BORDERS communities served by the 95 bus route from Hawick to Carlisle have been told to “use it or lose it”.
Scottish Borders Council’s passenger transport manager Colin Douglas made the comment following operator First’s decision to run the Monday to Friday daytime and full Saturday services on a commercial basis.
The journeys were previously subsidised by Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway councils, but the bus firm’s announcement, coupled with the result of a new Sunday service contract, is likely to save SBC 45 per cent in its annual contribution to the route.
That would mean the local authority would cut their 95 service spending from around £85,000 in the last financial year to £46,750.
But First’s move has led to fears that low passenger numbers could see the number of bus journeys from Hawick and Langholm to Cumbria’s only city – popular with train users, workers and shoppers – cut back.
Langholm councillor Denis Male has demanded that First and both councils consult with his constituents should the 95 route be slashed in future.
Mr Male said: “At the moment our fears seem to have been put to rest.
“But if any of the runs are judged not viable and are taken off, the problems would certainly occur for locals who rely on the bus services for college attendance, work, train services and hospital visiting and appointments.
“The service through Langholm is of vital importance to the community, so we are grateful that it is to continue as is.
“Should any changes need to be made then we would demand that discussions with the bus company and councils funding the service be held so that detriment was not caused.”
Mr Douglas said: “During the tendering process for a new contract for bus service 95 between Hawick and Carlisle, First Scotland East notified the council that Monday to Friday daytime journeys and the full Saturday service would be operated on a commercial basis from Monday, August 22, with no subsidy required from Dumfries and Galloway or Scottish Borders Council.
“SBC is in the process of tendering for a Sunday service on the route. First have already been awarded the contract to continue to provide evening services on Mondays to Fridays until August 2013.
“Whether First continues to provide the Monday to Friday daytime and Saturday service on a commercial basis is up to the operator.”
Mr Douglas said First, in partnership with public transport bodies SEStran and SWestran, is looking to provide “real time” information at bus stops on the route, as is used in Edinburgh.
Regarding concerns that First could reduce its current service, Mr Douglas added: “Should First wish to change the timetable they will have to give the council 70 days’ advance notice. As part of the council’s strategic bus service network should this happen, it is likely that the council would step in to provide a subsidised service.
“In the present financial climate no guarantee can be given that either First or the two funding authorities will be able to continue the current hourly service on this route.
“It is therefore very much for local people a case of use it or lose it, potentially.”
Paul Thomas, managing director of First (Scotland East) said: “It is excellent news that usage of this service has developed to a point at which we are able to do this (move to commercial).
“Often the position with rural bus services is the reverse, with operators unable to continue commercial operation and de-registering services which then either have to be subsidised by local authorities or are lost altogether.
“Ultimately no-one can guarantee the long-term future of any bus service as this is dependant on the usage made of it, but in this instance we are very hopeful of being able to continue to operate commercially for the foreseeable future.”