Bid launched to save Borders bus service facing axe threat

A 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.
A 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.

Efforts are under way to save a bus service through the Borders feared to be facing the axe.

The 101/102 Edinburgh-Dumfries route via West Linton and Carlops looks to be nearing the end of the road after its present contract runs out in August due to Scottish Borders Council withdrawing funding.

The Stagecoach-operated service is currently funded by the South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWestrans) and the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) as well as the council.

The council picks up £135,280 of the £391,000 annual bill for the service, with SWestrans providing £113,386 and SPT chipping in £142,318.

Borders Buses has expressed an interest in taking over part of the route, from Edinburgh to Biggar.

SWestrans chairman Andrew Wood has written to council chief executive Tracey Logan saying: “My board fully understands that every local authority is facing extremely challenging financial times and that your officers have identified possible alternative provision for the majority of Borders residents on this route.

“However, this loss of funding across the partnership will require a significant reduction in the existing service level with a real risk that this link will be lost completely.

“I would urge you to review the decision to reduce funding.”

The council’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, has defended the proposed cut in subsidy, saying: “The council is carrying out a subsidised bus services review, which is aiming to make required changes, with budgets tighter than ever, while minimising the impact on bus passengers.

“As part of this review, the council has made partners aware that it intends not to continue with its current contribution to the 101/102 service as of August, which stands at £135,000 per year.

“The council is currently considering its options, one of which is to extend the current 93 service from West Linton to Penicuik and create a connection with the X62 service to and from Edinburgh.

“This would ensure travel opportunities are maintained for communities while providing considerable savings for the council.”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame is unconvinced by the alternatives under consideration, however.

She said: “Many constituents have contacted me about the 101/102 as it forms a vital transport link along the A702, serving Dolphinton, West Linton, Carlops, Silverburn and Penicuik in my constituency alone.

“The loss of this service would be completely unacceptable, and I call on the council to ensure that the future of the service is secure before withdrawing any funding.

“I understand that the section of the route from Biggar to Edinburgh is viable commercially because of passenger numbers, and that is why Borders Buses is currently looking at the possibility of taking this route over.

“I have written to Borders Buses to say I’d be very supportive of this move and will do all I can to ensure services continue.

“In these days when we are encouraging the use of public transport, when the elderly and some vulnerable adults can travel free on public transport, it’s completely contradictory that the council has taken decisions which potentially disconnect local communities from lifeline services.

“I would hope that in any negotiations regarding funding of the route, these issues will also be given due weight together with the passenger numbers.

“The future of this service must be ensured.”

South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth agrees, saying: “It’s deeply disappointing that, at a time we need to encourage people to use our buses, Scottish Borders Council is taking decisions that put this lifeline service at risk.

“Everyone knows that councils are having to make cuts due to the austerity being imposed by both the UK and Scottish governments, but sadly Scottish Borders Council is once again choosing to inflict its cuts on vulnerable people.

“It is usually those in the remotest areas, the elderly, those on low incomes and young people who rely on buses and often have no access to a car, so they will feel this cut most.”

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson is also campaigning to save the service and has created an online protest petition already backed by almost 1,700 signatories.

“This is a well-used route which takes people to work, school, and training and offers a lifeline service to people in rural communities who might be at risk of loneliness and isolation,” she said.

Her petition can be found at www.change.org/p/scottish-borders-council-don-t-cut-our-bus-service?recruiter=12659793

The current Monday to Saturday service offers six return journeys from Dumfries to Edinburgh, four via the 101 route through Moffat and two via the 102 route taking in Thornhill, plus a further six returns from Biggar to Edinburgh.

On Sundays, there are two returns from Dumfries to Edinburgh, one via each route, and a further two Biggar-to-Edinburgh returns.

The fate of the service is due to be discussed tomorrow, May 8, by the board of SWestrans at a meeting in Dumfries.