A generous pensioner has funded a local bus service with his own money after officials axed Sunday routes in the winter.
Alan Williams, 78, expects to pay a ‘couple thousand pounds’ for the X53 service to run twice a day between the Dorset towns of Bridport, Weymouth and Lyme Regis on Sundays until March.
Operator First Group had been running four services on Sundays but stopped these on January 16 and said they would not return until March when the summer timetable launches and there are holidaymakers to make the service sustainable.
Mr Williams, who worked in IT for an insurance company before retiring, stepped in to fill the gap with his own money, funding two services a day on Sundays.
He previously financed the service between Bridport and Weymouth in 2019 and this year has arranged for the service to also be extended to Lyme Regis because he believes the route is important to the people who use it.
Mr Williams has also financially supported the Bridport Chamber Orchestra, as well as contributing a grant to musical theatre in the town and an annual musical festival.
Mr Williams, from Bridport, said he has not yet received a bill for running the service but expects it to cost ‘a couple thousand’ pounds by the end of the three months, but the more people use it, the lower the bill will be.
Alan Williams, 78, expects to pay a ‘couple thousand pounds’ for the X53 service to run twice a day between the Dorset towns of Bridport, Weymouth and Lyme Regis on Sundays until March
According to figures, the company’s pre-tax profit for 2020 to 2021 was £115m.
Mr Williams said: ‘The revenue from the service is taken off what I end up paying but I expect it to be a couple of thousand.
‘I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I wasn’t prepared to pay. I have been told that the accounts department will contact me but I haven’t heard anything yet.
‘It has been operating for three Sundays now and it is very popular with the people who are using it. My plea is for more people to use it.
‘First Group are a commercial enterprise and you can’t expect them to run something that they would make a loss on.
‘But buses in rural areas need to have their revenues supplemented by the government or local authority because there aren’t the people using them, especially in the winter. It is OK in the summer when all the holidaymakers are here and you have a hard job to get on the bus.’
The X53 service runs between the Dorset towns of Bridport, Weymouth and Lyme Regis but is not funded through the winter months as it is not viable
Mr Williams said he decided to pay for the bus service as a way of giving to the community and encouraging people to use it more frequently.
‘I hope it also encourages bus companies to keep such services’, he added.
‘I have always believed buses need to run seven days a week.
‘People still need to travel on Sundays. Some people have got places to be, or they have to work, and don’t have cars so this service is a lifeline.
‘I have seen the regulars still using the service now, as well as new people.
‘Public transport in general needs to be improved. I worked for the railway for almost ten years and have always had an interest in transport, I’m part of the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport.’
Mr Williams said the bus company ran the service throughout the early months of 2021 because the Department of Transport temporarily funded it during the pandemic, but this year the service was scrapped until his intervention.
Transport lobby group West Dorset Western Area Transport Action Group (WATAG) welcomed his funding.
Chairman Bob Driscoll said: ‘The Sunday service X53 will continue, but reduced from four to two round trip journeys between Weymouth and Lyme Regis, as a result of Alan Williams agreeing to support this service financially.
‘First Wessex intended to withdraw the Sunday service last September with the introduction of the winter timetable.
‘Mr Williams suggested that if they did he would support a service between Bridport and Weymouth as he did in 2019.
‘Subsequently, First Wessex decided to run the four services until 16 January, when the service would cease.
‘I hope as many people as possible will use the service for a day out, thereby helping us prove the need for a bus service seven days a week all year round.’
Mr Williams, from Bridport, said he has not yet received a bill for running the service but expects it to cost ‘a couple of thousand of pounds’ by the end of the three months, but the more people use it, the lower the bill will be
Local residents have taken to social media to thank Mr Williams.
Kathryn Robinson said: ‘This guy should be nominated for an OBE.’
Steve Duke popsted: ‘A very kind gesture indeed by Alan. But it should not be left to a pensioner to fund this service.’
Robert Lindsay said: ‘Fair play to him but he shouldn’t need to be doing it.’
A spokesperson for First Bus said: ‘We conduct a review of our network on a regular basis to ensure that our coverage remains in line with demand for our services in a given area. As a responsible operator, we also need to be mindful of the effects that operating services that carry very few, if any passengers at all, can have on the environment.
‘X53 is a route that experiences a high degree of seasonal variance in terms of numbers of passengers and, as a result, we plan our winter and summer timetables with this variance in mind.
‘This is due to the high number of tourists and holiday makers who enjoy making use of the X53 service while spending their summer holiday on the Jurassic coast.
‘Typical Sunday passenger levels during the winter fall to a level that makes it unsustainable to operate on Sundays on a commercial basis.
‘We fund the service for the rest of the week and year and are always happy to work with Local Authorities and members of local communities to find solutions to meet a community’s needs.’