Colin Smyth MSP
South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has praised campaigners for securing a “reprieve” until next year for the 101 bus service between Dumfries and Edinburgh – but called for local bus services to be brought under public ownership.
The local MSP was speaking at a packed public meeting along with the local councillors for the area in Biggar Municipal Hall last night (20 July) organised by Stand up for Our Buses.
The MSP told the meeting that protests against the plan to end the service when the current contract runs out in August had clearly led to a last minute deal between bus operators and local Transport Agencies to save the service until March- but warned that the hard work started now in developing a viable alternative given that the tender tabled by a bus operator to run the service over the next few years was 86% higher than the present contract so was financially unviable.
Colin Smyth told the meeting,” Thanks to passenger power we have been able to secure a stay of execution for the 101 service- but the hard work starts now. The tender bid makes it unlikely that the status quo in the long term. We need to work with the local Transport Agencies and Councils to come up with a plan B because we know this will be just one contract that will come to end in the next few months and at a time council budgets are being cut, there is no way they will be able to afford new contracts double the current price”.
“One possible alternative would be a service between Abington Services and Edinburgh that linked with the current X74 Dumfries to Glasgow bus. This would have the disadvantage of passengers from Dumfries changing at Abington but the advantage that there could be far more services. The X74 runs every hour from Dumfries and stops at Abington but there are just four buses a day from Dumfries to Edinburgh compared to a dozen from Biggar to Edinburgh. If the Biggar services started at Abington and were timed to meet the X74 bus you could triple the services from Dumfries. However, it was vital that Transport Agencies and councils properly consult passengers between now and March to get a viable option that meets people’s needs and maintains bus links between communities on this route and our capital city.”
“In the long term we cannot continue with a system that allows big bus companies, often with a monopoly in an area, to hold councils and Transport Agencies to ransom and ask for ridiculous sums of money to run services. Public transport is a public service and in my view like all public services should be publicly owned and run. Councils now have the powers to run their own bus services as a result of amendments I made to the Transport Act. The blockage is the Scottish Government who haven’t yet provided any funding for councils to do so. They need to understand the crisis our bus network faces, make funding available and allow councils to run buses direct or set up arms-length publicly owned bus firms so that we can have services that put passengers, not profits first.”
The current contract to run the 101 bus service runs out next month, and is subsidised by almost £300,000 from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWESTRANs) and Scottish Borders Council. Following a procurement process, tenders from bus firms came back 86% higher than the current service. This week the three partners agreed a deal in principle to continue to subsidise the service until at least December, with an option to extend to March 2023 to allow further time to consider future options.