Buses in Bristol

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Buses in Bristol are the main form of public transport in Bristol, England. Most bus services are operated by First Bristol within the city, and First Somerset & Avon from the city to surrounding areas. Wessex Bus has a growing number of mainly council supported services. Other companies offering services include: Abus, Buglers, Eurotaxis and Somerbus.


Horse-bus services in Bristol were started in 1887 by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, with a service from the Victoria Rooms (connecting with the trams) to Clifton.[1][2] The horse-buses were replaced by motor buses from 1906, first on a service from the Centre to Clifton.[3]

From 1887 to 1986, Bristol Tramways (renamed Bristol Omnibus Company in 1957) had an almost complete monopoly of bus services in and from Bristol. The exceptions were in the 1920s, when Greyhound Motors provided competition until taken over by Bristol Tramways in 1928; a few small independent operators, the last of which, the Dundry Pioneer, was acquired in 1950; and Red & White Services, which started joint services with Bristol Omnibus Company to South Wales when the Severn Bridge opened in 1966.

Between 1937 and 1978 Bristol Omnibus Company was the operating partner in Bristol Joint Services, a joint undertaking with Bristol Corporation which controlled bus services within the city (and initially also its trams).[4][5] The company owned and operated the buses, and shared revenues with the Corporation. BJS included services to suburbs outside the city limits (e.g. Filton, Patchway, Staple Hill and Kingswood).

Bus services expanded steadily between the wars. Between 1938 and 1941 Bristol's tramways were abandoned, and buses replaced the tram routes.[6]

A badgerline bus

Bristol Tramways was state-owned from 1948. Expansion of services continued, to serve the new estates built on the edges of the city. But from 1954 passenger numbers started to decline.[2] Most services started from the Centre, Prince Street or Old Market, although the tram replacement services started between 1938 and 1941 were mostly cross-city routes. In 1958 routes were linked, so that almost all routes ran across the city. This was to reduce congestion caused by standing buses in the central area, and also to provide better access to the new Broadmead shopping area.

In 1969 the company, now known as Bristol Omnibus Company, was transferred to the National Bus Company.

By 1973, growing congestion was again creating delays and unreliable timing on the long cross-city routes, and some services were again split.[7]

In 1978 the end of Bristol Joint Services enabled city services to be linked with routes in the eastern suburbs which were well outside the city boundaries. In 1981, limited stop express services were started to the outer suburbs,[8] initially under the Clipper brand. Also in 1981 the NBC's Market Analysis Project[9] triggered more changes, with the abandonment of some long-established routes.

In 1980 the Thatcher government embarked on a programme of privatisation and deregulation of bus services. In preparation the company was split into two operating units in 1983: the city services, which in 1985 adopted the brand Bristol City Line, and the country services, which in 1986 became a separate company, Badgerline Ltd.[10] Badgerline was sold to its management in 1986,[11] and the original company was sold in 1987 to Midland Red West, who kept the City Line brand.[12]

Deregulation meant that Badgerline was able to begin bus services within the city, in competition with City Line. However, in 1988 Midland Red West was itself acquired by Badgerline, so that Bristol's bus services were again controlled by a single company.

In 1995 Badgerline merged with Grampian Regional Transport to become First Bus, later renamed FirstGroup.[13] First adopted a policy of common branding, and the City Line and Badgerline brands were dropped.

In 1998 bus services were extended to serve the new out of town shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway, where a new bus station was built.

A few small independent operators have competed with Badgerline, City Line and First since deregulation. Buglers ran a few tendered local services from 1988. Abus began with a competing service to Keynsham in 1991. South Gloucestershire Bus & Coach built up a small network of local services from 1997 until it was taken over in 2007 by Rotala, who rebranded the services Wessex Connect. However, the independents have been unable to shake the dominance of First.

Livery of First Group vehicles shown on a bus in Bristol

Long distance coach services are provided from Bristol by National Express, Megabus and Bakers Dolphin.

Buses were first operated in Bristol in 1887 by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, a company which still operates, after several changes of name, as First Somerset & Avon.[14] The company had an almost complete monopoly of bus services in the city until deregulation in 1986. Since then there has been a variety of operators.

Bus routes[edit]

The network of routes includes both services between the centre and the suburbs, and orbital services between suburbs. There are also some cross-city services, but some routes have been truncated in the central area, because of unreliability caused by traffic congestion.

