in their development.”

A spokesperson for Bridgend County Borough Council said: “We recognise that bus networks are a lifeline to many of those living within the valleys, including the residents of Maesteg, in the Llynfi Valley. We are aware that the majority of bus users don’t own a car and rely solely on bus links to access work, reach essential shops and even to socialise. Older, less mobile and, often, less well members of society are especially vulnerable when bus services are cut.

“Welsh Government ended its ‘Bus Emergency Scheme’ fund in July, which was put in place to mitigate the reduction of bus users and maintain bus services following the pandemic. This has been followed by the ‘Bus Transition Fund’ (BTF), which commenced in July 2023 and is due to end on 31 March 2024.

“As a result, regions in Wales asked bus operators to confirm which bus services would cease and which would continue without the BTF on a commercial basis. Following this, all Local Authorities have carried out a tender exercise, which has included the commercial bus services that were identified by the bus operators as being unable to continue without funding after 31 March 2024.

“Most tenders have now closed, and currently the results are being discussed regionally. We’re still awaiting official confirmation of how much funding will be available from 1 April 2024, and what the funding will be called. Discussions between regional leads and the Welsh Government are still ongoing.

“Our aim is to continue to advocate for appropriate funding to sustain the bus services that support our communities, like those of the Maesteg area, as best we can. We want to try to ensure that residents across the county borough can continue to access essential resources through vital bus network links.”

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