Stagecoach West’s plans to cut bus routes in Gloucestershire could affect up to 500,000 bus journeys a year according to the council.
Gloucestershire County Council bosses say they have been “landed with a very serious problem” by the bus company which is planning to cut some of its routes from mid-November.
Stagecoach says the move is due to the national shortage of drivers, and has not confirmed how many services will be affected.
It is understood to be cutting back on rural routes to shore up its urban bus services.
But Councillor Philip Robinson, transport cabinet member, said the decision came as a shock and the bus firm had wanted to implement the changes as soon as October.
He said: “We have been landed in a very difficult situation because Stagecoach has put its commercial interest before that of some of our most disadvantaged and isolated communities in Gloucestershire.
“At the very least we are talking about a quarter of a million journeys every year in Gloucestershire that Stagecoach has pulled that we are going to have to find a solution for.
“It is very likely that figure will be over 300,000 journeys and in the worst case scenario it could be pushing half a million journeys.”
Stagecoach West disputes the council's comments saying the company has been in contact with them for several months to agree a solution that would ensure a more consistent bus service for the public.
The affected routes have not been revealed yet but Cllr Robinson says the council is assessing the data and working to find solutions.
“The reason we’ve had to have this battle with Stagecoach is we can’t stop them pulling out of those routes but we can buy us that time to work on finding the solutions.
“We can’t promise that we will find a solution to every problem that has landed at our door. But what’s important is the willingness to succeed.
“Some of the communities that will lose the buses are some of the most disadvantaged in Gloucestershire. Especially in those areas where there is some isolation due to their rurality.
“We want to best serve those residents while at the same time treating the council taxpayer fairly. That’s what makes it a challenge.”
Rachel Geliamassi, Managing Director, Stagecoach West, said: "Our local communities are extremely important to us, and we know how critical bus services are to people in our region.
"We want to make the best of a very difficult set of current challenges that are largely outside our control, and we need the support of our local authority partners to make that happen.
"But the statements that Gloucestershire County Council is making are both inaccurate and are misleading the public.
"The fact is that we have been speaking to the council for over four months to agree a solution that would help to deliver a more consistent bus service that passengers can use with confidence.
"This is not financially driven in any way - it is about delivering a service that we know we can run reliably given the continuing bus driver shortages impacting the bus and coach sector right across the UK.
"In addition to our own Stagecoach services, we operate some tendered council bus services on their behalf. Given the current circumstances, we believe it is better for another operator to run these routes to ensure a more reliable service for people in those areas.
"Exactly in line with the contract, we gave the council notice of this in August, allowing them the required time to re-tender the contracted routes if they wished to do so.
"The council is now seeking to renege on that agreement and, at the same time, council leaders are refusing to meet with us to discuss the issue any further.
“Bus operators and local authorities have a joint responsibility to our communities and passengers will lose out if one party refuses to engage constructively to find solutions and stick with them when they are agreed. We would urge the council to re-think its position in the interests of the local communities that we are jointly here to serve."
Credit: Carmelo Garcia, Local Democracy Reporter