Council refusing to pick up tab for cabs to replace axed West Linton buses

The number 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.
The number 101 Stagecoach bus heading east through West Linton.

Council chiefs are refusing to pick up the bill for a proposed taxi service for villagers left isolated by cuts to rural bus routes.

The two evening services of the 101/102 Stagecoach bus route linking Dumfries and Edinburgh via Carlops and West Linton have been scrapped due to Scottish Borders Council withdrawing £100,000 in funding.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.

However, following a protest campaign which saw more than 120 West Linton residents attend an emergency meeting, an alternative taxi-shuttle idea offering a scheduled collection from the 9.30pm, 10.30pm and 11.30pm buses from Edinburgh to Penicuik was suggested.

Such a taxi could carry up to eight passengers and provide three return trips six evenings a week.

At last week’s full council meeting, Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson asked the administration’s member for roads and infrastructure, Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, to look into that taxi option, saying: “There continues to be a high level of dissatisfaction in West Linton, Carlops and Dolphinton at the complete loss of any public transport provision after 7.35pm.

“Can you specify what steps the council are taking to explore and provide an alternative evening transport provision for this part of Tweeddale West?”

Mr Edgar replied: “Prior to the meeting held in West Linton, council officers contacted the three main bus companies in the area to see if any arrangements or connections could be made using existing services from Penicuik.

“Borders Buses and Lothian Buses rejected this suggestion to extend any services.

“Stagecoach offered to put back their new service out of Edinburgh to 8.30pm Monday to Saturday at a cost of approximately £15,000 per annum.

“Alternatively, just extending the service on Friday and Saturday would cost £5,000 per annum.

“There was a caveat that the other partners – SWestrans, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Midlothian Council and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport – would need to agree to the change.

“At the meeting in West Linton, this suggestion was broadly rejected by the attendees. There was no visible support for this option.

“When councillor Anderson asked attendees to mark a chart if they were in favour, it remained blank.

“At the same meeting, officers asked that the community considers a taxi service.

“It was explained that a similar service already existed in Midlothian and was a good alternative to a registered bus service.

“It was clearly explained that there was no council budget available for this and that the community would need to find their own funding of approximately £18,000 per annum.

After the meeting, Ms Anderson commented: “I am absolutely exasperated.

“Ever since the consequences of this budget cut to the 101/102 bus service became apparent, the people in West Linton, Carlops and Dolphinton area have been up in arms.

“Over 3,500 people signed a petition, and we managed to save the daytime service, but now there is absolutely no public service to this side of Tweeddale after 7.35pm at night.

“The beauty of the taxi model is its simplicity. It doesn’t require the local community to raise funds to buy, service and insure a bus; it doesn’t involve a complicated advance booking system; and it doesn’t rely on volunteers to provide the service at pretty unsocial hours.

“This is no-brainer, and I am completely frustrated by the council’s lack of vision here.

“The people of Tweeddale West have met 50% of the total savings in public transport this year – a £100,000 cut equivalent to 74% of the previous level of support.”

“I’m not giving up. Everyone who thinks the shuttle service would work should contact the administration to make them aware of their views.”