Borders MSP calls on council to rethink Â£400,000 bus subsidy cut
MSP John Lamont has added his voice to calls to council bosses to step in to stop bus routes being axed in the Borders.
First Group proposes cutting 11 loss-making routes across the region, largely thanks to the popularity of the new Borders Railway, but it is being urged to reconsider.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mr Lamont met First managing director Paul McGowan to discuss potential ways forward, but he was warned that the impact the Edinburgh-Tweedbank rail line was having on bus services would make a reprieve unlikely without more public funding.
First reckons it has lost about 300,000 passengers since the opening of the railway line, Mr Lamont was told.
That, combined with the proposed £400,000 cut to Scottish Borders Council’s bus budget and uncertainty over the amount of money it will get from the compulsory purchase of the old Galashiels bus station, means the firm needs to cut costs, said Mr McGowan.
Mr Lamont said: “While the popularity of the Borders Railway has been welcomed by the council, it has undoubtedly affected our local bus services. The more profitable routes are no longer making enough money to subsidise others.
“While these services may not be that well used, in rural areas they are vital for some, particularly pensioners and those who can’t drive.”
“First Group’s position has been made more difficult by the council’s decision to slash the bus budget by £400,000 and uncertainty over the amount of money the council will pay it for the compulsory purchase of Galashiels bus station.
“The council needs to rethink its plans to cut bus funding and work closely with operators like First Group to ensure we have a properly integrated transport system in the Borders which fits people’s needs.”
Conservative regional list MSP Rachael Hamilton was with fellow Tory Mr Lamont at the meeting, and she added: “Although it is good news that the Borders Railway has increased passenger numbers, it appears to be at the detriment of bus services.
“Without integrated transport links, residents and businesses in the central Borders will miss out and the potential of the Borders Railway will not be realised.”