UP to £510,000 will be spent over the next 12 months to build a ‘rural mobility hub’ to ensure improved bus services on the Somerset Levels.

Somerset County Council put together a bus service improvements plan (BSIP) following a request from the Department for Transport (DfT) under the government’s ‘bus back better’ initiative in late-2021, being awarded nearly £12m for various improvements in April 2022.

Somerset Council (which replaced the county council in April 2023) confirmed in May that Taunton’s former bus station site will be brought back into use using some of the remaining BSIP funding, and would reopen some time in 2025.

The council is now working on a similar, smaller hub in Somerton, which will allow greater integration for bus services in the neighbouring towns and villages.

This news comes after the beginning of a new trial for an on-demand flexible transport service, with Digital Slinky minibuses operating out of Somerton and being able to be booked by local residents.

The council’s updated BSIP for 2024/25 was published ahead of a meeting of its planning and transport policy sub-committee on May 23, outlining priorities ahead of its formal submission to the DfT for final approval.

Under the newest proposals, £510,000 of funding within the BSIP allocation will be provided to deliver the new hub.

A spokesman said: “Subject to consultation we plan to deliver a rural mobility hub to facilitate interchange between Somerset’s reviewed and modified bus network and plans for a new digital demand responsive transport (DDRT) service operating to the east of the county, in the Somerton/rural Yeovil area.

“The mobility hub will allow sheltered interchange between scheduled bus services, connection with DDRT services, printed and electronic information access (to Somerset’s Think Travel portal), real time passenger information (RTPI) and cycle storage.

“This scheme is currently nearing the completion of concept design and will be
delivered by March 2025.”

The council has declined to specify where in Somerton the new hub will be built, with highways officers stating that they were “working with our heritage team and the town council to find the best location.”

While the 54 and 77 bus services both currently stop within the Market Place, there is limited space either there or on Behind Berry for a large depot or interchange.

Somerton has seen significant housing growth in recent years at its western borders, with the delivery of the Patch Meadows estate on the B3153 Langport Road, the Buttercross Meadows development on Cartway Lane and the Somerton Mead site currently being constructed on Bancombe Road.

If the DfT approves the business case for a new railway station in the town, some form of bus interchange is likely to be delivered off the B3165 Sutton Road.

The council’s Digital Slinky trial, which began on May 28 and runs until March 2026, can be used by booking either via the Slinky app or by visiting www.somerset.gov.uk/roads-travel-and-parking/slinky-digital-somerton.

The new service, which runs daily from 7am to 7pm, serves Somerton, Langport and the majority of the neighbouring villages, including Aller, Compton Dundon, Kingsdon, Long Sutton and Pitney.

It is designed to provide a safe alternative to the private care for people seeking to get to work, the shops or appointments where a conventional bus service is not available – with people being able to be picked up either from normal bus stops or, if their mobility is limited, from their own home.

Councillor Richard Wilkins, portfolio holder for transport and digital, said: “In a rural county like ours demand responsive transport has the potential to play a much bigger role going forward.

“People don’t always have easy access to a bus route or a car, or they may wish to leave their car at home.

“Digital Slinky is a great alternative, reliable, affordable and easy to book. Anyone can use it.

“If this trial is successful we will look at introducing the service into other areas in Somerset.”