Rural anger rising over bus cutback

It was standing room only in Eckford Village Hall on Tuesday when nearly 100 people vented their anger and concern over bus service cuts.

A total of 96 residents from the Eckford, Crailing and Nisbet areas, plus some from, Kelso and Jedburgh, packed the public meeting organised by the local community council to quiz Scottish Borders Council transport officials over looming drastic cutbacks to the No. 20 service linking Kelso with Jedburgh and Hawick.

On Sunday, the nine-buses-a-day service currently operated by First Bus will end and be replaced by a three buses per day service run by Jedburgh firm, Peter Hogg, as from Monday.

It was last year the local authority announced it was unable to fund the service provided by First, which had become commercially unviable, and would finish in April.

However, at the start of this year the local authority ordered a temporary reprieve, extending the current temporary contract until the middle of this month.

John Campbell, chairman of Crailing, Eckford & Nisbet Community Council, who chaired Tuesday night’s public meeting, told us: “It takes quite a lot to stir up people around here, but there are a huge number of concerns prompted by the severity of reducing the number of buses on this route from nine to three. Most people will say they understand SBC’s need to save money and that these buses are not always that well used on the Kelso to Jedburgh leg of the route, but reducing it to just three buses a day is a step too far.

“However, we are working together with SBC and hope to find a reasonable solution.”

But with just three days to go before the timetable is altered, Mr Campbell and his community council colleagues are now in the midst of an emergency public consultation of as many local people as possible with a view to the immediate lodging of a request on Monday for a Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) scheme to be

introduced to plug the worst of the gaps caused by the changes.

Mr Campbell added: “We want to see if the community would be happy with DRT being introduced, but time is of the essence. It should be mentioned we have not fallen out with SBC – they are being very helpful.”

In the wake of Tuesday’s meeting at Eckford, SBC told us yesterday it recognised the No. 20 bus is an essential service for some people and that a DRT scheme will indeed be considered in consultation with some of the local communities affected.

“It is intended that this will operate in the Kelso and Jedburgh areas, covering Eckford, Heiton and Crailing and see additional services timetabled, but which will only run if booked in advance by passengers,” said SBC.

Councillor Gordon Edgar, SBC’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, said: “The feedback from the community council was that the new timetable did not provide enough travel options to and from the villages and Kelso and Jedburgh.

“The community council agreed to examine what additional services would meet the needs of the community, including preferred destinations and potential user numbers, and in consultation with the council, these services could run as part of the DRT scheme.

“The new timetable is an interim service which will operate until the early new year, and it may then be changed following a wider review of the subsidised bus network, including passenger numbers, which will also involve elected members and public consultation.”

But MSP John Lamont says this is a major issue for local people. “For the elderly, those travelling to work and those without a car, this service really is a lifeline,” he said.