A cross-country bus service through the Borders feared to be facing the axe because of funding cuts looks to have been saved – but only at the cost of a third of its journeys.
The 101/102 Dumfries-to-Edinburgh service via West Linton is to continue beyond the end of its current contract next month, it has been confirmed, but two journeys daily are set to be withdrawn.
The South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWestrans) met on Friday to decide the fate of the Stagecoach-operated service after Scottish Borders Council withdrew £100,000 in funding.
It was agreed to keep it going, but it will run four times a day each way rather than six, as at present.
The service is currently jointly funded by SWestrans, the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), Scottish Borders Council and Midlothian Council.
Previously, Scottish Borders Council funded it to the tune of £135,280 a year, with SWestrans paying £113,386, SPT £142,318 and Midlothian Council covering the cost of departure charges at Edinburgh bus station, around £10,000 annually.
With Scottish Borders Council reducing its contribution to just £35,000, however, SWestrans chiefs were forced to tender several options for the bus service to ensure its survival, with the winning option including a reduced number of services along the route to make ends meet.
South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth is critical of that cut, saying: “This is a deeply disappointing decision which will see the number of bus services running between Dumfries and Edinburgh reduce to four on weekdays and Saturdays.
“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 are choosing to inflict their cuts on vulnerable people.
“It is 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.
“I hope that the Conservative-run administration at Scottish Borders Council will reconsider their pro-austerity, anti-bus passenger policy in the future before they make more cuts affecting the vulnerable.”
However, Scottish Borders Council has defended its decision to withdraw three-quarters of its funding.
Council leader Shona Haslam said: “With the contract for the 101/102 service coming to an end, the council believed there was an opportunity to explore various options as part of the tender process.
“A number of options were tabled, and we are pleased that the proposal being taken forward will see the 101/102 not only retained but also provide a consistent new timetable with departures at regular times, with a saving of £100,000 to Borders council tax payers.”
“We thank our partners and SWestrans for their co-operation, which has ensured passengers from the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Edinburgh can continue to use the service.
“Officers have worked really hard to protect this bus service, but we had to end the situation where Scottish Borders Council were paying over the odds thanks to poor decisions by the previous administration.
“A saving of £100,000 means that more vital services can be delivered by the council.
“I realise that this has been an unsettling time for the community, which has not been helped by attempts by opposition parties to scaremonger over this issue.
“However, I’m sure residents understand that these commercial negotiations had to be carried out with a degree of confidentiality.”
Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, the authority’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, added: “As part of our subsidised bus services review, the council looked at our contributions to services across the Borders.
“We aimed to do this while minimising the impact on bus passengers.
“We believe the new timetable actually improves the service, with additional daytime and evening services.
“We thank the local community for their patience and constructive input during the tender process.”
Recently, residents fearful that their communities could be left isolated put together a petition calling for the service to be kept going, and so far it has gathered more than 3,400 signatures.
The petition was discussed at last Thursday’s full council meeting, and council leaders were forced to defend the cutbacks in the face of criticism from opposition councillors.
A new timetable is currently being finalised by Stagecoach before being registered with Scottish traffic commissioner Joan Aitken.
It is due to come into effect on Sunday, August 19.