The four councils in the Greater Bristol area are working to improve bus transport on ten corridors, designated the Greater Bristol Bus Network. The corridors are due for completion by 2012.[15]

Coach services[edit]

The main operator of long distance coach services from Bristol is National Express, departing from Bristol Bus Station. But Megabus also operate long distance services. Special services operate to sporting venues such as Twickenham and Wembley for major sporting events. Megabus operates four services that serve Bristol, they stop opposite the Colston Hall, City Centre and at U.W.E Frenchay. They provide direct services to and from London, The South West, South Wales and The Midlands. Tickets are also available to through destinations such as Paris and Brussels with a change in London.

Night services[edit]

Prior to 24 March 2013 there were 6 night buses (N1,N2,N3,N4,N5,N6) running across the Bristol area every Saturday and Sunday morning midnight until 6am operated by Wessex Bus, this was at a cost of £40,000 a year to Bristol City Council. This agreement was subsequently replaced by Bristol City Council to subsidise First Bristol to run buses 6 nights a week with an initial subsidy of £60,000 with a view to First taking on the services on a commercial basis once they become established.[16]Late night services run on the following routes.[17] [18]

Park and ride[edit]

Currently there are three park and ride services operating in Bristol these are, to the city centre from the Portway, A4 Bath Road and Long Ashton Park and Ride car parks. The sites are operational all year round from Monday to Saturday.

  • 902 – A4 Portway to the city centre, operated by CT Plus[19]
  • 903 – A370 Long Ashton to the city centre, operated by First Bristol[20]
  • 904 – A4 Bath Road to the city centre, operated by CT Plus[21]

There have also been plans from Bristol City Council to build a fourth park and ride site just off the M32 near Stapleton,[citation needed] although as of March 2012 no development has started.

Airport services[edit]

The Airport Flyer operates a frequent service on one route from Bristol Bus Station, Bristol city centre and Temple Meads Station to Bristol Airport.[22]

Sightseeing tours[edit]

Rubicon Classic Travel operate tourist buses under the City Sightseeing Bristol brand.[23] The service is usually operated by open top buses.

Greater Bristol Bus Network (GBBN)[edit]

The Greater Bristol Bus Network (GBBN) also known as showcase bus routes are being developed by First in partnership with local government, to improve services with new buses, real time passenger information systems and traffic management measures.

Bristol bus and coach station[edit]

Main article: Bristol bus station

The Bristol Bus and Coach Station is at Marlborough Street, near the Broadmead shopping area. It was opened in 1958, and was redeveloped in 2006.

The station is managed by First Somerset & Avon. There are 19 bays. The station has a First Travel shop, National Express shop, National Express information desk, a café, shop, security office and toilets.

The bus station is used by the Bristol Airport Flyer service to the airport, most First Somerset & Avon express (X) and country services, National Express services, as well as some services by other operators to destinations such as Yate and Cheddar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hulin, p.1
  2. ^ a b "History of Bristol's buses". Bristol Vintage Bus Group. Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  3. ^ Hulin, p.2
  4. ^ Curtis & Walker, p.10, Hulin, p.9
  5. ^ Curtis & Walker, p.186
  6. ^ Hulin, p.10
  7. ^ Bristol Vintage Bus Group: Bus routes in 1973
  8. ^ Bristol Vintage Bus Group: Bus routes in 1981
  9. ^ Competition Commission report 1982
  10. ^ Curtis & Walker, p.208
  11. ^ Competition Commission report 1989 para 4.4; Curtis & Walker, p.222
  12. ^ Curtis & Walker, p.222
  13. ^ Curtis & Walker, p.222-3
  14. ^ "WebCHeck - Select and Access Company Information - Company no. 25088". Companies House. Retrieved 11 April 2009. 
  15. ^ Bristol City Council: Greater Bristol Bus Network
  16. ^ https://www.bristol.gov.uk/press/mayor/night-buses-extended-run-weekdays
  17. ^ http://travelbristol.org/sites/default/files/Important%20Changes%20to%20Night%20Flyer%20Services%20_v3_.pdf
  18. ^ http://www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/bristol_bath/assets/pdfs/journey_planning/maps/bristol/Bristol_Night_Network_Map_2nov.pdf
  19. ^ "Portway Park & Ride". Travel Bristol. 6 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Long Ashton Park & Ride". Travel Bristol. 6 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  21. ^ "Bath Road Park & Ride". Travel Bristol. 6 January 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  22. ^ Bristol Airport website: Airport Flyer
  23. ^ "City Sightseeing Bristol: timetables 2011". citysightseeingbristol.co.uk. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 


  • Hulin, P (1974) Bristol's Buses Published by the author
  • Curtis, C and Walker, M (2007) Bristol Omnibus Services: The Green Years Millstream Books ISBN 978-0-948975-80-6