Council makes U-turn on festive holiday buses decision

Issues surrounding Buses in the Market Sq in Selkirk and traffic/pedestrian developments
Issues surrounding Buses in the Market Sq in Selkirk and traffic/pedestrian developments

SCOTTISH Borders Council has this week responded to the damning criticism heaped on it a year ago by announcing it will subsidise limited bus services on key routes on Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and January 2.

There was furore in November last year when, in a bid to save £16,500, the Newtown-based local authority agreed in private to remove financial support from First Scotland East to run the 95 (Hawick-Selkirk-Galashiels-Stow-Edinburgh) and the 62 (Melrose-Tweedbank-Galashiels-Peebles-Edinburgh) services on the festive bank holidays.

Other casualties were the 61 (Galashiels-Melrose-Earlston), 8/8A,9/9A Galashiels-Langlee-Tweedbank/BGH-Melrose and 7 (Langlee) services.

Although it has long been accepted that the central Borders is deprived of public transport on Christmas Day itself, SBC’s watchdog scrutiny panel, aware that 4,200 passenger journeys had been recorded on the three days in 2008/09, baulked at the decision and recommended it be overturned.

But the day after the council had performed a U-turn and the bus company had duly adjusted its driver rotas and prepared timetables for the printer, the firm was told not to bother by SBC passenger transport officials. Apparently, there was not enough time to inform Scotland’s transport commissioners that the services had been reinstated.

Jeremy Purvis, MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, then entered the fray, but First confirmed it did not, by then, have sufficient time to offer the services.

“The fact that important arterial routes such as services 95 and 62 have been axed over the holiday period raises significant questions at the council,” said Mr Purvis at the time.

And Stow councillor Sandy Aitchison highlighted the inconvenience for Borderers wishing to adhere to messages not to drink and drive who were unable to visit friends and undertake shopping trips. “Somebody has got this very wrong,” he added.

This week’s news comes against the background of that dismay.

“The council has responded to feedback received from members of the public last year about the lack of essential bus services on some routes during this period,” said Councillor Jim Fullarton, executive member for roads and transport.

He announced the council would fund both the 95 and 62 services with a “reduced timetable” on Boxing Day and January 1.

On January, 2, a normal Sunday service would operate on both routes.

“Use of the services will be closely monitored and any future funding of routes will depend on the number of passengers travelling,” explained Mr Fullarton.

z Details of alterations to bus timetables for all operators during the festive holiday period are contained in a special timetable booklet, Bus News, which is now available from council offices, libraries, tourist information centres and Galashiels bus station.