Borders villagers fear being left stranded by bus cuts

Elderly and disabled villagers in parts of the Borders will be left in far from splendid isolation now plans are being drawn up to cut back a bus service they regard as a lifeline, council bosses have been told.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 5:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th February 2020, 9:07 am
Alan Taylor, Pam Boyd, Alan Todd, Lynn Lozada, Andy Simpson, Joyce Seeles, Gordon Seeles and Rosemary Goring are unhappy about a bus service to Bowden being withdrawn.
Alan Taylor, Pam Boyd, Alan Todd, Lynn Lozada, Andy Simpson, Joyce Seeles, Gordon Seeles and Rosemary Goring are unhappy about a bus service to Bowden being withdrawn.

The 964 Border Weaver bus run by Scottish Borders Council currently calls at Newtown, Bowden, Melrose. Darnick, Gattonside, Tweedbank and Galashiels.

The service runs four times a day in both directions. 

However, the council says it is under-used and proposes operating it on a much-reduced timetable from April 6, bypassing Gattonside altogether and no longer going to Tweedbank. 

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A 964 Border Weaver service in Newtown.

Bowden resident Alan Taylor fears that move would have a devastating impact on many villagers reliant on the service, particularly to go shopping and to the Borders General Hospital at Melrose.

He fears some villagers will become so isolated they will feel they have no choice but to move elsewhere.

Mr Taylor, 67, said: “They are underestimating the impact this will have, not just on Bowden, but also on the people at Gattonside and at Newtown.

“What’s concerning is how it impacts on people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. There are people who don’t have cars and therefore can’t leave the village.

Peter Kemp and Barbara Evans are among those unhappy about a bus service to Bowden being withdrawn.

“There is the case of a lady who gets the bus into the village most mornings to see her brother who has cancer, to see that things are right in the house and to do a bit of cooking and washing for him.

“This decision will force some to leave the village.

“How can you live in the village if you have no access to the shops? You are essentially trapped. This has caused a lot of distress.

“The crux of this is, yes, there’s a massive impact on individuals’ lives, that’s for sure, but the bigger picture is there is no information on the buses about these proposed cuts.

“I was on the bus to Tweedbank and the bus driver himself learned about these cuts from a passenger.

“Some of these passengers are disabled and they are duty-bound to inform people they are making these cuts.

“They seem to be completely ignorant about how people live their lives. They take these decisions and think they are just saving some money without considering the impact they have on individuals’ lives.

“The bus is a total lifeline for some, and without it, it will be impossible to live here.”

Among those among Bowden’s population of about 300 set to be affected is Peter Kemp, 85, a more regular bus user since recently giving up his car.

He said: “I gave up the car because I was getting a bit doddery, but this new timetable will make life so much more difficult, complicated and expensive. I’ll end up having to get taxis everywhere.

“It’s very inconvenient. I go to Galashiels rarely and if I do it’s for a specific shop, but because of this new timetable, I will have to spend two hours there before I can get a bus back.

“Who wants to spend two hours in Galashiels?”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont is also calling on the council to reconsider its plans.

He said: “I have been struck by the number of people who have contacted me about these proposed changes to local bus services.

“There is a strong view that the Border Weaver service should not be cut by the service users but there are similar concerns about other services that are being reviewed. 

“It is clear from the conversations that I have had with those who use this bus service that disabled and elderly people will be hit hard if these changes go ahead. 

“I have written to Scottish Borders Council to relay these concerns and I would urge others to do so too.

“I know that routes like the Border Weaver are expensive to run and do not always get the number of users they need to make them commercially viable, but these services are often lifelines for the people who use them. 

“I know that Scottish Borders Council has been wrestling with budget pressures after years of underfunding by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. That needs to change.

“The Scottish Government needs to give our local council the funding that it needs to protect these vital local services.”

A spokesperson for the council said: “We have streamlined the timetable for the 964 bus as some of the journeys saw very little patronage on board. 

“The most well used services are in the morning to make connections in Melrose and at Tweedbank Station.

“These links are preserved in the new timetable. However, instead of serving Tweedbank Station, we will now serve the Galashiels transport interchange, giving Bowden travellers greater choice of bus or train travel options. 

“We have recently had positive talks with a number of local residents who use the service and we are confident it can still meet their needs.”

Four other under-used services are to be axed as part of the plans.

The routes affected are service 66 from Kelso to Stichill and Earlston, operated by Peter Hogg, and three run by Borders Buses – the 85 from Kelso to Greenlaw, the Wednesdays-only service 87 from Kelso to Berwick and the Wednesday-only 710 bus from the town to Coldstream.

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