Lothian Buses has announced that it will rescue the routes being scrapped by rival First Bus. It has agreed to a three-year contract that will see it take over the hole left by First Scotland East when it decided to pull services from several rural towns in East Lothian and Midlothian, starting June 10. The Traffic Commissioner still has to approve the route takeover, but it has been welcomed by leaders from both local authorities.
All of this good news comes after villagers promised to defend the routes early last month when First Scotland East announced its decision, which was due to cost hundreds of jobs. Throughout the month, East Lothian began considering a state-run bus service, while Midlothian said they had no intention of setting up their own bus company. The Scottish government was put under pressure to clarify the support it would give East Lothian in setting up its own bus service as well.
The public transport network was at risk of losing about 20 bus routes, which spurred fears that some communities would be cut off from the network – including East Lothian’s Ormiston, Pencaitland and Whitecraig, and Midlothian’s Cousland, Newton Village and Millerhill. First Scotland East’s drastic decision was triggered after years of poor trading in the villages, and the firm blamed the challenging economy, cuts in funding and high fuel prices for it. Since 2009, it’s understood they lost about £5 million from the under-performing routes.
Lothian Buses managing director Ian Craig says that they can confirm, following consultation with Midlothian Council, that timetable proposals have been submitted to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner. If the proposals are accepted, they will secure a significant proportion of the public transport routes currently operated by First Scotland East in and around Midlothian. They hope to be in a position to give further details of the changes soon, he added. Later, it was announced that the company will accommodate East Lothian routes as well.
Derek Milligan, the leader of Midlothian Council, said he was delighted the Lothian Buses negotiations proved successful in keeping the essential bus services operating. They are confident that more positive announcements will be made.
Paul McLennan, the leader of East Lothian Council, said Lothian Buses will provide a near exact replacement and possible improved services for the county. Despite this, plans for a state-run bus service haven’t been pulled. They always said they would find the funds to ensure villages aren’t left without bus services. No village will be left out, and the transport department has been and will continue to work hard to ensure this. All these bus services will be registered by June 10, when First Bus withdraws.
Transport Minister Keith Brown has also welcomed the news. After a meeting with Lothian Buses and local authorities last week, he said that he’s very happy a solution was found to ensure the bus services in these rural communities have a future. Following initial meetings with both the bus operator and councils, he was able to make officials at Transport Scotland available to work with them on moving forward. Negotiations were very positive from the start, and they were all anxious to resolve the matter. It’s very good news for everyone that this happened so fast and with such a gratifying result.
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