Whenever possible, I try to make my journeys to and from Edinburgh by public transport, for at least part of the route.
The park-and-ride facility at Sheriffhall is excellent and, especially since the Dalkeith bypass was completed, is quick and easy to reach from most parts of the Borders.
Unfortunately thereafter the service disappoints as, if you travel outwith peak hours, the journey into Edinburgh city centre is by bus which can often stop every few hundred yards to pick up other passengers. As a result, it can often take much longer to reach the city centre than it does to get to the park-and-ride facility itself and results in an overall journey time which is simply too long to be attractive to use.
I understand Scottish Borders Council (SBC) is planning a rather grandly named “transport interchange” in Galashiels. Experience of my journeys to and from Edinburgh by bus via Galashiels suggests that action of a more basic level could significantly improve the travel experience and could be introduced at little or no cost, or even reduce current expenditure.
There is no obvious co-ordination of local services with the main Carlisle/Galashiels/ Edinburgh regional service, which often seems to result in a long wait at Galashiels for the connecting service. This is especially true outwith peak hours.
No new building is required to resolve this problem. The various operators and SBC need to sit down and produce route timetables which actually work and encourage the use of public transport. If they are able to achieve this, they may even find that they can save some of the subsidies which are paid to the operators. Given that the total cost of the subsidies is now approaching £2million a year, the incentive to increase use of bus services is obvious.
An even greater problem is the complete lack of any co-ordinated information on timetables. The main operator at Galashiels does display timetables, but with others the you often only learn of a service when a bus pulls into the station.
All operators do have timetables on their websites, but it is not really practical or possible for all of us to access this information. Even if we can do so, however, we need to trawl through five separate websites. SBC used to produce an overall Borders timetable, but this ceased several years ago. Might I suggest that the publication and dissemination of this information might also lead to an increase in bus use.
It is pleasing to note that the standard of the buses has improved in recent years. Regrettably, driving standards remain somewhat more variable. I do, however, see that some of the “ancient” double deckers are still in service. If you are unfortunate enough to have to use one of these, especially on a longer journey, do not sit on the top deck if you suffer from seasickness.
The bus operators will face competition from the railway in the near future. While public subsidies and concessionary travel will without doubt determine to a great extent which mode of travel is used, the road ahead for bus operators is a bumpy one if it is based upon current service quality.