Updated: Plea goes out for Borders bus services facing axe to be spared

A plea is going out for the brakes to be put on proposals to axe underused bus services in and around Kelso facing the end of the road within weeks.

A 710 bus at Woodmarket in Kelso.
A 710 bus at Woodmarket in Kelso.

Scottish Borders Council bosses have revealed plans for four services to the town to be scrapped in early April after consultations with bus operators, service users and communities.

That move follows a larger review of bus usage across the Borders which revealed that several services are economically unsustainable because of how little they are used.

In tandem with those plans, the council is proposing alternative services to meet the needs of communities with limited access to public transport.

A 964 Border Weaver service in Newtown.

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.

It is also proposed that the 902, a demand-responsive bus run by Scottish Borders Council will operate on the Westruther-Hume-Nenthorn-Smailholm-Stichill route from early April on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, with a new morning return journey to be added on Tuesdays and Thursdays to serve the Greenlaw-to-Kelso route via Leitholm.

Provision of any home-to-school journeys currently allocated to service 87 will continue for pass-holding students.

Kelso community councillor Colin McGrath has hit out at what he considers a lack of consultation with service users before the proposals were announced.

He said: “The council did a review of how much each bus was costing and it found that the average cost was £3.65 per day for passengers but that the 66 was costing £6.72 per person, the 85 and 87 were £11 and the 71 was £6.20 and the 902 was £8.19.

“But the number of passengers in a year for the 66 was 5,222, so that’s a huge number of people who are going to be disappointed with its removal and the 85/87 has 4,686 passengers.

“The main thing we are saying is that they haven’t taken into account the suggestions from the community, among them the use of a token scheme so that users could call in taxis and they buy so many tokens a month and taxis come and collect them, using a taxi service in lieu of a bus. That’s something I’d certainly support.

“There’s also the suggestion of sharing the buses with schoolkids, which we think is a good idea.

“The main thing is they haven’t consulted the community. The people making the decisions are not the users.”

Besides the four Kelso services to be axed and one to be amended, three services stopping at Galashiels will be affected.

The 964 Border Weaver bus, run by the council, linking St Boswells, Bowden and Darnick with Tweedbank and Galashiels will no longer call at Gattonside after April 6.

The 61 and 67 buses between Galashiels and Earlston and St Boswells at weekend will continue to run until September at least but will be kept under review.

Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston believes a more pragmatic approach needs to be taken over the proposed changes, saying: “While it’s disappointing to hear of bus services being withdrawn, there has to be a point where you say this model of delivery is not sustainable.

“One of the biggest comments I hear from some residents is about buses running round the Borders empty.

“We need to find out what other type of service we could offer people who use the affected services and see if things that have worked well in other areas could be tried around here.

“We are currently working with the council transport staff who have a great deal of experience and very often come up with good solutions, and I am hopeful we can work something out again.”

Fellow Kelso councillors Simon Mountford and Euan Robson agree that it’s a waste of money to continue running services if the demand for them isn’t there.

Mr Mountford said: “I regret the need to terminate these bus routes but, unfortunately, usage of them was very low and the cost per passenger was very high.

“The council is looking at ways to mitigate the impact of this decision, and I would encourage anyone affected to attend the next Cheviot area partnership meeting on Wednesday, January 29, at Jedburgh Grammar School at 6pm.

“Council transport officers will be present and available to discuss alternative arrangements. “

Mr Robson added: “It’s very unfortunate that these services are to be proposed for withdrawal.

“The usage of the services is relatively low, and subsidy per journey of over £6.20 can no longer be afforded given the huge pressures on the council’s resources.

“The average cost per passenger across the whole of the Borders bus network is £3.65.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council has been looking at how the current bus network serves communities across the Borders since summer 2019.

“At present, we have a number of local bus services which do not meet the needs of communities, with low passenger numbers, and therefore high costs, making the current provision neither sustainable or customer-focussed.

“Our review has included a series of consultation events since last summer, including the first Fit for 2024 rural transport conference, area partnership presentations and a Bus Users Scotland meeting to get the views of communities and try to find alternative transport solutions which better meet these needs.

“We are now finalising a list of proposed changes for a number of bus services and have begun writing to community councils on affected routes to make them aware and ask for their views.

“Despite the low level of use on these bus services, we understand they can be seen as vital links for some communities.

“This is why we have proposed alternative services where possible which reflect the current passenger usage and are keen to support community-led transport projects, which have been a key theme of our conversations with communities since summer 2019.

“As part of our ongoing consultation, our passenger transport team will be attending the next area partnership meetings to discuss the proposals and potential alternative transport solutions with communities.”

Community councils, other groups and individuals are invited to submit responses to the proposals by emailing [email protected]