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Bristol climate activist students occupy West of England council offices

A group of climate activist students has occupied the offices of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) ahead of their rally to demand radical changes to the city’s bus service.

Image Courtesy - BYS4C

By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor

A group of Bristol students has occupied the offices of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) in Bristol, ahead of their rally tomorrow (September 9) on College Green demanding radical changes to the bus service in Bristol.

The protesters, consisting of five Bristol-based students, entered the office complex at 70 Redcliffe Street, the headquarters of WECA, around midday on Friday, September 8.

The climate activists were demanding far-reaching solutions to, what they perceive as, ‘Bristol and the West’s broken bus system.'

The protesters have refused to leave the premises until the Metro Mayor agrees to bring a vote on franchising to the next WECA meeting.

The climate activists occupied the WECA offices on Friday - BYS4C

Of the five activists, three of them are University of Bristol students. One protester who wished to remain anonymous said: ‘We’ve occupied WECA’s offices because we need urgent action to fix our broken bus system.'

‘Since the start of our campaign last June, we have seen lots of talk but little action from politicians, while the situation has gotten worse, with dozens of routes cut. Real people across the West of England are being affected by these unreliable services and cuts, leaving many unable to access key services, get to work or school, or see family and friends.'

'WECA needs to be bold and take public control of our local buses to end the madness that entirely private control under companies including First Bus has caused.'

‘It’s time for Metro Mayor Dan Norris to get on with the job, and we’re not going to stop sticking up for our communities until he does.’

The occupation comes a day prior to the proposed march on College Green, led by youth groups such as Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate (BYS4C) and Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol (XRYB). The protesters will assemble at 1pm on College Green, before proceeding to WECA in Redcliffe.

Supporters of the Saturday march also include Bristol Green Party, Reclaim Our Buses, Right to Roam, Winterbourne & Frome Valley Environmental Group, Nailsea Climate Emergency Group, and Bristol Students for Transport.

Among the speakers set to address the rally is Councillor Carla Denyer, Green Party co-leader.

The demands of the protesters include free travel within the West of England (including North Somerset) for those who are under the age of 25 (all students, and all apprentices), reversing the cuts to bus routes and improving working conditions for drivers.

The campaigners say that there is a necessity to establish public control of local buses through ‘franchising.’ They claimed that in ‘a franchised bus network, local governments would decide routes, timetables, and fares.'

'Bus companies would compete to operate routes but must meet the criteria set out by the local/combined authority.’

They further stated that franchising is already successfully used in cities such as Greater London, and is set to come into effect in Greater Manchester later this month.

The ‘Reclaim Our Buses’ coalition has gathered over 2,000 signatures so far in support of public control.

Dan Norris, West of England Metro Mayer commented: ‘The only way to have a thriving, fairer bus network is to increase the number of passengers on the buses to create that virtuous cycle of more fare income in which to reinvest in better services for everyone.'

‘That’s why I’m proud to have brought in new and innovative schemes and offers, such as ‘Birthday Buses’ giving every resident in the West free travel throughout the month of their birthday.'

'Because I want more and more people to try out buses and hopefully go on to continue to use them long term.’

Do you think the bus service in the city should be free to all students?