THE future of a crucial Somerset bus service has been secured ahead of roadworks on a substantial section of its route.

The 96 service, operated by South West Coaches, runs between Boden Street in Chard and Yeovil bus station via Crewkerne, Misterton, North Perrott, East Chinnock and West Coker.

The seven-year contract for the service was due to expire on Saturday (July 8), with Somerset Council officers beginning the tendering process in early-May and receiving only two bids to run the service from Monday (July 10).

The council has now reappointed South West Coaches to run the service – though it will have to pay more for this contract than in previous years.

This comes after the council announced free shuttle buses would be laid on to connect with the 96 and 6 bus services during the school summer holiday, when the A30 through West Coker is being completely resurfaced.

Under the new council’s policies, all bus contracts whose annual value exceeds £499,999 have to be signed off once per term by senior officers – unless an urgent decision is needed to prevent a service from being lost, which would prevent children from attending school or otherwise damage local communities.

John Perrett, service manager for Transporting Somerset (which manages all of the council’s school bus contracts), said that the council had been given little choice in light of how few companies threw their hat into the run during the procurement process.

He said: “When the tender was opened, we only had two bids, with the lowest bid being considerably higher than previously.

“As the initial bids were more expensive than anticipated, we looked at ways to try and reduce the cost.

“Following advice from colleagues, we chose not to award the contract but re-tendered again, making changes to the timetable and the resources required in the expectation of attracting more bids at a lower cost.”

Following this second round of tendering, the same two companies put their name forward, and the council entered into detailed discussions with one company, whose bid was described as “cost-effective”.

However, it became clear the company could not meet the terms of the contract and they withdrew – leaving South West Coaches as the only option, albeit with a contract price which was “lowered than originally submitted”.

Mr Perrett said: “Service 96 is a key strategic bus service in the county, linking the towns of Chard, Crewkerne and Yeovil as well as many villages along the route, providing vital links to employment, education and health services in the area.

“The loss of this service would have a significant impact on local residents.”

The precise value of the contract has not been made public due to commercial sensitivity.

However, Mr Perrett estimates that the cost to the council will be nearly £87,000 higher than the previous contract for the remainder of 2023/24 – and this will rise to nearly £117,000 more expensive for a full financial year.

As part of the new contract, the final service of the evening from Yeovil (which is described as being “lightly used”) will be scrapped.

The new contract begins as the council prepares to close the A30 West Coker Road between July 21 and September 4 to allow for comprehensive resurfacing and the replacement of obsolete traffic signals.

Car, van and HGV drivers will have to follow a lengthy diversion, while bus passengers will be able to use free shuttle buses to make their connections.

A spokesman said: “Free shuttle bus services from West Coker to Yeovil, and West Coker to Crewkerne.

“The timetable has been put together so that the shuttle buses connect with the 96 and the 6 to allow onward travel to Chard and Bridport respectively.

“The shuttle buses, which are being run by South West Coaches and the Council, will also connect East Chinnock, Haselbury Plucknett, North Perrot and Misterton with Crewkerne/Chard and Yeovil.”

For timetabling information regarding the shuttle buses, visit

A public drop-in event on both the A30 roadworks and the long-term future of Chinnock Hollow will be held at West Coker Village Hall on Wednesday (July 12) between 3pm and 8pm.