More rail spending sought as bus boycott looms

Galashiels Transport Interchange between Ladhope Vale and Stirling Street.
Galashiels Transport Interchange between Ladhope Vale and Stirling Street.

Scottish Borders Council will be asked today to sanction further spending of £257,000 as its share of promoting the Borders Railway.

The expenditure, if approved, will contribute to the marketing of the £354million line, the scoping of the route being extended south, the provision of walking and cycling paths and the development of integrated transport at stations.

The cash comes on top of the £7.6million which the council has already committed to help the railway “stimulate the growth of businesses, generate employment and boost visitor numbers” as part of the Scottish Government Blueprint announced last November.

That arrangement will see other partners with an interest in the railway, including Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland, contribute around £9million to the region over the next decade.

The council’s capital share includes £3.5million towards the £6million visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland and £4million, by 2025, towards the £7.9million development of the Central Borders Business Park at Tweedbank.

All that is in addition to the £3.8million the council has spent on the construction of a new Transport Interchange in Galashiels, pictured, which is due to be come into operation at the end of June.

A report by project manager Euan Doyle is recommending councillors agree to pay a 93p subsidy for each bus departure from the facility which will also serve the railway.

He reveals that the business plan for the interchange, based on projected income and expenditure, estimates that a charge of £2.68, excluding VAT, should be levied on bus operators.

The subsidy will bring that charge down to £1.75, still five times higher than the 35p which prevailed at the old bus station in the town’s Stirling Street.

Without the subsidy, the total cost of which is due to be considered in private, Mr Doyle warns: “There is a risk that service providers take a similar stance as they did with the opening of St Andrews Square bus station in Edinburgh and boycott the use of the transport interchange because of the departure charge and its effect on the commercial viability of bus routes.

“Bus service providers have highlighted their concern regarding the negative effect that a charge of £2.68 per bus departure will have ... and are suggesting this could compromise the viability of some commercial routes and the council-funded contracted routes.”

He offers no guarantees that bus operators will accept the £1.75 levy, but claims it is “defendable” in the context of departure charges throughout the country for similar facilities.